Remember when you were little and came home from school missing a coat or glove? The first thing your mom would say is to look for the missing item the next day in the lost and found box. Usually mom was right and life went on, until you lost your book bag and had to go rummaging through the box again. I feel like I’ve been living in a lost and found box for years. Of course, in my head I’ve been there all alone. Twiddling my thumbs. Passing the time staring at the walls of the box. Wanting so badly for someone to come pull me out and return me to my owner. But lately as I’ve talked to more women, I’ve realized at some point we all seem to spend time in the lost and found. This isn’t a mom issue, this is a women’s issue. Each one of us is so blinded by our own sense of being lost, we can’t see the other women in the box with us. Some of us land in the box and leave quickly, while others spend years there. Sadly, some never return to their owner. The difference in who comes and goes and how quickly, is how fast the woman realizes SHE is the only person that can rescue her from the box and that the owner she’s returning to is HERSELF!
If you are a woman you know what I’m talking about. It isn’t a selective problem that’s limited to working women, moms, or any other particular offshoot of womanhood. It’s a universal problem for women in general. As little girls we have dreams of going place, doing things, and being great. For me, it was a teacher. I grew up knowing that was the path I wanted to be on. In college I took classes to get that degree. Then life happened as it often does. I got pregnant, I had car accident, I had to leave school, I had to stop working, and then my son was born with cancer.
Life became an avalanche cascading down a mountain. All the plans I had for life, all the things I thought I wanted were buried in the snow. There was no way to stop the avalanche, so I had to just accept it and go along for the ride. Every woman I know has had her own avalanche. Each avalanche differs in some way, but every one of us has still raced down the mountain side watching the world pass by, not knowing how to stop it. Dreams of careers may have been tossed out the window. Pregnancies changed life’s trajectory. Illnesses made us unexpected caregivers or unexpected patients. Deaths left us hollow. Divorces rocked our worlds. Children required more than we expected. Work became the center of our universe. Life did not go according to the plan. For me it started with an unexpected pregnancy, then delivering a child with cancer. Any thoughts of a life outside of being his caregiver disappeared and the stay at home mom I’ve been for the last twenty years was born.
Being a stay at home mom has been a blessing in so many ways. I’m so eternally grateful to my husband for working so hard to allow me the luxury of being home with our children. I don’t regret it for one minute. But, what I’m becoming very aware of is how isolated it’s made me. For twenty years I’ve spent my time in the same four walls. As my kids grew, I remained at home to put out all the special needs fires that came along with Tristan. I did jobs like babysitting and cleaning houses to be able to bring in some kind of income while still being available every time the school called (which was A LOT) and for all the doctor’s appointments we had (which was almost as often as the phone calls from school). However, even during these times of work I still wasn’t exposed to many people.
Five years ago I went back to school to get my degree, knowing my empty nest was fast approaching. Even if Tristan never moves out, the time is coming when I won’t be needed in the same capacity. I knew I needed something that was my own. I just didn’t realize how badly I needed it when I started taking classes. Because I didn’t realize it and because I still wanted to be available to my kids in the same capacity I had been, I chose to take all of my classes online. Thus isolating myself even further.
My life has revolved around my family for 20 years. What do they need? What do they want? What would they like? How can I make them happy? How can I make them feel better?
Yet, I’ve never stopped to ask those questions of myself or for myself.
When I started thinking about this recently, I thought it was strictly due to being home for so long. Then I started talking to working women and working moms and found it’s a common thread weaved into us all!
Women that are working, whether moms or not, are doing the same thing! They wake up, get off to work, spend hours being successful in the workforce, come home, crash, and then wake up and do it again. They’re confined to the four walls of work where they’re exposed to the same people each day and the same situation where they know their worth. They know how to do their job well so their identity gets wrapped up in the career just as a stay at home mom’s identity gets wrapped up in being home. All of a sudden we’re this one thing.
This one aspect of our lives becomes all that we are.
That’s when the person we thought we were, the person we thought we’d be, gets placed in the lost and found box.
Now, you recognize that you’re lost and you start searching! You start asking all the same questions you ask for everyone else. What makes me happy? What makes me feel worthy? What do I like? What would make me feel better? Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be? What are my dreams?
Once you start coming up with answers, the scary part is to actually execute the actions! To actually do what puts a smile on your face. To choose the food you like. To take the trip you want. To pursue the dream you have. It’s terrifying to take those first steps after so long. It induces a tremendous amount guilt and shame because we’ve become so conditioned to putting everyone else before us.
To step into the center.
To step into the spotlight.
To acknowledge that you matter.
To put yourself first.
It brings on all the feels! Everything you’ve worked so hard not to feel for so long!
But watch what happens! When you start taking those steps a light starts to build inside you and eventually it exudes from your being. People take notice. They see the change. Your children, your spouse, your significant other, your coworkers. They all recognize that something is different. Even if they can’t put their finger on it, they can feel the shift. And that change fuels them to change. Your positivity and self-care inspires them to be more mindful. More present. More alive.
You stop existing and start living. Every single day.
You realize and believe that you matter just as much as your family or your job.
You drop the shame and guilt and start becoming who you were always meant to be, even if it’s not the same dreams you had as a little girl.
You find an air pocket in the snow and start digging yourself out.
Life changes you. You aren’t the same person you were as a child, a teenager, 10 years ago or 5 years ago. You evolve and thank God we’re capable of that. Imagine always being stuck in the lost and found. Always staring at the walls knowing you’d never be able to get out. We become different people with bits and pieces of life threaded through us. We see glimpses of past dreams that may lead to new ones. We see innate characteristics we’ve always had become the driving force to propel us forward. Maybe I’ll never be a teacher in a classroom, but I believe in the class of life I’m helping others learn how to grow into the best versions of themselves.
When you finally drop the negative emotions holding you back from making yourself a priority, those blinders you had on in the lost and found box fall away allowing you to see.
You finally see a way to escape.
You finally see that you’re only way out is to start climbing to the top.
You finally see you’re capable of the climb.
You finally see all the other women in the box with you.
As you reach the top of the lost and found box, having found your true authentic self, you’ll find yourself looking back. You’ll find yourself noticing all the other women still stuck. Still lost. Put out your hand and help pull one out. And the next one and the next one. Soon you’ll see an army of fellow warriors all fighting the same battle.
An army of women who were lost but have been found!