Step 1 to a joyful life is… Uhmm, anyone?

Last night, I got a voice note from a friend.

“Hilde, you’ve got to tell me how you do it. I’m so jealous. I wish I could just go away by myself like you do, just up and leave. I really need to figure that out. Teach me!”

racking brainOf course, I don’t ‘just up and leave’ whenever I want to. What mother, wife, worker, employer can do what she wants, when she wants to, all by herself? But truth be told, now and again I do take off and go fill my cup. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for a few days. I got that she envied that. And I truly wanted to give her some profound words of advice. So I started typing my response. 

“Well, remember, you’re much younger and still have many years to practice,” I typed. (Practice what? grated that annoying little voice of honesty from somewhere inside me. Deep sigh. Okay, I’ll be more specific.)  

“The first step is to…”. And there I got stuck. What the hell was the first step to becoming free to live your own life? I typed some insignificant mumbo-jumbo and went to bed. But the question stayed with me. I racked my brain trying to remember where this journey of self-care had started. There must’ve been a Step 1. I definitely hadn’t always been able to figure out what I needed and how to get it.


Then, finally, it hit me this morning. I remembered what set me off on this path of living life with all my heart. It was the realisation that Step 1 (and step 2, 3 to 10), whatever it was, wouldn’t be taken by someone else. I needed to take it. Every person's steps to a joyful life differs, but one thing is universal: you alone can  take it. My Step 1 was my responsibility. Even if I didn’t get support, or approval, or applause, and even if I was downright discouraged, I had to start walking, else I’d remain unfulfilled, always.howabarefoot

Although I cannot pinpoint the exact moment of my Step 1, it would’ve been in a time of suffering: that’s where all good things are born. Maybe it was when I was drowning in motherhood, or reeling from a professional failure, or shattered by the hurt of losing someone I loved with all my heart. Maybe it was when I was most lonely in my marriage. Whatever lead to step 1, I knew that I had to take responsibility for what I needed from life. I could not wait anymore for my husband, friends or family to see my needs and meet them. I could not wait for circumstances to become ideal for me to flourish. I had to put on my big girl panties and live my life as if it was mine to live. 


shower 1There were many small moments of insight, but one extraordinary realisation stands out. It happened one morning in the shower - where all epiphanies happen, right?! I was scared that morning, as every morning before that. This was Jo'burg; we’d been burgled twice already. With the water running, I couldn't hear what was going on in the rest of the house. I wouldn’t hear intruders until they were upon me. I kept closing the taps, listening intently for anything out of the ordinary, and then quickly opening the taps again to continue. Only a few months before, my beloved sister was raped and murdered in her house in Riversdale. I was mourning for her, devastated about the loss and horrified about how it happened. I did not want to die like that. The fear of something similar happening to me was growing into an overwhelming anxiety that left no space for my life. I grappled with the concept of divine protection, because I knew how my mother used to pray for her safety. And then, as clear as the water falling on me, a realisation struck. I have no control over how I’ll die.

I have no control over how I’ll die.  

I have no control over how I'll die. 

I do have control over how I live. 

The fear I was living in, was not from God, and it certainly wasn't how I was meant to live. I think that was my Step 1: Knowing without a doubt that I could and should take control of my living. Realising that I was submitting myself to something that will suck all my life joy from me if I allowed it. That moment in the shower was the closest I’ve ever been to a Damascus experience. Up to that point, I couldn’t sleep when I was home alone with my small boys. Since my sister’s death, there always had to be someone else in the house with us at night when my husband was working away – which he often did. The very next day, I cancelled our ‘babysitter’. I knew I could do it alone, again. That evening was beautiful, in the way that only a Jo’burg summer night can be. There was a power outage, which a week ago would’ve sent me into a panic. Not anymore. I lit candles, opened up the patio doors, and watched the stars. I felt not so much powerful, but free. 

I do have control over how I live. Those words underlie everything I do. It makes me patch up things with my husband in times when I’d rather be quiet or run away. It makes me fight for me-time which heals and restores me, even when I get resistance or miss out on other important things. It makes me put in the hours at work when I don’t need to, because there’s no feeling like doing something worthwhile. It makes me knock on that teenage door even when I know I might not be welcome. It makes me build that fire, hang that picture, put out the garbage, nail together that veggie box and drive up that beautiful snowy mountain pass, rather than wishing or waiting for someone to do it for me. I don’t always enjoy all of these things, and I don't always prefer to do them alone, but I do enjoy knowing that I’m truly living my life. 

Obviously, most things in life I can’t control. That’s a whole different story. But I can control what I choose to do, in every situation, and in every relationship. So, I finally have a response:

o JUMP IN WATER 570“Step 1, dear friend, is to believe with all your heart that you alone are responsible for your happiness. Your husband cannot make you happy, nor can your kids, your friends, your causes or your job - no matter how hard they try or how much they change for your sake. If there’s something you need, do it! Make it happen! Make it happen joyfully, and not with anger or resentment. Fill your own cup, and let it overflow onto those you love. Let it become a habit, and soon you’ll follow your own steps 2, 3, and 4 towards a joyful life.”

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