I believe in many ways this is the pivotal question that gets distorted in an abuse situation. What really matters was all about appeasing my abuser to survive one more day. What really matters was second guessing and jumping through hoops hoping I made it through them fast enough before the boom fell. Violence and threats of violence were so much a part of my programming what really matters was obscured and muddled mixed into the demands of abusers that made decisions that had nothing whatsoever to do with my well being. What really matters became a conditioned response to please other people. The first time my counselor asked me “What do you want?” I looked at him and said nothing. I was frantically trying to figure out what he wanted me to say. He asked again, “What brings you joy?” Again I refused to answer. He challenged me to come back the following week with an answer. The next week I brought back an Almond Joy bar with a monster fishhook sticking up through the word Joy. To me, him finding out what brought me Joy was tantamount to giving him the bait to control me. Years of counseling before I could think enough for myself to start to consider what really matters to me. What really matters isn’t always how people spend their time. What really matters sometimes gets lost in scrabbling to make a living. What really matters is probably the most important we can ask ourselves. Another question is “What are your priorities?” Having sufficient money for food and housing is important. But sadly I was in a job that started out wonderful but deteriorated over the years until the year before I was laid off I was in the hospital 3 times from different stress illnesses. The day they laid me of, I WAS THRILLED. It was so sad spending so much time on something that was no longer important to me. My boss didn’t understand what I did but she still called the shots. It was crazy. I am still working on “What really matters.” This summer I spent a wonderful time visiting all my children than lived out of state with one of my daughters. We had a wonderful time. For three weeks, I did what really mattered. However, spending 30 minutes with my mother can be too much. It matters so little if I am there. I am doing a job now that I feel like I am helping students figure out what matters to them. Watching their growth and maturity from sophomores to seniors is amazing. I feel that every day I am doing something that matters. I wish I could do more. Unfortunately, years of stress on my body has taken a toll. I ration out my energy hoping I can make it to the end of the day without collapsing. What really matters leads to another life changing question, “Why?” Why does it matter?
In James Ryan’s speech* he recommends to his students to consider this question at least every New Year before setting their resolutions for the year. I am learning that before making any major decision I need to ask myself, “Is this getting closer to what really matters?” Not an easy task. Many times I find myself so tired at the end of the day that to struggle forward is just too much. I rest. Then I once again tackle what really matters. Counseling became driven by what really matters to me. Learning what really matters and setting my goals to match sets me on a path that brings me challenges and joy.