The other day, I came across a post on Instagram from Matthew McConaughey. The father of three and Academy Award winner shared the news that he has written a book called Greenlights. It is a collection of lessons and insights he has accumulated throughout his life. In the post he says "it's called Greenlights because it's a story about how I have, and how we all can, catch more of them in this life we're living." He continues, "You see, we don't like the red and yellow lights because they take up our time but when we realise that they will all eventually turn green that's when they reveal their rhyme, that's when life's a poem and we start getting what we want and what we need at the same time." It got me thinking about the green lights in our life, in my life. And how often we feel like we are in the yellow zone, the amber light just waiting for it to turn green so that we can just go! I figure, in order to recognise the green lights in our life we first need to be able to define what the red and yellow lights are and what they feel like. And for each of us it is different. Red lights for me are when I feel utterly paralysed, helpless and unable to even think about how to move forward. This has happened at times in my career and definitely in my personal life. It's when I have felt completely stumped, lost, and nothing I did worked and nothing (in that area) was in my control. I was recently reminded of one particular "red light" period in my life. I watched Indian Matchmaking on Netflix the other day (my husband and I actually watched all 8 episodes in 2 days). It is a fantastic series which also highlights the stress young Indian men and women face when it comes to finding a partner and getting married. It's a stress many feel regardless of race but for Indians, there is a particular parental concern for a woman or a man when they reach their 20s if they aren't already married or at least on the path to marriage. I know my parents were very worried about me. The worry stems from a fear of entering unchartered territory--a daughter who isn't taking the traditional rite of passage into proper adulthood. Indians are also very much concerned about their reputation in their community and that reputation is tied to what their children are doing or not doing. My parents were desperate for me to "settle down" and when my 20s came and went their stress levels went up. Then my 30s started to creep up in number and almost every conversation centred on my single status. I knew they were getting quite a few remarks and raised eyebrows from some of their friends and acquaintances--I mean, not only was I not married, I was also living on my own, in my own apartment, in a completely different country, on another continent! While I told my parents I was focused on my career (and they used that excuse when they were asked by some acquaintances about their daughter's personal life), the truth was I wasn't having any luck in the area of relationships. There was a definite feeling of being stuck at the red light and not going anywhere. I had a couple of long term relationships but they were fraught with drama. They were on a road that led to nowhere, at least where marriage was concerned. For my part, it wasn't a lack of intention or desire to get married. It just didn't seem to happen. There were many nights when I would cry out of loneliness, nights when I felt like an utter failure for not being able to do what so many of my friends seemed able to do so easily. I felt not only was everyone zooming along nicely on the highway to personal happiness, I couldn't even figure out which exit to take on the roundabout. My parents would keep telling me to stop "messing around" and just get married, like a spouse was something I could just order off the internet. Well, actually, my mother did consider putting my profile up on some online marriage sites to which I told her as a (then) news anchor (on a high profile network) who already had a pretty substantial online footprint, it wouldn't be a good idea. Some friends weren't much help either. They would tell me to just get myself "out there". I hated that expression, "out there". Where is this relationship nirvana where all these single people gather and find their lobster? (It's a reference from the tv show Friends). It certainly wasn't at any bars, weddings, brunches nor was it on the blind dates and other social gatherings I made the effort to attend. I was also told I should be "open" to relationships. That was the other nugget of wisdom that made me cringe. So, all these people who got married in their 20s or 30s had always been "out there" or were "open"? They were all so personally evolved at a young age that they were able to recognise their partner to be and I was the only one who missed that lesson in class? Really? I remember finally getting angry at my dear father when he told me that it was "high time" to get married and that it "didn't look good" that I was still single. I remember saying in a frustrated raised voice, "what would you like me to do Dad? Would you like me to stand on the street holding a cardboard sign above my head that said "Will Someone Please Marry Me?"" I think it was after the many times my heart broke and the tearful conversations that I had with my parents when one particular relationship kept ending that my parents eased up the pressure on me and just let me be. While professionally the green lights kept shining, personally, I was in my mid to late 30s and firmly, seemingly permanently stalled at the relationship red light. In fact, that one relationship knocked me to my knees and led me to seeing a therapist because I just couldn't understand what I was doing wrong, I couldn't understand which wrong turn I kept taking. This wonderful woman helped me to take a look at my emotional road map. She helped me realise that while there was nothing wrong with me, my subconscious patterns were leading me down a path that just wasn't getting me to where I wanted to go. She helped me to understand that my patterns both mental and emotional led me down roads towards partners that weren't available to me in the way I needed them to be. She helped me to understand my own navigation system and what was causing me to always face that red light. In fact, towards the end of our time together, my therapist actually drew out a map for me detailing where I was emotionally when I first went to see her and the path I was taking to get to the point of feeling like I was finally in control of my route. I am proud of that map. The therapy sessions, the books I read, the commitment I had to getting to know myself meant that the red light finally turned to yellow. Yellow is where I started to feel I had a sense of direction, it's when I learned to build boundaries, and recognise what kind of a partner was right for me as well as being the right kind of partner for someone else. I decided to enjoy my time in the yellow zone. I was perfectly happy to be there as I healed from the emotional traumas of my prior relationship, not to mention the former relationship that I had had with myself. It didn't take long before the light turned green and I met the man who would become my husband. With him, things moved easily, freely, smoothly, and quickly. There were no real hurdles. We had known each other for many years but were on different paths, we were colleagues not friends. Until we were brought together through a work project. And then it was like he had been in my life forever. That old belief that relationships where I mistook drama for passion, or that relationships aren't meant to be easy, or that they're always hard work had kept me in the red zone. Not this time. This time, the ease comforted me. The green light flashed neon and clear.
I believe that actually, in life, sometimes those red lights are necessary. They force us to stop, take a breath, readjust, reevaluate, maybe even change directions. The yellow lights are important too. It's in the yellow where we ready ourselves, get all our ducks in a row and those ducks could be health checks--mental, physical and emotional. They could also be learning a new skill, getting a business plan underway. Anything that will help us to feel we will need to get us in the direction we need to go. In the yellow zone we identify what it is we need to do or have to do in order to be ready for when the light turns green and we can put our foot on the gas and speed ahead.
Next month, my husband and I celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary and our son's 5th birthday. I am 46. I was 40 when I got married. 41 when I had my son. I didn't follow my parents' or culture's path. I took the scenic route. Scenic because I was learning about my own internal landscape, taking it all in. Sure there were red lights but those lights were also signposts urging me to just stop and look at my life. And I'm thankful for them. And when I look back at the road I took, I am grateful for it because it got me to where I am today: content, calm, and with a mental roadmap that helps me navigate my way through situations that are frustrating. While at times I feel like I am back waiting at the red light professionally, I am able to turn that light yellow on myself with the lessons I have learned from the past. And in the yellow, while sometimes I wish for it change quickly, I also know it will change when the time is right--that's when I go back to the map and figure out what I need to do in the meantime.
I hope wherever you are in life, you find you're on a path filled with green lights. And if there are red ones and yellow ones, don't worry. They're good too. All you have to do is figure out why. And that's, as McConaughey puts it, is "poetry" in motion. Monita xo