In January 2012, I read Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet. I. Loved. It. As I combed through the pages, daring anyone to interrupt me, I was in awe of how this woman so beautifully described almost every thought and emotion I had wrestled with over the past several years. I dog-eared and underlined basically the entire book, but there was one chapter, in particular, that challenged and spoke to me.
In the chapter entitled “Things I Don’t Do,” she starts the chapter off by relaying a piece of advice her mentor gave her years ago:
From there she discusses her own struggle with the “do everything better” mindset and how she lives under this constant expectation of “do everything better.” She then shares two lists: “Things I do” and “Things I Don’t Do.” She lists things such as her faith, working on her marriage, motherhood, becoming a better writer, living in community, cooking/entertaining on her “Things I Do” list. She puts gardening, DIY home improvement, baking, scrapbooking, and spending time with negative people on her “Things I Don’t Do” list.
Reading this was huge for me. It was like a revelation…
Hold the phone… are you telling me I can declare there are things I don’t do and let that be it? I can decide there are things I am no longer going to force myself to do because I think I “should” so I can really invest my time and energy into the things I believe in and am passionate about?? You mean I can finally stop feeling guilty that I have never planted one flower in our yard??
This was huge for me and resulted in a complete shift of how I allocate my time and energy. You see my problem isn’t that I can’t figure out what I want my life to be about. I have all sorts of ideas of what I want my life to be about. I have all sorts of ideas of what I would like to do with my time. If someone tells me about something I should do or see or read, before you know it I have hopped on that bandwagon and I am looking into it. The problem with hopping onto bandwagons is you can only hop onto so many of them before you are exhausted from traveling around with no clear goal or vision of where you want to end up. You end up feeling lost and scattered. My problem is that I want to say yes to so many things (both big and small) that I lose sight of what is truly important in my life.
There was something about the way she wrote that phrase that it finally clicked for me. Mazi, you must decide what you are no longer going to do so you can really do the things you want and feel called to do! Sometimes we can hear something 100 times, but there is just something about the 101st time that it just clicks for us and it feels life changing.
For example, sometime back I was thinking to myself that I wished there were 36 hours in the day because then I could get more things done. My follow up thought was that perhaps the problem wasn’t that there were only 24 hours in a day. Perhaps the problem was that I 1.) committed to do too much and 2.) had an unrealistic expectation of what I should accomplish in a day and how long it takes to do certain things. Again, it felt like a revelation. I am trying to do too much in a day!! It’s so incredibly obvious it’s like looking in the sky for the sun and wondering what that bright orb is that is blinding you. I’m slow, but I do get there.
It can feel like a risk to say here are the things I do, here are the things I don’t do, and I’m no longer going to feel guilty, make excuses, or beat myself up for not doing them. At the time, it felt like a risk to begin applying this piece of wisdom to my professional and personal life. I identified what the clear priority in my personal life was – my family – and recognized that everything else had to play second. I clarified what I wanted my counseling practice to look like and what populations I wanted to serve. I also identified the things I needed give up; things that either drained my energy, that I had no interest in doing but did out of guilt, or just did not align with my values and sense of calling. Two years later and I still use this little quote as a tool to keep me from chasing after every idea that pops into my head.
Giving yourself permission to say no to some things so you can give a more resounding yes to other things is the pathway to more freedom and sense of purpose in your life. You will always struggle to know the purpose and direction for your life if you are saying yes to everything for fear of saying no and missing out. You will never experience freedom in your life if you live under the yoke of fear of disappointing someone or of failing or of being criticized.
A couple of weeks ago we talked about what is the one thing you want to work on or work towards in your 2014. To dedicate yourself to your one thing- whether that be investing more in your marriage and family, taking risks professionally, healing some old heart wounds- you will have to give yourself permission to let go of some other things. You will have to give yourself permission to say, “Here are the things I don’t do.” There is freedom and purpose at the end of that permission slip.
So what are the things you do? What are the things you don’t do? This may be the exact permission your overscheduled, scattered, exhausted spirit is looking for right now.