It’s 5 years since my book, Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness was published. It was a huge milestone, when I announced to the world that, despite being childless & my life not turning out as planned, I found my joy & so can you. So at her 5-year anniversary I thought it would be useful to reflect on the impact it had on me.
1. The work I did (especially to process my grief) taught me essential life skills
I’ve often described the writing process as the therapy & I needed because writing encouraged me to explore the subjects of each chapter (whether I wanted to or not 😊). Until then I was avoiding grief, so researching & working through subjects such as setting my values, letting go, connecting with my body, gratitude, joy etc were exactly what I needed.
This was especially true of grief. Grief is the emotion we least want to feel but also cannot avoid, & the tools & techniques I learned have supported me in the loss of friends & enabled me to become calmer & more peaceful. When I’m reminded of my parents or not having children, where I used to be engulfed by a Tsunami, now it’s not even waves, but tiny ripples.
I’ve learned that grief shows its presence in many different forms & with increasing regularity as we age, so it’s helpful to make friends with it so we can walk together & make peace with all life throws at us.
As I re-read Finding Joy, I realised just how much I’d learned both in its writing & the work I did around it, how much this has changed me & how many of those life skills I use on a regular basis. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic, ‘The merits of that creative adventure were mine to keep forever’
These past few months have been (& continue to be) a challenging time as my mother-in-law struggles & I’ve surprised myself at how calm I’ve been throughout (well mostly!). I know that this would not have been the case in the past.
2. The hardest challenges bring the biggest rewards.
The concepts I found most challenging at the time were those in Chapter 9, ‘I Love & Accept Myself Completely as I am.’ Those tricky phrases beginning with ‘self’ such as love, acceptance, kindness & forgiveness felt out of reach.
In my head I felt as though I was broken & needed to be fixed, that there was always more work to do. This was making me unhappy, or maybe dissatisfied with myself & life, seeing myself as a project & always looking for the next thing to change.
In the last year, in addition to changing my reading focus, I’ve made some changes to my spiritual practices, focusing more on Mindfulness Meditation & Qigong & less on yoga & I feel more relaxed & at peace with myself & life. I’m still reading & learning, but in a different way, lower key & with more curiosity & less urgency to change myself.
I’ve written previously that, ‘once you step on the path to finding your true or authentic self, it is one which, if you want it to, will continue for the rest of your life’. And so it has, but I’ve now reached a place of self-acceptance, a knowing that I am Enough just as I am so the steps are smaller & I’m proceeding with less urgency which is really lovely.
3. Finding Joy was a line in the sand, an ending which enabled me to craft a new beginning.
In the book I write about the importance of rituals to mark transitions and rites of passage. Throughout our lives we mark changes in our identity with ceremonies, but there’s no funeral for the loss of a dream. I encourage my childless readers to mark their ending, to draw a line in the sand & step over it, leaving the past behind ready to begin anew.
Writing Finding Joy was my ending & enabled me to turn the page on my childless chapter. Of course, I will always be childless, BUT it is now firmly in the past & no longer something I think about.
4. It was a catalyst to launching my curiosity & creativity.
I’ve never been fond of the need to have a life purpose & instead adopted the phrase used by Elizabeth Gilbert, to ‘follow your curiosity’ & it’ been my guiding principle ever since. To me, having a purpose feels rigid & permanent, whereas curiosity is softer & temporary. It’s something you can follow for a while & if it doesn’t work out, that’s ok, you can try something else. Following mine has led me to some interesting places, a few dead ends & brought me a lot of joy.
The biggest area of exploration had been in my creativity. As I can’t draw or paint, I used to think I wasn’t creative, but the research I did when writing encouraged me to widen that definition & these days I can’t stop creating. I started going back to embroidery which I used to love as a child & I’ve completed many & varied things, none of which are perfect, but all made with love. Last year I tried 6 different crafts with differing levels of success, a lot of fun & learned a lot about myself in the process.
5. The journaling prompts in Finding Joy are useful, whatever your life circumstances
A friend with children recently retired & mentioned that she would be completing the Wheel of Life & Wheel of Me in Finding Joy which encouraged me to go back through some of the journaling prompts to see how many of them were useful now that I’ve moved on. And I’m pleased to report that they are! Working though the prompts I realised that they:
- Are an anchor, confirming that my internal compass was pointing in the right direction,
- a reminder of how much I’ve changed in 5 years, and
- And gave me suggestions for what I could do to bring more joy into my life.
As she & other friends with children have said, the stories within Finding Joy are about coming to terms with childlessness, however the process it takes you through applies to everyone. For most of us, life didn’t turn out as planned & Finding Joy will show you how to come to terms with the resulting loss & find your joy.
Looking back, I believe that writing & sharing my story was the most positive thing I’ve done. I still can’t believe I published a book which, even after 5 years sells copies every month, & has made a difference to hundreds of other women. That & the 220+ blogs I’ve written makes me very proud.
And now it’s your turn.
Thank you for reading. Your reward is to spend a few moments asking yourself what you’ve learned from reading my story & what you will do as a result. Please leave a comment below if this has helped you.
If I have one thing it would be write & share your story, you don’t have to write a book, there are plenty of places (including my Inspirational Stories), I guarantee it will make a big difference.
I’ll end with this: ‘Everyone’s path to this place we call grief is unique, just as everyone’s path out is also unique. There is a path for you, your task is to find it’.