The Enormity of Leading a Significant Life

Today I bring you a guest post from A Lady in France, the lovely Lady Jennie. Welcome her and check out her awesome blog for a glimpse into her life as as American living in France, complete with beautiful pictures (and wonderful stories, of course).

I was walking to the boulangerie the other day and my thoughts turned to this phrase: “the enormity of leading a significant life.” The phrase kind of popped out at me from nowhere with no prompting whatsoever, and although I don’t know why it needed to include the word “enormity” (maybe it’s all the dieting?), I do know it must be something that is very, very important to me.

I think I am subconsciously consumed with the idea of leading a significant life.

I’m a mom, and there is clearly something significant about raising children, but I know I’m not alone in desiring to have something of my own, something that is not wrapped up in the success or lives of my offspring. Normal, right? You want to be something that your children can be proud of, can look up to, so that they can aim even higher. Or if not that, you want at least to be fulfilled and radiant so you have something to give back to your husband and children.

I think a truly significant life is living out who you were created to be. We need every person to contribute with their varied talent in order to have a functioning society. We need:

  • the tender-hearted person who can hear the needs of others to act in a benevolent role,
  • the stoic person, tough under pressure, to handle the surgeon’s knife,
  • the determined person who sees a gap and fills it with commerce or with policy, directing others who prefer to be part of a team rather than at the head of it,
  • the creative person to stimulate the soul and lead us out of ourselves,
  • the passionate person to teach others his or her ideals, to sometimes see higher than what the other can see,
  • the quick thinker to argue and present a side,
  • the methodical thinker to plan and calculate in order to build the best base for a project.

Society needs us all, and as many “types of personality” as there are, there are just as many that don’t fit into any mold. We need those too.

For those of us muddling along, a significant life can’t always be had in one go.

Sometimes I look longingly at the person who always knew they were going to do “that thing.” They started young and voila – they’re doing it, no looking back. I even contemplate what it would be like to go back to school to become a doctor or nurse at the age of 41, just so I could have 15-20 years of meaningful work before I retire. (Um. I don’t think I will, though).

I once read that leading a narrow life leads to happiness. This didn’t immediately make sense. It was only after I read what followed the statement that I could identify: a young person just starting out at the age of 21, the world at her feet, sure she can do anything if only she can just figure out what plough to put her hands to, is much more troubled and unhappy than another person who has chosen just one task in life and does that one thing whole-heartedly without getting pulled to the right or to the left.

As moms though, it’s hard to have just one task in life (unless it’s to be a mom).

Sometimes the search for finding that significant life is like a series of canals. Your boat enters one lock gate and you float around there for awhile as they raise the water to allow you to enter the next section of river. You paddle forward for a bit and reach another lock gate that brings you to where you want to head. Life unfolds slowly as you steer your way almost blindly to that new section of river. From there you can press onward.

Other times, I think the search for significance is like pregnancy and birth. Something new is growing inside of you (sometimes it makes you throw up), and it’s very clear that something big is happening. Eventually through an often soul-wrenching birth, the significance of your life lands in your lap a fledgling, ready to be nurtured.

Most of all, though, leading a significant life is fully living out those in-between moments along the way.

To quote King Solomon, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they life. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”

Whether or not we wake up each day purpose-filled or whether we muddle through in constant contemplation of where we’re headed, how right to be happy and do good while we live. How right to eat and drink and find satisfaction in all our toil.

I didn’t find the significance of my life on the way to the bakery that day, and given my 40+ year history of much of the same thing, I suspect that my significance will be found over time in the canal approach: each experience leading to the next in a slow winding manner.

As a muddler, at least I can be assured of plenty of time along the way to do whatever floats my boat.

6 Comments on The Enormity of Leading a Significant Life

  1. Lady Jennie
    January 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm (5 years ago)

    Thanks for allowing me to guest post! :-)


  2. Stacia
    January 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm (5 years ago)

    Happiness to be found in “each experience leading to the next in a slow winding manner”: I get that; I totally get that. I hope, when I get to the end, I can say I lived a significant life, in my own way.

  3. Mrs.Mayhem
    January 25, 2011 at 11:14 am (5 years ago)

    Lady Jennie, I could totally relate to this post. I certainly muddle through every day as a mother, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you strip away society’s idea of what is important, then what really matters? For me, it is the human connection.

    • Lady Jennie
      January 25, 2011 at 2:10 pm (5 years ago)

      That is so true Mrs. M – the human connection!

  4. dusty earth mother
    January 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm (5 years ago)

    Yes, yes, yes. Beautifully conceived, beautifully told. All so incredibly true and so painful and joyful at the same time. Great job, Lady Jennie.

  5. Alexandra
    January 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm (5 years ago)

    Lady Jennie, you speak my language. I know exactly what you mean. And I can also tell that a post to you is pouring your heart out.

    Your love for your life, and what you have, and what you hope to give, is so evident here.

    I’m with you, sister, on all counts.


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