Creativity Archives

Why “Happily Ever After” Is a Curse

We all know that “happily ever after” is a myth, but how many of us are unknowingly still live by it? And I’m not just talking romance.

Happily-ever-after-disney-princessHonestly ask yourself whether you think:

– Once you’ve achieved a certain income, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you’re self-employed and no longer have to work for someone else, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you have the child you long for, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you have your dream house, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you retire, you’ll live happily ever after.

I think a lot of us have bought into this myth and don’t even realized we’re living our lives based on it. We give up enjoying the moment in order to chase whatever think we will make us live happily ever after.

After achieving a goal that we think will make us live happily ever after, it doesn’t take long before we start feeling dissatisfied. When this happens, we think there was something wrong with that goal we had just achieved, that it wasn’t enough. We then go on to seek out another goal that we think will make us live happily ever after. Sacrificing our lives to achieve it and then circling back to that familiar disappointment.

In reality we create our lives in cycles.

  • We complete our initial education (one cycle). Then go on to create our career (the next cycle).
  • We date and find our soulmate (one cycle). Then go on to create the life we want with our partner (the next cycle).
  • We develop a career we love (once cycle). Then outgrow it and find the urge to try something new (the next cycle).

There is no one goal that once we achieve it, we’ll live happily ever after. If we embrace this natural cycle of creation, then when disappointment arrives, we know it’s just the first step to our next cycle. We can use that disappointment to help us find the next thing we want to create.

We sacrifice a lot for a goal we think will make us live happily ever after. If accomplishing it did just that, the sacrifice would be worth it. But if we look at goals as part of a continuous cycle—achieving and relishing one goal will eventually lead to new ideas and new goals—would we be willing to sacrifice in that same way? Or would we instead seek a way to attain our goals while still enjoy our life in the process?

With some projects, we don’t show the world our rough drafts, our struggles, and our weaknesses as we create. We polish them up before we let the world see them. I do that with most of my art, writing, and dancing. But there are times to let the rough drafts show, and doing that can build confidence.

One example in my life is the water retention basin we dug in our front yard. It’s a big ugly hole 2 feet deep with 2 trees planted in it. We are landscaping a little at time as we have time. We wanted to plant the trees first because we knew it would take time for them to grow tall enough to give us the privacy we wanted. We put the water retention basin in because we’re creating an environmental-friendly landscape to match our environmentally-friendly house.

After we dug the basin and planted the trees, our next priority was to plant shade plants on the east and west sides of our house. We live in Albuquerque and don’t have an air conditioner nor a swamp cooler, so shading the house in the summer is essential. We decided to postpone beautifying the retention basin until after we planted the shading trees and bushes.

This retention basin has sat looking ugly in our front yard for months. I’ve had neighbors ask me why we would put such a hideous hole in our front yard. We’re not breaking any rules of the neighborhood, and we do plan on making it pretty. But we’ll be doing that in our own timeline.

People’s mean criticism has been like barbs jabbed into my heart. I felt insecure. It’s scary to publicly expose a non-polished project like this.

When I’d feel one of those barbs, I’d take care of myself. I’d visit the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History to see their beautiful finished retention basin and remind myself that I’m not crazy. I’d get emotional support from my husband. The barbed wounds would heal, and I’d be more confident that I could expose my rough draft and still feel good about my ideas.

I have a better understanding of what  Noah went through when building his ark. And I really appreciate that we’ve kept that story alive. It gives me strength to think about it.

Have you ventured out with your own “Noah’s Ark” project? It’s definitely great character-building!

We recently built a house that we intentionally left unlandscaped until we were ready, financially and energetically, to tackle that big project. Last fall, we planted two desert willow trees. I read gardening books. I asked the nursery exactly how to care for them and took detailed notes. One direction that was confusing to me was, “…water to a depth of 2 to 3 feet…” How do I know whether I’ve watered to that depth?

Our first trees. Desert willows.

Last month, we went to another nursery and purchase dwarf butterfly bushes. The woman who helped us seemed very knowledgeable, so I asked her about it. She told us to use the watering directions as a starting point and to adjust the watering based on how the plants respond. What a novel idea!

I’m so used to following rules and not even thinking about whether they are actually working. I spent a lot of research time looking for rules on how to take care of our new plants, thinking all I had to do was follow the rules and things would work out well.

This got me thinking about the role of rules in my life. If rules are made to be broken, what’s the point of having them? I realized with my plants, if I didn’t have any rules on how to water them, I would be clueless on where to start. With the watering directions, I had my starting point. I would implement the directions and watch to see the outcome. Then I’d adjust the “rules” to bring about the results I want.

I find this works well in other areas of my life too. With art, I learn the rules of design and then later tweak them to create pieces that are pleasing to me. In relationships, I take what I’ve learned in books and trainings, then tweak it to fit what’s right in the moment.

I’ve noticed that the more experience I have in a subject matter, the more I go beyond the rules. And if there’s a topic I don’t want to take the time to dig into, following the rules is a great no-brainer option.

Rules are so helpful as a starting point, but to rigidly stick with them without noticing the results defeats the purpose. And definitely don’t let them limit you!

Finding Balance Outside Your Comfort Zone

Of the four phases of doing a project—coming up with the idea, planning, implementing, and maintenance—I feel most comfortable in the idea and planning phases. When I work in a team, I can stay in those comfortable idea and planning roles and let my fellow teammates, who enjoy the other phases, take on the implementing and maintenance roles. It works really well. In fact, I do this with my husband. I like coming up with the ideas and planning. He likes implementing and maintaining.

As I’ve started doing more things on my own, I realized I wanted to experience more of the implementation phase. That’s one of the reasons I took an art class this year. In art you come up with the idea, plan, and implement your work. When I got my degree in biochemistry, it was rare for me to have the opportunity to implement any of my own ideas. My school work was all about learning principles. Even in lab, all we did was follow someone else’s recipe.

As I got into the implementation phase in my art class, I started feeling more balanced. In the past, staying in the idea and planning phases kept me in my head too much. Where implementing was more physical. It actually felt good.

After my art class finished, I decided to keep this balance. We are in the process of landscaping our yard. We live in the desert southwest, and I wanted to create an environmentally-friendly landscape. I’ve studied rain water harvesting and permaculture to come up with ideas, and I have created a really cool design (a plan).

Last week, we worked on implementing my design. My mom asked me, “What part did you do? The supervising?” This is my typical role. But this time, I was hands on in the implementation too. It felt great. I got such a sense of accomplishment.

Landscape west side

Taking the time to implement in ways that feel balanced to me has made me feel more empowered. It doesn’t mean that I won’t delegate in the future. It just means I want to be aware of how much implementation feels right to me.

Is there an area where you’re feeling drawn to step outside your comfort zone? If so, give it a try and see if it gives you a sense of more balance.

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