In my younger years, I focused on unimportant issues, punctuated by worry and anxiety. My perfectionist attitude and fear of making mistakes forced me to assure everything was in order, often making unimportant events a priority, for I was concerned about how my life looked to others. I am not proud of my focus, but it is the truth.
My very nervous and anxious mother and grandmother spent an exorbitant amount of time worrying. I, too, worried about countless issues: what others thought about me; my weight; irrational fears of loss; my social life; school. My paternal grandfather, Papa Joe, once commented on my anxiety by reminding me:
“Fifty percent of what you worry about will not happen and the other 50% will happen whether you worry about it or not.”
His words helped me with my little-girl concerns and as I aged, this simple phrase has helped me to prioritize my own life through an internal dialogue, which enables me to ask myself important questions. When my boys were young, such a question provided clarity as to my choices. My young son wanted to play a game with me, yet I really needed to empty the dishwasher and make dinner. I asked myself:
Twenty years from now what will be more important? The time I spent with my son playing the game or emptying the dishwasher and making dinner?
Of course I knew the answer. This question has always put many of my issues in perspective, strengthening the importance of my flexibility. I also used to reflect on the same question at work, with my students.
Twenty Years From Now What Will Be More Important?
Twenty years from now what will be more important? The lesson I give on writing a Thesis Statement or the time given to a past student who comes by the classroom to say hello and share his graduation plans with my current students?
Clearly, my students can always use a message of motivation given by a peer, a role model. At this point in my life, I rarely have to ask myself such a question, for I have internalized what is meaningful in my life, what satisfies. I don’t agonize about issues I cannot control and more readily focus on those people and activities that provide me joy and fulfillment.
Asking yourself this question can take several formats, but you can rewrite it to relate to your own challenges and decisions:
- Twenty years from now, what will be more important? My clean house or a visit with a friend?
- Twenty years from now, what will be more important? Playing with my child or making dinner?
- Twenty years from now, what will be more important? Lunch with a friend or doing errands?
- Twenty years from now, what will be more important? Taking a walk or cleaning the house?
I hope that some of these lessons that have given me such clarity in my own life can benefit you as well. While we are all different, we seek our own versions of tranquility. In doing so, we can appreciate our unique journeys, which for me has become more magnificent than the destination.
I value and accept that I could not have arrived with such splendor without my replacement-child legacy. We all come into this life with our strengths and challenges and these very elements create our ultimate, unique magnificence when we are brave enough to reflect on them. Socrates’ words continue to guide me: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Books That Provided Me With Comfort and Beauty
In addition, the following books have enriched my personal journey in recovering the many qualities that had at one time been buried within a little girl who sought approval and significance. Today such literature is a welcomed friend whose valuable words provide comfort and beauty.
A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss
On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro
The Replacement Child by Judy L. Mandel
Replacement Children: The Unconscious Script by Rita Battat Silverman & Abigail Brenner, MD.
Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
The Secret of the Soul by William L. Buhlman
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Lovingkindness by Anne Roiphe
Writing is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and A Guide to How You Can Too) by Theo Pauline Nestor
Molding Challenges Into Strengths
A poem by Wendell Barry “I Go Among Trees and Sit Still” reflects much of my personal journey of illumination and acceptance, as I molded my challenges into strengths.
“I Go Among Trees and Sit Still” By Wendell Barry
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
When Will I Be Good Enough?: A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing
by Barbara Jaffe Ed.D.
Barbara was born to fill the vacancy left by her little brother, who died at the age of two. This book tells the multitude of readers who have been “replacement children” for many reasons, that they, too, can find hope and healing, as did Barbara.
About the Author
Barbara Jaffe, Ed.D. is an award-winning English professor at El Camino College, California and is a Fellow in UCLA’s Department of Education. She has offered countless workshops to students to help them find their writers’ voices through writing non-fiction. Her college has honored her by naming her Outstanding Woman of the Year and Distinguished Teacher of the Year. Visit her website at BarbaraAnnJaffe.com