Peggy: “I just turned 30, Don.”
Don: “Shit, when?”
Peggy: “I kept it as secret as much as I could. And now I’m one of those women lying about her age. I hate them.”
Don: “I worry about a lot of things. But I don’t worry about you.”
Peggy: “What do you have to worry about?”
Don: “That I never did anything and that I don’t have anyone.”
Standing in the kitchen with my wife I tell her about a thought I had recently. The context of this thought stems from those moments in time when I scroll through Instagram and see how much more fun some of my friends are having. They’re travelling, eating at amazing restaurants, relaxing in tropical places, etc. But more than that, they are not at home dealing with the unending duties of mundane living like I am at that very moment. I “like” their picture but I would “love” it if it was me on that ocean shore. I call it #InstaEnvy.
Of course, that feeling only lasts for a few minutes because I’m then hurled back into the demands of making lunch, taking turns with Kelsey about who cleans the boys butts, and well, you get the picture. I just don’t have time to explore deeper why I feel this envy. (I also don’t want to make the time.) But something happened this weekend that altered something within me. We were listening to music and as someone easily seduced by rhythmic beats, I began to dance. Kelsey then joined me; she had no choice. The boys weren’t into dancing but instead wanted each of us to hold them. So there we were, each of us with a three-year old toddler clinging to us with their faces buried in the side of our necks as we swayed back and forth in our kitchen. As ordinary as this moment was, it felt like I was living a dream I didn’t know I wanted. Inside I felt so satisfied and blessed to have these three humans in my life that you couldn’t tempt me with anything to trade it.
It’s within that context that I told Kelsey that the beauty of life isn’t so much about the places we go to, the things we do, or the stuff we own; it’s more about who we’re with. She then told me she had a very similar thought a few days ago and how it compelled her to be more grateful. At the core of this sentiment lies precisely what Don Draper feared the most-a fear of insignificance and isolation. We used to be taught to believe that significance is something accomplished separately from relationships.
But maybe significance and relationships are more intertwined than we’d like to admit. On a surface level, parents might console their yearning for significance by telling themselves that raising children is their legacy. Which is fine. But it’s not honest if that’s not how you feel. I know because I used to repeat that mantra to myself. Like Draper, I fear that my life will have accomplished nothing for the good of the world. And like Draper, if I build walls that keep others out from the insecurities of my life, I could also end up emotionally isolated from others. Yet, what I’m learning is that moments like the one I had with my family in the kitchen are what chisels meaning in my world. It’s not so much the event-but the people who lovingly force me to be a better person. Of course, that moment represents a billion other moments I share with friends and family.
Maybe the reason significance and relationships are so enmeshed is because our legacy is precisely the person we are transformed into. The way you and I are changed through the daily crucible of conflicts, frustrations, and disappointment that only occurs through the complexity of relationship is what forges meaning. Things like integrity, humility, and courage are formed by the continual friction of relationships. Tragically, this is exactly what Don Draper avoids and what I often want to escape from. Maybe that’s why I get #InstaEnvy. It’s easier to run towards significance on your own than it is with people constantly demanding your time and attention. But once we arrive at the shore of significance all by ourselves, we might realize that all we have is a selfie of us and the ocean. That might not be so bad, but for me, I can’t imagine anything more devastating.