This post is part of a series of real stories about people's lives and how they choose joy. Each person has been interviewed by me, and agreed to share their story with all of you. My hope is that this will strike some chord within our hearts, help us see that we, too, can rise above hardship, and help us see that there are other people out there similar to us.
The back story:
I first got to know Ashley about 6 years ago. I had just started hanging out with some of her friends, and the group was going to Bear Lake, in Utah, for a weekend of fun. We were the only girls that ended up going, and shared a bed at the cabin. It was awkward at first because we didn't know each other but soon (and by the end of the weekend) we became buddies. Now we spend time chatting with each other off and on throughout our days about life, hardship, fun, business, money, and religion. We have some deep discussions and I love it. The girl really knows her current affairs. I can always count on her to have formed an opinion on some big world issue before I've even heard of it. I love that about her. She is my source for the news! Just you watch, she may even end up a successful politician. We ended up getting married to our husbands a week apart, and started dating them at roughly the same time. It wasn't planned, but it was fun that it ended up that way.
TJB: Alright, let's get started. Tell us, what having joy means to you.
Ashley: I think it means feeling free. I love being outside and I think it’s because I feel free when I’m outside. My husband and I work from home and have been cooped up all winter. It’s driven us both crazy!
I think this desire for freedom is what drives my husband and I to work for ourselves. I’ve found that I’m not really that happy working for other people. When we work for others, we typically have a boss, who gives us certain tasks or dictates what we can or cannot do. Or we’re beholden to a poorly-written job description because we need money, we have to eat, we have to pay bills! I abhor debt for the same reason. More people telling me what I can and cannot do. It’s not that I have a problem with following directions, but that much of what others tell you to do is what’s best for them, not necessarily what’s best for you. That’s why it’s so important to choose your friends wisely. I fire people from my life. Not too often, but when it’s necessary I never hesitate to fire them.
TJB: So then, what things bring you joy?
Ashley: I like working. Working brings me satisfaction and joy. It’s also what makes playing fun. There was one summer I was playing tennis every night and hanging out with my friends a lot. After not much time, it got incredibly boring. Almost more boring than the most boring job you’ve ever had. I wasn’t working enough! Challenges excite me. Even trials. They’re hard when you’re going through them, but when you look back on it and can breathe, I think, “Wow, I did that! I’m so much more confident now than before that hardship!”
TJB: So, Ashley, describe in detail a time or event in your life where you dealt with a mountain that seemed impossible to climb.
Ashley: Being married is hard and I married into a tough family. Growing up I thought all families were like mine, that everyone had loving parents, who were by no means perfect, but were happy with life and wanted the best for themselves, their kids, and others. My mom never gossips about anyone. My dad is a phenomenal leader in our community and in our church. My parents work incredibly hard. I took those things for granted growing up.
My husband’s family is different. There’s gossip. There’s bitterness because of some significantly bad decisions that have been made by a member of the family. I think they have made great strides to overcome those bad decisions. When I married, I just assumed that we would all be best friends like my siblings are, but that’s not the case. I bravely asked my husband once if his siblings liked one another, and his answer surprised me: “No, not really.”
I have a sister-in-law who’s not particularly friendly and I’d rack my brain trying to figure out, “What did I do to so-and-so?” I asked my husband, “Did I do something to offend her?” He said it likely had nothing to do with me, it had to do with problems in her own marriage and her own insecurities. I’m glad he is candid and that I ask honest questions so that I could better understand the situation. Everyone struggles with their in-laws, I’m sure, and I’m no exception!
TJB: Merging families is always a tough thing. Sometimes it seems like everyone has issues with it now and again. How do you make it through?
Ashley: I probably just answered this question but I made it through by asking questions, by trying to understand. I also set boundaries. For brevity’s sake, I’ll refer you to this podcast from James Altucher because I think he describes a healthy approach to setting boundaries with anyone in your life who isn’t bringing you up.
TJB: Do you choose happiness as a way through these family struggles? If so, what things do you do to bring hapiness into your challenges?
Ashley: Actually, I had a pretty bad attitude in the beginning. I just wanted them to be like my family! But they’re not and I’ve recognized I can’t change a relationship or a person because those things are out of my control. I think it’s taught me to give up trying to control things that I can’t change. I’d never experienced this before up to this point. If I wanted to change something, I would work at it and change it. I wanted to go back to school without incurring debt, so I found a way to get accepted, get scholarships and support myself with assistantships. I wanted to turn a foe into a friend, so I started treating her differently and we’re now best of friends. I think the latter example also is because this former-foe-now-friend is just a great person.
TJB: That is great! You are a go-getter! That must be hard not to be able to control this situation when you're so good at taking charge of everything else in your life. What have you learned from these experiences?
Ashley: Dangit! I answered the question before I was supposed to again! I learned to give up control of things I cannot change. I’ll give an example of how this works in my life now: My husband and I want to have a family so we stopped using contraceptives. We haven’t gotten pregnant and it’s been a while so maybe we can’t have kids? If so, I’ve decided to see things differently by recognizing the possible opportunity that we’ll have to adopt a child who otherwise wouldn’t have loving parents.
TJB: Wow, that's a really great attitude, and I'm sure it wasn't easy to get there. How do you choose joy now? (If you do.)
Ashley: I go outside now that it’s (finally!) warm. I read. I read the scriptures and pray and exercise because it’s those small things that God asks us to do that will bring us closer to Him and allows Him to bless us. I can’t believe I got to the end of this list of questions without mentioning God because He is really the ultimate source of joy and peace. It’s a relationship with Him that brings me the most joy because it’s constant.
TJB: Ashley, thanks so much for sharing your struggles and advice with us. It seems like you're the type of person that just keeps on keeping on when the going gets rough. I admire that about you, and can't wait to see how things go for you. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this for us!
If you have any comments or questions for me or Ashley, please share them below.
SPECIAL NOTE: Because these lovely people have bared their souls to me, been willing to share their struggles publicly, and because this blog is about happiness and joy, I absolutely will not tolerate any negative comments of any kind. Each of us struggles in our own way, and it's personal. Even if you deem their struggle as something trivial to you, it is not to them. We all have our own paths to walk. What is hard for you is easy for others, and vice versa. Anything rude, will absolutely be censored.