Sometimes as caregivers, we can feel trapped and overwhelmed. We may be stressed with the conflict of our roles – because we are not only caregivers for our family members – parents, siblings, spouse or partner – but we also have to get to work, look after our growing children, look after our own household and manage our own lives. It really can seem like too much for one person.
We can resent this role at times. We can resent what life has given us. It’s not what we asked for and not what we expected.
Most of us grow up with a lot of misconceptions about life, and these can set us up for disappointment. As children, we at first believe that life is supposed to be fair, and when people are mean to us and treat us unfairly, we get upset, angry or demoralized.
Good things happen to bad people; bad things happen to good people. We can get sick, acquire chronic diseases and cancers and be injured in accidents even when we eat right, drive carefully, and don’t smoke.
In early life, depending on the circumstances and experiences of our childhoods, we come to have certain expectations about how our lives will unfold. We decide what we want, set our goals, plan and work towards them. Then life intervenes.
When our dreams of an ideal life are stymied repeatedly over the course of our lives, we can feel frustrated, embittered and defeated. Life can feel like a daily battle.
When we think about our calling in life, we think of it as our life’s purpose. When I’m talking to my own kids, to young patients, and to my adult patients who are between jobs and or in midlife, we often talk about their calling in life.
I like to draw for them the three intersecting circles, each representing their passions, their talents and the needs of the world. Where the three intersect, there they will find their calling.
This is a great model for thinking about what matters most for us, and for defining what we perceive to be our calling at different points in our lives. Yet in many ways, the unexpected will happen – unexpected challenges and unexpected opportunities. Life itself will call you in many different ways at each point in your life.
My favourite Christmas movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey who as a child had great dreams of travelling the world, going to college and becoming an architect.
Life intervenes with his plans. His father dies unexpectedly and he takes over the family business, the Bailey Building & Loan. He sacrifices his own interests to support the Building & Loan because it makes the difference in the lives of so many in his small town, allowing them to feed their families and buy their own homes.
Life conspires to keep him in his small town and stuck in the family business instead of following his own dreams. When George himself faces bankruptcy and unfounded criminal charges, he sees himself as a failure. Ultimately, he realizes that by being true to his values and answering when life has called, he has created a richer more meaningful life than he had ever dreamed of as a child.
I like to share real life stories with my children. I want them to be safe, live healthy lives, discover their passions, develop their talents and work towards their positive potentials, but I prepare them for a life of surprises, detours and challenges. Sometimes the circumstances of life will intervene with their plans. They need to remain open and flexible, resilient and creative – to recognize what life asks of them and decide how they will answer.
The life stories that inspire me are not about those who have set a goal in early life and did whatever they had to do to achieve it but rather the real heroes who are unexpectedly called by the circumstances of life and the needs of the world and do great things they had never imagined.
In the movie, Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks says “Life is a box of chocolates . . . You never know what you’re gonna get.”
I tell my kids, “Life is a box of Purdy’s chocolates . . . when you have an allergy to peanuts . . . and no picture guide. There’s potential excitement, adventure and misadventure when you least expect it.”
You never know when you will find excitement, adventure and sometimes misadventure.