It’s New Years Eve and I’ve been inundated in the last week with reminders that we are about to start—not just a new year—but a new decade. That realization makes you consider all that you’ve been, seen, and done in the last 10 years. For me, this has been one of the happiest decades of my life, but that is not to say it has been free of strife. In January, 2010, I was still very new to law practice, unmarried (though not for long), and I had no one to care for but myself. Now, I am established as an attorney and an owner of my firm, married, and have 2 kids and 2 dogs. With that kind of transition, I’m sure you can see how happiness and strife might fit together.
It wasn’t until this year, however, that I realized that some of the strife actually caused, or at least led to, much of the happiness. This fall, I was fortunate to be the guest on the Fit to Practice podcast with Angela Han. Angela is new to podcasting and sought out guests who had a “health journey” in a women’s group of which I am a member. When I read the phrase “health journey” I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I volunteered and sent Angela an email explaining that the pregnancy for my first daughter was pretty difficult and it happened early in my law practice. As I explained this to Angela, I understood that my response to this difficult situation, which was filled with self-blame and judgment, caused me to learn one critical lesson: I had to be kinder to myself. Once I learned this lesson, my life improved and my practice excelled.
How did I do this? The old-fashioned way: I practiced it. One major change I made to undo the habit of being harsh with myself was to start a meditation practice. In 2013, I started a meditating regularly and it has been a passion for me since then. I have gone on several retreats in those subsequent years and written and spoken about mindfulness numerous times. In my mental timeline, meditation became regular for me in 2013 because I was particularly busy in my law practice and tired from having a new baby. Though this was a true construction of the narrative, it was incomplete.
When I wrote my story out in for Angela and talked it over with her, I finally understand that my meditation practice started after my difficult transition into life as a working mom. I understood that my practice, which encouraged me to be cautious of judgment and generous with friendliness, came right after I had let self-judgment run rampant. In other words, I recognized that I had unconsciously sought out and found a way to develop the thing I really needed to move forward in my life: self-compassion. Though compassion practices are proven by research to be some of the most effective for increasing happiness and improving lives, many Americans struggle with them because they view them as sappy or worry that sending love inward is selfish. I, on the other hand, enjoyed loving-kindness practice from the very first time I tried it. After thinking about my own story, I know why: I needed it because I had just lived through a hard time in my life without self-compassion.
This made me realize that my difficult first pregnancy was not a bad part of my life to try to avoid thinking about. Even though I made clear mistakes during that time, it wasn’t something to be ashamed of. Rather, it was my origin story. Like any comic book hero turning pain into heroics, I had turned my own dark time into light. It is therefore quite fitting that my first daughter, whose gestation and delivery led to so much worry, is named Sophie, which means “wisdom.” I had selected that name hoping that she would be wise. I had never thought that, so early in her life, she would make me wise.
As you prepare for 2020, I hope that you think of the high times in your life and recall all the great experiences and successes you’ve had in the last ten years. Though it may be tempting, don’t push those dark times too far to the corner of your mind. Instead, it might be pretty amazing to think about your own origin story and what kind of hero you’ve ended up becoming. New Years Eve is a time for celebration, but what better cause is there for celebration than surviving and thriving through hard times? I’d argue that’s the very reason we celebrate at all.