When people hear about my separation, the first thing they always say is, “I’m sorry.” My answer is always the same, “Why? It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I’m not saying it wasn’t difficult. Figuring out custody arrangements. Endless fights over parenting styles, money, possessions, and general strife are never easy things to contend with.
But, there was something else, too. After 13 years, and two kids, I had 50 percent of my time to myself. I hadn’t had time to myself in 13 years. For the first little while, I felt lost, a little adrift. What on earth do you do with yourself when your entire identity is wrapped up in being a mother and someone’s wife?
This was when I discovered Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes.
A quick synopsis. Despite being successful at her job (she has, after all, written and produced some of the biggest hits on television), she was scared to say yes to anything that wasn’t in her comfort zone. It took her sister, standing in her kitchen at Thanksgiving, after Shonda had turned down a speaking engagement, chastising her for never saying yes to opportunities, to make her think. She hadn’t been saying yes, and decided to spend an entire year doing so.
Pushing aside the time I spent in a funk (I hadn’t dated, changed anything about my life, and spent all my time feeling sorry for myself), I decided that was it. If a successful, creative, smart woman could step up and say yes, so could I. That book was my birthday present to myself – after nearly a year, it was time to take some action.
So, I did. I said yes to a promotion. I said yes to every speaking engagement I could have possibly agreed to. I said yes to training for, and finally running, that marathon I kept promising I would do. I said yes to putting my needs first, and discovered a few things along the way.
- When I honour myself, I am a better mother. I’m happier when I make space for things I love
- I adore taking care of my body and exercising. I always put it last on my list. Now I prioritize it
- I actually like speaking and sharing my knowledge with others. I don’t have to make myself small or take up less space
- I am more focused when I have to be. I can be a better employee by recognizing my limits and giving myself permission to say yes to saying no in some instances
- I don’t have to be married to be fulfilled. So many people, when I first was going through my separation, urged me to “get back out there,” or, “go find love again.” Or (in my opinion, the worst, “You’ll find someone who makes you happy.”) I make me happy. I don’t have to rely on someone else to do that for me
- Related to point five, I can date whoever strikes my fancy, or, if everyone is honest, multiple people at once. It’s all good, and with zero pressure put on relationships as a result, I can truly enjoy the experience. I don’t have to feel fenced in by the idea that I must date for the sole purpose of finding my soulmate
- My career goals have changed. I want to work towards owning a winery. Who knew that my first wine tour in years, with my ride or die, would spark a deep love of wine, a voracious need to learn, and a fire in the belly to build something?
Most of all, that year of yes scared me in so many ways. I was terrified to say yes to that promotion. I’m still a little scared to speak in public. I was worried that training for that marathon would be all-consuming, and would take me away for far too long from my kiddos. I was mostly scared that people would see me as selfish for putting myself ahead of my children (and oh, I certainly heard THOSE comments loud and clear).
I do think Shonda Rhimes saved me in so many ways. I can say that a few years on, I am braver. I am mentally (and physically) stronger. All because I happened to pick that book off the shelf, and treated myself.
Going through a separation or divorce is traumatic. It’s gut-wrenching. I went through every emotion – often on the same day. It was difficult to figure out exactly what I wanted to do, or if I even had the energy to do it (some days, just getting out of bed was a victory).
Getting through it, though? I fully credit Shonda Rhimes and her Year of Yes for propelling me forward into experiences, teaching me how to swallow the fears, and for making me a woman I can be proud of.