Some say that the only real currency is time. As we kick off 2018, a lot of us are wondering how to make the most of our days and seeking out inspiration in all the usual places, like the all-knowing oracle of social media, which surfaced this gem of a “tough love” quote the other day:
1. List everything you did today
2. Look at your list
You traded one day of your life for everything on that list. Was it worth it?
My first reaction was to agree with a hearty slam of the “share now” button. My second reaction, though, was, “Hey wait a minute… Now I feel like crap.”
It hit me: This is too simplistic. And not very loving.
It is hard to live a perfectly fulfilling, celebration-worthy, life every single day.
Scratch that, it is not hard. It is impossible. Unrealistic.
Tie the idea of worthiness to that self-evaluation, and you’re destined for a guilt trip.
Guilty because you spent all your time working, life passing you by.
Guilty because you spent all your time frivolously, life passing you by.
Who WON’T feel like crap reading that quote?
Don’t get me wrong, I will always prefer a day where I go to bed feeling satisfied with a life well-lived. But what does it mean for it to be “worth it?”
Some may interpret “worth it” as a super-productive, look-at-how-much-I-got-done sort of day. Some may interpret it as a full-throttle, look-at-the-story-I-have-now sort of day. Some may interpret it as a deeply nurturing, look-at-how-I-slowed-down-and-relaxed sort of day.
These, and any other interpretation, can be “worth it.” And not mutually exclusive.
I’m reminded that it’s all about choice. And the lens through which we look at our choices. And–– probably most challenging–– how honest we are with ourselves and others about those choices.
To me, “worth it” means I spent time intentionally and fully present. Grounding myself in exactly where I am, and owning my life as a series of choices. Which gives me a foundation and clarity from which to move forward.
Acknowledging everything as choices is a game-changer. It changes everything.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way, along with a few questions for you to ask yourself if you’d like to choose your time instead of always feeling like it’s slipping away.
First, strike the word “busy” from your vocabulary.
I have been a card-carrying member of the “too busy” club, for decades. Even if I wasn’t using it as an excuse, it was a conversation starter, as in, “How am I? Oh my god, SO BUSY.”
For years, I let busy run my world. Maybe I had an eighty hour work week. Or an endless to-do list. Or time was flying by because I was running from commitment to commitment without stopping to catch my breath. I wore my busy as a badge of honor.
Busy could sweep me away into not remembering entire days, weeks even. There were two years where I worked over sixty hours each week and attended graduate school at night while trying to be a “good” solo parent to a seven-year-old.
In retrospect, those years are a blur of meetings, essays, and bedtime reading.
The word “busy” is defined as having a great deal to do, being actively or fully engaged. But, somehow it has become synonymous with a calendar jam-packed with *all the things* getting in the way of a fulfilling life. A handy crutch.
What if you were to choose a different word? Like “full?”
It’s entirely possible to have a day that is scheduled to the second and still isn’t what the deities of social media might deem “worth it.” But, simply changing the word shifts the fullness of the day into a pile of choices I made, something I can own… examine and shift.
Say it with me now, “my life is (delightfully?!) full.”
That sounds pretty “worth it” to me.
What does “worth it” mean to you?
Shift your shoulds (and should-nots).
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “stop should-ing all over yourself.” It’s so easy to bemoan the things we’re not getting done, right?
What if you…
- Changed your relationship with the minutes not given to the “should” things?
- Shifted the perspective of non-negotiable shoulds — making them into wants, choices?
- Chose your “should-nots” consciously, acknowledging the gifts forgoing them allows?
One of the things I used to beat myself up about was not putting dinner on the table every night for my teenager. I should provide a healthy, home-cooked meal, right?
But, as previously noted, I had a wickedly “busy” life. There were many nights I’d come home fatigued, order takeout, and feel like a terrible parent as my kid and I binged Netflix. A definite “should-not” in my book. Until I shifted my perspective.
What if my non-negotiable was spending time with my teen, vs. fretting over a home-cooked meal? What if that “should-not” of Netflix was a moment of calm in the eye of the busy storm, where I could take a breath and relax, laugh even?
What if, instead of beating myself up, I acknowledge the choices? I chose to sustain my income and chose to have easy dinners on the nights I was at the office late. Shifting this energy also changes your relationship with minutes spent on vices that are so often “should-nots.” Binge watching Netflix is a choice. Sleeping until noon on Saturday is a choice.
This is not a call to ignore responsibilities. It’s a call to choose your shoulds wisely. In my case, if I’d considered home-cooked dinners non-negotiable, it might mean I need to change my work schedule or sign up for a meal service, or any number of decisions.
Once you stop the should-ing madness, you become more aware of how the minutes are being used, and–– in my experience–– how your list of wants (formerly known as should and should-nots) begins to shift to become more aligned with what’s important to you.
When you’re fully present for your decisions, you more intentionally allocate your minutes and can enjoy them.
What will these choices look like in 2018? What gets love? What shoulds need to be retired?
Own your choices, even the ones that don’t feel like choices.
Duty is a harsh mistress. There is a popular narrative these days that the ideal path is to quit your job, sell all your stuff, travel the world, make a living doing exactly what you love. Just make the leap already!
If only it were that easy.
This path is definitely a choice— usually more readily available to the more privileged in society— but the below feels more familiar:
“I had no choice, my kid was throwing up and I couldn’t get my presentation done. I had no choice, my boss asked me to do this project at the eleventh hour on Friday, so I had to skip the birthday party. I had no choice, my husband lost his job, I had to cut back on the quality of our family meals.”
Sometimes, it feels like you don’t have a choice. It’s not possible to set those New Year’s resolutions of finally traveling abroad or getting that new job because life and people and any number of socio-economic conditions are deciding for you, throwing up roadblocks. At best, forcing you to make trade-offs you really don’t want to make.
When you’re in this situation, one choice available is to own it rather than letting it own you.
When I was 26, I attended art school at night while working an administrative day job. I had BIG IDEAS about how I was going to recover from previous questionable choices (dropping out of multiple colleges, living with a cheating boyfriend, racking up debt). I decided I was going to finally finish art school, escape corporate, see the world, and live a decadently creative life.
I was making badass choices.
And then I got pregnant.
The other person involved was someone who wasn’t going to be a life partner.
I chose to have my son solo. I chose to drop out of art school. I chose to commit to being a “professional” so I could support both of us.
I’m not going to lie, the resentment stretched out across years. Feeling like my life was beyond my control, passing me by, wearing me down in a daily grind. That one choice to go solo created an avalanche of future choices I had to make. But… they were choices–– my choices–– each time I made a decision big or small.
When I finally took ownership of the decisions, the ones I was living with and through, it created a foundation for me to move forward from. A stepping stone. I could see the immeasurable power of my relationship with my child as well as the payoffs and life lessons of having had an intense career.
I found worth in choices I hadn’t been happy about.
You can change the lens.
Look at the long-term picture. Acknowledge the trade-offs. Grieve if necessary.
Know that, though they’re not always enjoyable, the choices are ours to make. Find peace with them. And then, use that as a foundation for what’s next.
What are the pieces of your life that you can own, even appreciate?
What if you practiced gratitude for your choices?
Now, when I have a lot going on, I say my week is “very full” and consider how I might be grateful.
I am grateful that I have ownership over my minutes, my choices. And grateful that my list of choices means I have work to do, friends and family to connect with, a house to keep clean.
I also look for the silver linings of gratitude. I used to have a job where my commute was over two hours–– each way. It could have been very easy for me to slip into an “I had no choice” story here about how I never had time to do anything because I was spending four hours each day getting to and from work.
However, two of the four hours was by ferry. That time was excellent for relaxing, I could also use it to work on personal projects–– I could use it however I chose to use it. If I chose to experience the time with gratitude and to use it intentionally, the time I spent traveling each day was not completely lost.
I also keep an eye out for the unexpected moments of gratitude — those small items that make the list and were definitely “worth it”, a great conversation, seeing Orca whales pacing the ferry, having my kid greet me with a hug.
Pizza and Netflix.
What are some “burdens” in your life that could be transformed through a lens of gratitude?
Was it worth it?
Here we are, looking at your list again. How can you approach this question of worth in a loving way? How can you recognize when you have choices, and how to prioritize wisely and consciously where you can? How, every minute of every day, can you actively choose how you’re using your minutes, the best that you can?
When you start paying attention to the time choices you’re making, it rapidly becomes clear what’s important and what’s not. And how much time you’re giving to the important things.
In words made famous by the Broadway musical Rent,
“How do you measure, measure a year?…
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?”