In a world that seems to be more challenging, frenetic, superficial, disconnected, and even frightening, is vivre pour autrui the answer? For me, yes, I think it is but more on that later.
When I was young and would ask my mother what she wanted for her birthday she would always respond with: “Peace of mind.” I bet you’ve heard it too. This used to frustrate me no end; as a young girl, I had no idea what that was or how to get it for my mum.
“Mum, what is peace of mind and why do you want it?” I would ask. She would smile and say one day you will understand the value of peace of mind and you will want it too.
Like most, my 20s found me exploring who I was, building relationships and finessing the beginnings of a career. In my 30s, I seemed to come into my own, relishing my life, relationships, marriage and work with a real confidence and zest for life. Peace of mind ironically was the last thing on my mind.
Then one day, when I was about to turn 40-something, I heard myself saying those very words. My husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said, “Peace of mind.”
Where on earth did that come from!
What does Happiness actually Look Like?
It’s funny, you think that you have it until that moment when you realise that you really don’t have it at all.
Like so many of you out there, I thought that I was in a pretty good place. I had reached the apex of my career, my marriage had well and truly passed the 7–year itch stage (without too much scratching), I had a lovely home, travelled the globe, had a wonderful circle of friends, and was comfortable in my own skin, not worried by the world’s opinion of me. Personally, and professionally, I was successful – or so it seemed.
But despite having achieved everything that I had set out to do it still wasn’t enough. I felt empty, there was something missing; my mind was not at peace, I was not genuinely happy.
When reflecting, it seemed that I had just been on autopilot; blindly navigating my way through life, oblivious as to where it was heading or whether it was the right life for me. Conscientiously and deliberately following the societal ‘norms’ to which we are indoctrinated from a young age.
Finish school, choose a vocation, get married, buy a house, have two children, get a dog, excel in your career, be a great wife, a wonderful mother and so on. Apparently, this was what success and happiness looked like.
Interestingly, all external or self-centred notions. There was nothing in there about living a life filled with purpose, compassion, generosity, and gratitude. Nothing about feeding your heart and soul as well as your bank balance.
There had to be more, but what? Here I was a lost, confused, unhappy ‘successful’ woman who had opened her Mary Poppins bag of tricks and found it empty. First world problems I know.
Journey of Self-Discovery
Tired of getting up in the morning, going through the motions and putting on my ‘face’ (you know the one: the vivacious, strong, happy, everything is fantastic, I love my life, successful face) I decided to make a change. A huge, terrifying change. I decided to take a 12-month career break. A hush falls over the crowd.
To start my journey of self-discovery I was convinced that I needed to be undistracted by the rigours of my omnipresent, lifelong career and responsibilities.
My ever-supportive husband sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do in my year off. And whilst I had absolutely no idea, I randomly listed four things.
Travel the world, become a writer (yeah right…or should I say yeah, write — not something I had done before), if needed, supplement my income with some freelance consultancy work and something more strategic in a philanthropic sense.
At the time, I told no-one else of this ‘wishlist’ as I wanted no external pressure or expectations. I just wanted to set off on a journey into the unknown and see where it led me.
And set off I did. I wandered out into the world spending months travelling the globe alone; Central America, South America, North America, Scandinavia, Europe, and Asia. This was the first tick on my wish-list.
It was in the jungles of Costa Rica that I finally started to get some clarity and see things a little more clearly, this despite my glasses fogging up from the humidity. And that clarity came from just spending some silent time with me.
My world was such a noisy, distracting place to be so I needed a time out from all the outer and inner chatter. Not talking for days on end was a very powerful curative. For an outgoing chatterbox like myself, it was challenging but in the end, so worth it.
Try it if you can, it is incredibly cathartic.
A New Chapter
By now I had three ticks on my wishlist, I had travelled, my articles had been published, my freelance consultancy was helping to pay some bills, and then the breakthrough came, an answer to my search (even though I didn’t know it at the time); the fourth tick on my wishlist.
The CEO of a Not for Profit organisation, a woman whom I didn’t know reached out and asked me whether I would consider applying to join their Board. Whilst I considered myself a philanthropist of sorts and I donated to all manner of causes, I never felt that I was doing enough. I wanted to do something more strategic, and here it was! So after much soul searching and self-doubt, I joined the Board of WIRE (Women’s Information Referral Exchange).
And thus, began a new chapter in my life, a renewed passion and with it, a deeper commitment to vivre pour autrui.
I didn’t write the following passages (the Dalai Lama did), but I came across them during my soul-searching and dogged pursuit of ‘peace of mind’ and it resonated deeply with me:
…since we desire the true happiness that is brought about by only a calm mind… such peace of mind is brought about by only a compassionate attitude… It is the ultimate source of success in life.
To Live for Others
So what is vivre pour autrui? It simply means to ‘live for others.’ It is from this phrase that the word altruism comes. And for those of you that thought that it meant ‘peace of mind’, well in a way, for me, it does.
Helping others has brought me such happiness, peace, and fulfilment and an unquenchable desire to not only demonstrate altruism but to cultivate it, promote it and hopefully inspire others to vivre pour autrui.
My gap year ended, and I re-entered the real world and I was okay with that at the time because I had already found something much greater than financial security and vocational excellence. I had found a purpose, a passion, a creative outlet. I had found my lifelong calling. I had found the elusive peace of mind.
Creating a better world one act of kindness at a time. Living life with compassion, love, and gratitude. That’s now my definition of success.
Sadly, my mother passed away a few years ago so I cannot tell her that she was right all along. I get it now mum.
I didn’t write this article to simply wax lyrical about my journey. I wrote it because I hoped that it might resonate with the many women out there who might be a little lost or confused or about to embark upon a similar pilgrimage. If you can find the courage, fortitude, and freedom to go and find yourself then I wish you every success and I’m here if you need me. To support you, encourage you, inspire you, empower you. To listen, share, laugh or even to cry with you.
And no, my trek through self-discovery wasn’t all happiness and light, it was (and is) at times tough, heartrending, exhausting and scary, but above all, it was worth it.
So, whilst our journey and definition of what brings peace of mind and success will differ, if my story and the answers that I found, inspires and helps other women in their quest then that’s what vivre pour autrui is all about.
I am not so sure why I was connected to this article today but I am certain it’s divine and timely because I have been asking myself so many questions on how to become a better moi. Reading the article gave me a sense of healing from some moral oppression and torture and I pray I reconnect to my commitment of gratitude, service and growth.
Thanks for sharing your insightful experience. I will wire other women to it for common good and change.
Thanks for such a beautiful post, very informative and useful article
Nice one,sometime this is just what we need,to pause for a minute and take a new turn then navigate our way to a different direction and see what it carries.it might be that’s just the part we have been searching out for.
Great article here , Good article.
Mid life makeovers are just that and if we can find the courage to embrace the challenges and connect with our spiritual divine self around the 42 yr time , we continue to grow and unfold into more of our authentic self. We are back at birth again and so re burth awauts.
Go well on your journey through the empowering experience of menopause, towards your 3rd moon node at 56 and 2nd Saturn return at 58. The wisdom years bring much “ peace of mind” if you have lived your life fully. Best wishes Christine
I thank you so much for your open and frank description of your life. Between our 36 and 42 year we are in the time of “dying and becoming anew” in our horoscope and most of us start doubting and Looking for new Things.
It was very brave to leave everything behind you for a whole year, although I think there is not the Need to “go away” to find out. You can also simply go “inside” of yourself and find out there in the silence of the early morning Meditation.
I love this and find the most interesting ideas inside of myself…
Lots of Love,
PS: And yes, empathy is most vital in my life, although I must confess that I feel more for animals, trees and our mother earth, as most humans are so obviously involved with their dreams that have caused their current Situation…
I began my quest 6 years ago when I left for Europe in search of my truths. This is a journey few want to follow for it requires looking deeply within oneself in order to find the love we seemed to have lost. It requires looking at the many beliefs ingrained in us since childhood and having to see the absurdity of many of those which we have held so dear. It is not an easy journey and I must constantly remind myself that I am a warrior princess, haha. However, for me, the cost of not taking this journey would be at a much higher cost than taking it. And so I will continue to follow the often dimly lit path which leads to higher ground… It is the only way home. It is often rocky, windy, and worn. It crosses many dark valleys and there are many switchbacks where I may be facing the abyss again— but of course, always remembering— the abyss is now behind me and eternal light and peace are before me.
I spent 4 years in Europe (studying everything) before returning to America where I bought an RV and I now travel, write a blog, and create my art from the road. Thank you for this heartfelt writing about ‘vivre pour autrui’.
“There is a right for you that requires no effort on your part. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of wisdom & power that flows through your life and, without effort, you are compelled to truth & perfect contentment” Kahil Gibran
How do you live for others when you have lost your son. I still don’t know my way forward. Living for others would mean that I need to “reinvent” myself and start a “new” live as I have “died” . People that “have” it all then suddenly realise the lives are “empty” obviously never suffered a loss. Cause believe me, thus is empty and now digging deep can ever fix it.
My comments dated 26 th April 19 3.17 Pm the word :Saharan” May please be substituted by SANATAN DHARM . Inconvenience regretted
Unending search for peace ends with sublime feelings. Once you start realizing the the rhythmic happiness dripping in your inner self by doing selfless service to humans , humanity the path is found.Vedic writings in Saharan written 5000years ago abounds bounty and meaning of life. Unfortunately we lack abysmally in developing receptivity. Once you start identifying the path and ways of happiness you take to wings . No stopping.Process is unexpectedly slow and you need to have faith.
This seems like a good place! I will follow, contribute and share.
Viktor Frankl discovered the same message in the Nazi death camps. It’s a timeless message.
I recently step on the stone to find myself and it’s been a magical mysterious few months! Best time of my life! Minus the feeling seeing my babies for the first moments!!!! Its been mind blowing!!!!
I just followed a protocol with my mind to think as well and Positive….
Happy that you found your mojo through service to others, and ultimately the peace of mind that comes with being in and of service to others. Appreciate your sharing.
I was in a dark place when I read this article. It opened my mind to another way of looking at my life and the issues that had been troubling me.
Do not think too much is good advice.
Just to be is Holy.
I’m finding my path by letting go of “trying”
and finding freedom there
Find the path that is just right for you. Silence, and do not think too much.