Ask my 14 year old son on any typical day what he's doing, and he's likely to tell you, "Nothing." What causes him to say this, in my opinion, and what aggravates me, is the pervasive disregard in this society for things unseen and unmeasurable.
My son spent 6 years in school being told what he should learn, what he should be doing each minute of the school day, and even with time when he went home. As he did those things, he received feedback that what he did was more or less valuable as noted by grades, praise, criticism, and the like. What he also received was the message that anything unrelated to school was not valuable. It wasn't worth the time, wouldn't garner others' praise and prizes. It wouldn't raise his status in the artificial peer hierarchy of the academic world.
The message of what is valuable was also taught to my son by our consumerism, and the general value of work in our society. Work that doesn't bring in lots of money is poorly regarded. There is little evaluation of the personal fulfillment that work brings, or the moral ideals that it might futher. The greatest example of this is motherhood. Full-time mothers provide one of the most important services to humanity, but their work is often the most disregarded. Don't even get me started about the pay! LOL
Let us not forget the media's role in giving value to our lives. The more media play something gets, the more spectacular it seems, the more status it receives. On a smaller scale, that which is visible is valuable. When someone builds something, or creates something, it's easy to "see" it's value. But what about the things that go unseen? What about washing clothes that will be dirty again in few days? What about feelings? What about ideas? What about practice? What about the internal dialogue that we constantly have that propels us through life? What about the mistakes from which we learn to do better, or differently the next time? Most of these things are not visible to others and might go unnoticed. They could hardly compete with the larger than life promotions of media greatness!
I am fighting against all these messages to prove to my son and the world that the only life worth living, the only valuable life is one in which you are true to yourself. Follow your own interests. Value your own time. Don't let others steal that away from you. If others don't value what you are doing, they are missing out. When I confront my son and tell him all the things he has actually done, he smiles because I think he really knows he is not doing, "nothing". He is doing something, just what he wants to do, and that is SOMETHING.
Boundaries and personal responsibility have been my personal course of study lately. I am letting go of the responsibility I felt for other people's happiness, and holding them responsible for mine. I am learning that setting my own boundaries may make other's uncomfortable, but they are necessary for self-preservation. How someone reacts to my "no" is their responsibility, not mine.
This is especially true when dealing with family. Naturally, my desire is to make them happy, to give to them out of love, but at what cost? Maybe "self-serving" shouldn't be such a negative phrase after all. We serve others all the time. Knowing oneself and one's limits is key, I think. Defining those limits, those boundaries, is what I'm working on.
You would think at 41 years old I would have figured this much out already. Anyway, thankfully I'm still learning. I'm glad to still feel like I'm on a journey instead of stuck at my final destiny!!!