On a Personal Note: Facing the Judgment of Others

About two to three months ago, my wife and I came to the mutual conclusion that we wanted to make some real changes in how we were prioritizing our lives. I’ve been personally dabbling in minimalism for two years or so, and in the last six months, that’s taken a huge shift from just paring down possessions and reducing consumerism to distributing my time (now, our time) in the most meaningful possible way. After my wife attended a pre-screening of the Minimalists upcoming documentary with me, she was fully on board herself—enough was enough; it was time for her to take back her life, too.

I’d already cut time from some areas of my life that weren’t bringing me maximum joy—like jobs, social commitments, etc. But my wife took a big step in that same direction when she decided to move down from a management position within her company to a position with less responsibility (and yes, less money). And believe it or not, this post isn’t about the benefits or decision-making process behind that move.

I just really wanted to preface the content of this post by saying it felt great to finally have someone on my side, especially since changing my life in ways that some people find radical hasn’t always been easy.

This post is actually about the surprising amount of judgment I’ve felt as I’ve continued (and my wife has followed suit) to spend my time in more intentional ways. This post is actually about the surprising amount of judgment I’ve felt when I explained certain decisions I’ve made to people. This post is actually about the surprising amount of judgment I’ve felt as I’ve said enough is enough over the last six months.

There are some people who have been amazing and supportive in ways I can’t describe. The majority of times I’ve really had to make a crucial choice, though, I’ve met some kind of resistance to or full-on, unfiltered judgment of my decision(s). It’s been painful and difficult to stay on track, at times.

Believe it or not, some of that judgment has come in a form I find unexpected. For instance, when I discuss making certain decisions in order to spend more time with our kid, I’ve gotten quite a bit of flak for this. I think part of the problem is people already know minimalism is a powerful tool I use in my life, and so they equate all of my decisions, particularly this one, with minimalism—which is fine because that is the spark that ignited this spreading wildfire after all. But what’s funny is I’ve strong reason to believe that if I wasn’t a self-proclaimed minimalist, people wouldn’t give me near as much flak for deciding to do things a certain way to ensure maximum time with our kid. You know why? Because it is natural to make changes to your lifestyle to focus on dedicating time to your family, especially once kids are in the picture.

When I’ve talked about taking steps that guaranteed I would make less money (but also guaranteed an increased amount of time with our kid), people have insinuated or actually said that I wasn’t making the best possible choice. As if my kid is suffering if I am not chasing hundred-dollar bills. I figure she’s going to like me as long as the milk and vegetables keep showing up on the table, right? She’s got a bomb crib and a rocking nursery. She has a few great toys she loves and plays with frequently. She often has my full attention. She’s happy. What does it matter if I work part-time instead of full-time, dedicating that extra time to my family?

And I’ll tell you what else—when my wife also took a step back from her job (another step which guaranteed less money, but more time with our kid), people really came down hard on us. As if it was bad but okay, you know, until the other breadwinner stopped bringing home less bread, too.

There’s also been a lot of judgment in my decision to slow down my education. I’m currently working on my MA, and I decided (with my wife) that it was too much to balance a job, a full-time load of classes, my freelance writing work, and the level of commitment to our family that we’ve decided is right for us. The workload from these various sources has exasperated my struggle with anxiety and depression, it has forced me to take a huge step back from giving our one-year-old the attention I decided she deserved from me, and the education itself has suffered. So I decided that since I love the job I am currently in, I wouldn’t cut the time from there. My freelance writing (which I’m passionate about and brings me joy) has already been cut to the bone, so I decided the time could not continue to come from there. This left my education—and as it turns out, I could slow down my course load for the next three semesters without pushing back my anticipated graduation date.

Yet…people found this action hard to fathom.

There were potential consequences to this decision, they said (and to a degree, they’re right). I even had some people tell me stories of how hard they’ve worked or how hard people they know have worked to make a degree happen. They had jobs—full-time jobs! They had families! They hard this, this, this… Good. I’m happy for them. I don’t want to judge how they handled their lives. Their priorities are (and should be) different than mine. I get that much more than what I am doing can be done. I’m not unfamiliar with juggling. In fact, I’ve got an MA in juggling. The person writing this blog post juggled two full-time jobs, two part-time jobs, a full-time college schedule, and freelance work at one point in her life. I fully get that it can be done. But there’s always a cost.

The cost is usually health or an inability to prioritize family and/or friends. Sometimes the cost is our own happiness. Sometimes the cost is apparent and sometimes it is not. But there’s always a cost.

I’ve heard jokes cracked at my expense. I’ve heard snarky comments. I’ve had people tell me to my face they don’t understand how I could make certain decisions. I’ve had people tell me to my face they believe the way I am living my life is wrong.

I like to believe that for the people who have known me a long while, this judgment is only taking place because they’re uncomfortable with the changes I’ve made to who I am and how I approach my life. Some of them know that it took me ten years to complete my BA, so when they hear me say that I want to slow down my MA, they’re worried I’m giving in to the weaknesses and youthful (if I can still be called youthful) follies of my undergraduate career, which was more like a rollercoaster. They know education has always been important to me, and they’re having trouble adjusting to who I am today, which is a mother/wife with a one-year-old daughter/lovely lady I love very dearly (way more than my education or any degree).

I like to believe that for the people who have not known me a long while, this judgment is only taking place because their experience is vastly different than my own. When I talk about taking a step back from pursuing the paths that bring more money (like a full-time jobs versus a part-time one or my wife deciding to take a position within her company with less responsibility), perhaps they’re hearing me from a place that still prioritizes money. And that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Maybe they don’t have a family to prioritize, maybe they believe their family will be better off if they prioritize money, maybe they’re currently financially trapped, or maybe their priorities just fall in a different order than my own. They don’t necessarily understand fully who I was before versus who I am today, which is someone who knows what it is like to work a dangerously high number of hours a week while pursuing a degree…but also remembers that it was an incredibly lonely time in my life, not to mention I was so foolish with the money I did make that I’ve virtually nothing to show (today) for that level of commitment anyway.

The gist is that I’m still not sure why we judge other people at all. I’ve still got such a long way to go in this area, but I work incredibly hard to be someone who does not pass judgment often. Sometimes I go out of my way to look for alternative reasons for why someone makes a particular decision, especially when the people around me are actively judging that person. I know it doesn’t automatically mean the rest of the world, or even the rest of the people in my life, will live that way, but it is hurtful nonetheless when I find myself under scrutiny for doing what I feel is best and right in my own life.

I’m passionate about minimalism as a tool. It is a huge part of my life and plays a part in many of my decisions as a result. But it is not who I am. It is not the foundation of myself. Also, it doesn’t automatically make every decision I make wrong because I use minimalism as a tool. People don’t have to live their life the way I live my own. People are entitled to their opinions and at the end of the day, I can’t stop them from giving them. I also try not to hold a grudge when they hurt me by giving those opinions without considering carefully what they’re saying or why they’re saying it.

When my wife stepped down, when she said enough is enough, people didn’t understand it (or a lot of them didn’t). People didn’t understand it so much that it was implied she stepped down because she was inadequate in some way…because that was somehow easier to explain to others than she wanted to prioritize her time with her family. This was similar to how people reacted to me when I went from full-time to part-time (in the months leading up the our daughter’s birth) to prepare for prioritizing our family. I worry knowing that we live in a world where someone would rather assign a negative connotation to taking a step back (from whatever thing for whatever reason) than a positive connotation. To a degree, though, that’s still the world we live in today.

So if you’re someone that is making intentional decisions about your time and your priorities—and people are giving you flak about it, I say stay strong. Hang in there. If you’re doing it 100% for you and it stands to bring you happiness immediately or in the end, don’t question it simply because other people want to call it radical. Don’t let others’ judgments sway you from your path. You deserve more than the standard series of events. And there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a beautiful thing.

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