Last night, Nathan and I were in bed reading like we do most nights.
He told me he had my next great mantra, direct from the Tao of Pooh.
“What is the reward?”
It sounds like another way of saying “what is the silver lining,” but it turns out, that’s not what this phrase intends to ask at all.
Instead it’s a question about busyness and what we value. It’s about recognizing the importance of experience over accomplishment, which is a tricky one for me, personally.
And probably most of us.
Most of us look at the goals we’ve achieved, the milestones we reach, and our greatest accomplishments as proof of our success.
We also look at our setbacks, mistakes, and losses in the opposite way, as proof of our failure.
I get it.
I feel the rollercoaster of this every single day.
If I can get my kid to eat all of her dinner, it’s proof that I am a good mom.
If she refuses everything except strawberry popsicles and bread, I am a failure.
If I can get my kids to go all day without watching TV, I am rocking this parenting thing.
If the only way I can get work done is to turn the TV on and let them zone out in front of it for 3 hrs straight, I have failed them and myself.
We all feel it on some level, though.
If you are given a huge client or a leadership role at work, success.
If you’re passed over for a promotion at work, fail.
If you have enough money to buy a house, success.
If you are living paycheck to paycheck, fail.
If your kids go to bed easily and sleep through the night, success.
If your kids resist sleep like the plague and wake up constantly in the middle of the night, fail.
If you feed your kids organic food all the time, success.
If you let them eat Cheetohs and Twinkies, fail.
If you can balance in a handstand away from a wall, success.
If you can’t kick up into handstand at the wall, fail.
If you can run a marathon, success.
If you can’t do a pull up, fail.
If your house is so clean you could eat off of the floor, success.
If your kids actually do eat off of the floor and you’re not sure if what they ate was dropped yesterday or today, fail.
We’re constantly trying to rack up accomplishments and avoid failures to measure the quality of our lives.
The thing is, we tend to miss all of the stuff in between.
The hours and days and weeks that lead up to the successes are sometimes full of stress and exhaustion and disconnect, while sometimes the moments that lead up to the fail are full of hard work and heart and hope.
And sometimes it’s the opposite.
The point is that the successes are great, but are you paying attention to how you got there?
And the failures suck, but are they opening space for something better?
If you’re like me, you might magnify your failures and minimize the successes.
Recently, I had 2 big professional failures.
I didn’t run my signature course, Conscious Healthy Mama Essentials, because no one signed up. Not a single person. Total crickets.
And I had to pull the plug on my summer yoga retreat because I didn’t have enough advance registrations to hold the space.
To be honest, both hit me hard.
I spent some time venting to anyone who would listen. I questioned my own abilities as a business owner, a self-care expert, and as an experienced yoga teacher.
Even worse, I had worked really hard to make both events happen which meant spending less time with my kids and working later into the day than I like to work. I felt like I did all of the right things, from a business standpoint and had nothing to show for it. Having those 2 fails one right after the other made me wonder if I should even bother trying to do courses or events like them again.
On the other hand, in the past week I’ve received 2 emails from students who have thanked me for my teaching and have shared with me the difference I’ve made in their lives.
I want to be clear that it’s not about the validation of receiving those emails.
More that it’s about the validation of both experiences:
Not getting enough registrations for 2 of my offerings AND receiving gratitude from people who do work with me.
Both get added to the Success scale.
But what about all of the stuff in the middle?
What about the more invisible impacts that are anecdotal or experiential?
It’s easy to measure my business based on how much money I make or don’t make.. And to be clear, a business needs to make money in order to be a business. Otherwise it’s an expensive, time-consuming hobby.
It’s even easier to measure my success based on what I had to cancel, what no one wanted to do, or who decides to unsubscribe from my newsletter.
Those are tangible things I can count, weigh, and measure.
It’s harder to quantify how I’ve changed someone’s life.
Or how I’ve changed my own.
The same is true of mom life.
It’s easy to tally the sleepless nights, the times I’ve yelled loudly enough to hurt my throat, and the hours of tv in exchange for a little time for myself.
It’s even easier to list the tantrums they have per day, the foods they refuse to eat, and the multiple ways they refuse to do the things you ask.
We can count the number of legos they’ve left on the floor (although I swear to all that is holy, some of those fuckers are invisible until you step on them in the middle of the night).
It’s harder to count the positive lessons they’ve learned and internalized.
It’s harder to remember those random moments during the day that make you smile.
The comfort you feel when your child slips their hand into yours.
The warmth you feel when your kid falls asleep with their head on your lap.
The pride you feel when your baby all of a sudden can do things she couldn’t do the day before.
So much of parenthood is unquantifiable.
We look to the milestones (first step, first words, first day of school) and the accomplishments (counting to 10, how quickly they read, riding a bike) to measure success.
But those things don’t really measure a life.
If yoga has taught me anything it’s that the reward is not in the pose but in the practice.
Handstand is awesome, but if I don’t come to it though hard work and constant practice, it doesn’t feel as valuable to me.
I’m not saying the struggle is what matters most.
Because then I would be the most successful business owner and mom of all time.
I’m saying that the journey is what makes a life. Not the goals and the accomplishments.
The goal is not the reward.
The reward is in the doing and the living.
Right now as I type this, my kids are belly down on the mini-trampoline, eating rice cakes, and bird watching.
This is the kind of moment that is easy to forget but it’s what makes up the invisible rewards of my day.
So does this mean I am going to stop working completely and devote myself to watching the sunrise?
No. I love what I do. And I think I’m good at it.
I did, however, turn down the opportunity to lead a beach yoga retreat in Turks and Caicos because it felt stressful and un-fun.
I am also going to work to simplify my business in order to make it run more smoothly and successfully.
I want more room to be able to pay more attention to the spaces in between.
Those 2 huge fails I mentioned earlier?
They’ve given me the gift of space and perspective.
Yes, I won’t be making as much money as I would have if they’d happened, which is hard when your family relies on your income.
It’s also forcing me to do some of the hard work I’ve been avoiding.
And it’s allowing me the opportunity to go to a family wedding without the stress of multiple cross-country trips in a 2 weeks period of time.
I don’t know if I can avoid the pitfalls of seeking the big rewards, whether in business or motherhood.
But I can begin to pay attention to and enjoy the boring, beautiful stuff along the way.