What Have We Lost?

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What a question to begin the new year when everyone is looking to the future with bright anticipation. Before we go charging into 2016 pursuing new projects and dreams, however, I want us to think about past quests for glory, and what we sacrificed in the name of success.


I want us to move into the new year awake, aware, and whole. In order to pursue our true calling, I want us to reclaim the pieces of ourselves lost to ambition and/or motherhood.


Do you remember when you were starting out in the world, when you graduated from college or art school and began to make your way? If you were like most young adults, you sought the guidance of counselors or elders in your field, and they gave you a map to one profession or other. Maybe you bumbled around a bit, but eventually you got serious. You strapped on your big-girl boots, chose a path, and pursued it with determination.


When I graduated with an M.A. in art history, I took the advice of a more advanced colleague, left California where I had lived my entire life, and pursued a museum internship in Massachusetts. As my friend predicted, that led to a position as assistant curator at DeCordova Museum, which according to  the director would serve as a stepping stone to curatorial glory at some big city museum. But a few years into curatorial work, I realized something was missing.


I was drawn to artists’ studios and conversations with artists about their work, and I loved the process of installing art to its best advantage. But I grew tired of the long work weeks the and pressure to produce thematic exhibitions. It felt inauthentic to me. I tried writing art criticism next, but quickly realized I’d have to write according to the voice and values of my editors. By the time I was thirty-seven, two years away from getting my Ph.D., I concluded that my love of art and desire to live a contemplative life had been drowned out by my ambition and determination to make it in the art world.


In The Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock describes a similar phenomenon among professional women who give all to their careers, persevere and succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields, live lives their mothers and grandmothers couldn’t have dreamed. But like me, they find themselves throwing their hands up and asking, for what? Where is the meaning?


At this point in the journey, many women take the opportunity to get off the professional track and devote time to raising a family. In the past twenty years or so, motherhood has been elevated to a quest women pursue with the same determination they did their careers. We read countless parenting books, attend seminars, debate the pros and cons of attachment parenting, schooling, and diet. As if parenthood weren’t challenging enough, making sure everyone is fed and clothed, keeping up with homework, doctors appointments, after school activities, and on and on and on.


The Heroine’s Journey is about restoring the lost pieces of our lives, especially our creative work. We might reclaim a project that we haven’t been able to fit in between the agendas of our employers and the demands of our families. Or perhaps we want to restore our own sense of time and flow, our ability to listen and respond to creative callings in ways that feel authentic to us.


I’m  getting ready to announce a new online program for us to take back those missing pieces. We’ll write into our past, arrive at the present, and seek to integrate our desire for success in the external world with the interior call to create.


What have you lost to ambition, to parenthood, or to someone else’s idea of success?

What if you had a process to reclaim and reunite all aspects of yourself so you could create consistently from your deepest place?


6 thoughts on “What Have We Lost?

  1. Jone Blissett Johnson

    Ah ha — what I gave up for being a wife & mother, not what I gave up as a professional. I gave up being an oboe-ist in college to pursue a ‘real career. I wanted to be a nurse. Failed the math & became an elementary teacher. Then married. Moved with my husband to Seattle where he was pursuing his Graduate degree. That year 1500 teachers were let go in Seattle schools. Taught inner city & never wanted to teach again. Husband graduated & was hired by a major company. 10 years and 6 miscarriages & I thought motherhood was out. Adopted from Korea. By 8th grade found out our daughter has Asbergers Syndrome (high functioning Autism). Then some genetic handicaps started happening to my body & I could not physically keep up with family and friends. Through all this I lost my sense of self & saw only failure to achieve excellence as a mother or wife. Some counseling and I’m beginning to see these things as loss not failure & am trying to find my own self-worth. My Art which I always enjoyed as a hobby & my Journaling are helping with this process. I understand also that many people in their 60’s go through a kind of self examination as to the worth of their life. I’m just trying to be comfortable with all that has been my life & not judge it. 65 on is a time of looking for the joy and beauty to be found in each day and just enjoy living.

  2. Lauren

    This is so wonderful. I can name so many times where I consciously chose to walk in the wrong direction…

    And that book… I borrowed it from the library and read it months ago. Only returned it because I had to. Then just before I headed back to CA for the holidays, I found a mint condition used copy in a bookstore where I had credit. So happy to have my own copy finally.

  3. Andrea Warren

    We certainly do lose pieces of ourselves as we try to be everything to everybody in our lives. I hope to find that turning point in my life soon, where I can step back and say everything in my life was an important element of my life, rather than counting all the failed attempts at being the perfect everything. As I stand on the threshold of turning 50 in a couple years, I hope that I can finally settle into all aspects of my life, without sacrificing myself to each attempt of being whole. Thank you, Saundra for your much needed encouragement and inspiring writings.


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