I spent most of my 30s buying designer shoes, paying off credit card bills, leafing through Vogue and Elle, and running across town (and oceans) to parties, surrounded by dozens of people I called my friends but barely knew. I dreamed of writing a book, but was too scared to do it, and spent close to a decade wrestling with whether my degree made me a writer or not, whether it mattered that I had little proof of it otherwise, constantly swayed by the opinions of others. Friends started families, I envied them, yet soaked in the sunshine of careless freedom.
Fast-forward to my forty-third birthday just a week ago. I eventually wrote that book. Not because someone told me I had to, but because it got to the point where there was nothing else I wanted to do. My designer shoes rest in cotton bags in the depths of my closet, and I don’t own a credit card. And on my birthday, I held my son close while he vomited all over his bed from a nasty stomach bug, washed sheets, and tried to convince my friends that no, I am not hiding a celebration from them, I am simply not celebrating, because I din’t feel the need to.
We spend so much of our lives following rules, expectations, meeting milestone deadlines, spending ridiculous money on on things we think will get us “there,” that we forget to let go, to take a seat and have a quiet talk with ourselves, as if there is noone else in this world, and give our inner voice time to reply.
I stole the title of this post originally from Voltaire, but also from a piece in the New York Times Magazine about Michelle Obama, and the incredible things she has accomplished as First Lady. She was under the scrutiny of the public eye from a long time before day one, more than any other First Lady in history, for reasons obvious to all, yet she managed to spend eight years in the house that she will soon leave, impeccably unscathed, simply because she chose to not follow the leads of those before her, to cultivate her own garden.
None of us will ever be Michelle, and few of us will accomplish what she has. But shrink it to a smaller scale, to your town, your neighborhood, your social circle, your family. Cultivate your own garden, and the worst thing that can happen, is that you will have goods to share with others.