The Joy of Being a Turtle: Or, Learning to Live with Self-Compassion

I find this so inspiring: 97 year old John Goodenough has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on developing lithium-ion batteries. First of all, the man has the perfect name. I am a true, blue good-enough-ist. To go through life with that name would be an honor and an inspiration. It is also inspiring on the level of, “Hey, we could have cars on the road very soon that don’t use any fossil fuels and don’t cost more money than most people make in a year,” and on the level of, “You can continue to work and create throughout your entire life.”

I spent the first part of my life doing the things I was supposed to do to earn a proper living: getting my undergraduate degree, getting my Masters degree, volunteering profusely, and working for basically nothing along the way.

But I discovered a big problem as I went about trying to find my path. People aren’t always (read:rarely) paid fairly for their work. A Masters in Social Work got me basically a big fat nothing in the pay department.

When I began having kids, it was a no-brainer to stay home to raise them. As a social worker, I was making slightly more than what I would pay a child-care provider. It made sense to stay home with the kids when they were young. And, the truth is, I enjoyed being with them. I enjoyed making our days together. It wasn’t perfect. I often felt alone and isolated. But mostly, I liked creating days together that we all enjoyed.

As often happens, life took unexpected turns. I decided to homeschool my kids, and then I was really entrenched in this role of stay-at-home mom, educator, principal, and home executive. It took a LONG time to find our way with homeschooling, but when we finally did, it really felt right for all of us. My husband-at-the-time was earning the money, and though I took small jobs outside the home, I was mostly in charge of day-to-day life for all of us.

Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom didn’t mean I stopped growing myself. Learning new things was a part of my ethos, the very fabric of my being.

Whether it was canning and fermentation, knitting, or mindfulness and yoga, I was always taking in new information and adding it into what the days looked like for myself and my family.

It turns out that this life was not so enjoyable for my then-husband. He wanted out.

So at 47 years old, I found myself with the need to figure out some kind of career. Woah. This was scary and hard. I had a degree that had pretty much been worthless (financially speaking) from the beginning, I could teach yoga, and I could make a can of pickles or knit a hat.

This didn’t seem like a good pace to start from. But start I did because necessity is the mother of invention. From minute-one, I knew I did not want to go to work in some 9-5 office job. That had never been my style and I wasn’t going to fit easily into that world now.

I continued on my learning path with yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, taking training after training. At one point, I realized that I was training too much. I made a 3-o’clock-in-the-morning vow to stop paying for trainings. Within a week I was volunteering to assist in a 200-hr yoga teacher training. Well, I wasn’t paying for it! I was on the long, circuitous path that some find themselves on, but I was learning so much, both about myself and about embodiment, mindfulness, and meditation practice.

One thing I discovered is that I am slow learner. But the wonderful thing, really the most important thing, is that I did not discover this with judgement, but with true acceptance.

“Oh, I see! I learn at this very slow pace. I really need to sit with things and let them marinate a bit before I can incorporate them into my way of being, of working.”

This moment of noticing without self-criticism or beating myself up because of the slow pace of my integration of new knowledge was a life-changer.

This was Mindful Self-Compassion in action.

This is simply part of who I am, and something that I have come to deeply admire about myself.

I love how John Goodenough talks about this slower pace in an opinion piece in the New York Times by Pagan Kennedy dated April 7, 2017:

“When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: “Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.” This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.”

The turtle description is apt. I have crawled slowly through this life, and yet I have learned so much and have been able to incorporate that knowledge to create a life I truly love. Even the hard shell fits, as I have had to do a lot of self-protection to survive. But now, I feel like I am in the ever-expanding world of knowing and sharing my knowledge.

I am not hoping for a Nobel Prize in this lifetime, but it is great to see that life really can begin (or begin again) at fifty.