Miscellany

Stop Looking At Other People’s Grass Already And Plant Your Own Garden

I love connecting with people. I enjoy the stimulation of reading the articles my friends post, seeing what others are up to and laughing at the brilliant silliness that can be found online.

But at some point a darker emotion edged in. It snuck up on me as I saw a website launched that I thought I would have been a natural fit for, but wasn’t invited to join. Or when a group of writers got together, without me. Or when a friend’s post would get traction and shares while mine languished.

Yes, I was jealous. I was jealous of the successes of my peers, my friends. I would open my computer and watch all the creative, exciting, innovative things going on, while I sat there, mindlessly scrolling, my feelings of frustration and self-pity mounting.

Uch, it’s so embarrassing, but there it is.

As I saw the rising stars of other people’s successes, I felt more buried under the rising levels of parenting, laundry and housework in my own life. The needs of my family were growing, and with the move to a new city and the reality of my children home with me most of the time (they are still not in school as I type this sentence), what precious free time I had was spent decompressing, not creating.

And that was so difficult for me. Despite the wise counsel of a friend who urged me not to have high goals until my baby was a year or so old, I found myself caught in a cycle of wanting to create, not having energy to, and then being envious as I saw others achieve successes.

It’s petty and dark and mortifying.

So I closed the computer. I shut it down. I stopped opening it to “just check something” or “just send an email.” I took Facebook off my phone (though I kept messenger and the app for my blog’s Facebook page on there). We visited my parents, who don’t have wifi (the horror!), and I didn’t go on Facebook for ten straight days. After we returned from that trip, I barely opened my computer at all, and when I did, I tried not to go online.

The results were pretty immediate. I found that without opening my laptop or just taking a quick peek on my phone (and when is that peek ever truly quick, am I right?), I was surprisingly content with the work of keeping my house humming along. Dinner was made more or less on time, our family’s schedule was consistent and comforting, and I didn’t feel distracted and irritable when parenting my children. I felt very present, very centered, and very happy. My desire to share and post and contribute to the online community waned.

But entrenched habits linger, and over the past couple days, I found myself scrolling through that familiar feed, and those dark, icky feelings began to resurface. I saw friends who were posting intelligent, thoughtful, helpful words. Whose thoughts were welcomed with a flood of likes. I became snappish with my family, impatient and dissatisfied. I looked at the piles of dishes on my counter and instead of seeing the natural consequences of a wonderful Shabbos meal, I saw a roadblock to my own creativity. I saw restriction, burden, imprisonment. It brought me down, way down.

Yet while I was floundering in those heavy feelings of sadness, overwhelmed with my fear of missing out, of somehow become irrelevant, I had a flash of clarity:

This is exactly where I’m supposed to be now. This place of petty jealousy and mountains of laundry together with my underlying desire to create, to matter. But while I am supposed to be here at this moment, I don’t have to stay in this place. And I shouldn’t. I can take my dissatisfaction and angst and convert all that negative energy into something beautiful, something positive and tangible and constructive.

I’m fairly certain that when I succeed in reframing my view, in flipping the switch (climbing the mountain is probably a more realistic metaphor) from negativity to positivity, I will find joy and pleasure in the success of those around me. I will continue to find satisfaction in the domestic work that this stage of life brings, but find time to create as well. I will recognize that it is a process, a struggle, and that there are times of abundance and times of inactivity.

I look forward to this new year, which will hopefully be one of creativity and mutual celebration, where I will be able to find the balance between being centered in my real life and engaging with those I enjoy who I have never met in person.

K’siva v’chasima tova.

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10 thoughts on “Stop Looking At Other People’s Grass Already And Plant Your Own Garden

  1. I completely empathize with you. And you know what’s funny? When my kids were little, I felt the same way, always struggling to find time to be creative….Now that they are grown and out of the house, I still feel like I’m not being as creative as I’d like to. Life gets in the way and it’s sooo hectic all the time, even with the kids out of the house.— errands, grandchildren, work, stuff, and….so here’s what I decided: I do what I can do and enjoy the times I’m having fun and creating, but I try not to stress when there are loooooong breaks of boring and mundane activities occupying my days. I just am so thankful for boring… because what’s the alternative? Haha.. oy. Ya – easier said than done!! :). Thanks for the food for thought! Your posts are always thought provoking, Rivki! (and so creative!). Lots of luck composing music in your free time (huh? What free time??)

    1. I can so see that, how the idea of “I’ll get more done when the kids are out of the house” is really an illusion, in many ways. That gives me a boost, actually! Do it now! Do all the things now!!!

  2. It is difficult when the kids are little to find your creative outlet, or the time for it.
    Just in case you haven’t reminded yourself lately what a terrific job you’re doing raising your minis, I will! You’re fantastic!

  3. Just what we were talking about a couple of months ago! I loved the break too. I have slipped back somewhat, but not terribly. I share all of your emotions (envy, darkness). Understand you are never alone with your feelings.

  4. I love this article, I love your writing, but I’m wondering something. It’s easy to say, reframe. But all those ideas, all that creativity, doesn’t find outlets on its own. With all the household chores, with all the everyday commotion of life, I still feel like I’m losing myself. Yes, it’s where I’m meant to be, yes it’s a wonderful thing that I’m doing, but it’s not unique to me, it’s not expressive of who I am, and it’s not fulfilling. I want to express myself, and it doesn’t happen in laundry and dishes. I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of chores with no way out, no time to do anything – just work. I love my family, I love being able to make them happy and provide what they need, but it’s not enough for me. I am a mom, I am a wife, I am a friend, a neighbor, a sister, but I, who I actually AM, isn’t those things at all. And shutting down the internet doesn’t take that away, if anything it makes it even more apparent. Any tips for that?

    1. Sarah!!! My apologies for taking so long to respond to your excellent and deep comment! I wanted to do justice with my response, and have not had a bit of time to sit down and type until now.

      I absolutely hear what you’re saying, and I can clearly hear your frustration, and I’m sorry! That’s a hard space to be in. The first thing that came to my mind was Rabbi Aryeh Nivin’s chabura. Have you heard of it? Tried it? I did it for a couple years, and I found it really helped me tap into my uniqueness, and made me feel like I was actually actualizing my potential.

      My next thought was, “well, who ARE you?” If you stripped away all those other roles you listed, who would you be. What makes you “you?” And once you answer that question, how can you incorporate your “youness” into your life? Could it somehow be integrated, or could you make a space somehow, even if it’s just one hour a week, to just be you?

      I think your question and the points you raise really deserve a whole post on their own. Which I probably wouldn’t be able to do until after Yom Tov, since it would take some deep thinking on my part. But I would really like to hear from you, and see if we can find a solution.

  5. I soaked in every word here. I’m right there with you. There’s always someone doing more, doing better, writing books instead of posts, etc. You get the idea. I know you understand (obviously). You’ll like this month’s HerTake question.

  6. I’m in such a similar space now. I haven’t occupied this space for a while, and with a new family situation, it’s like it’s totally new. I’m looking for ways to channel creativity into activities with my children (one of my kids isn’t going to school full-time) and when it actually happens, it feels quite rewarding. We’ve been learning about the Torah Zodiac. The sources for the names of the planets. That’s been great. But I haven’t done a stitch of writing or work since the beginning of the month. Trying not to stress that i’m falling behind. Trying to clarify what my priority is right now with too little time to think through anything. Thanks for your post. This is just another part of the journey of the good life.

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