What if you had more free time? What if instead of life feeling like hurtling down a freeway at 75 miles per hour there was space and time for long walks, unhurried conversation and rest. Do you remember what rest feels like? What if the pace of life felt more like an easy Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside. With space to breathe deeply and love richly?
Most of our lives are lived at freeway speed rather than the meandering exploration of ice cream shops and tree-lined back roads. Most of our lives are too busy to take the long way just for fun. Too busy for the kind of moments that rise from delight and curiosity. And too busy to enjoy any of those moments that happen to sneak their way into our schedules. We're too busy for depth in thought and relationships.
We're too busy to live.
In our culture, busy offers itself up as proof positive of a life of importance. Of productivity and meaning. But, we have it all wrong. That's not what busy really means.
Busy means that stress hormones constantly flood your system - I'm talking about a physical thing. And it never stops, so your body is in constant fight or flight mode. It was never intended to stay in that place and it's damaging.
Busy means that the urgent outranks the important.
Busy means that your schedule and commitments control your life rather than you controlling your life.
Here are three things busy is not.
Busy is not a badge of honor.
We parade busy around and display it for others like it's something to be proud of. but it's not. Its not healthy for our emotional life, for our physical well being or for our relationships.
Busy is not inevitable.
Busy is under your control. You can say yes or no to the activities, opportunities and events that come across your plate. You choose the level of busy for your family.
Busy is not an excuse.
Not only is busy as an excuse usually true-ish, but its socially acceptable. Admired even. So, we tend to throw it around a lot, But, it's really not. it's really not true I mean. That thing you're not doing because your busy? It's really not getting done because it's not a priority. The things you really want to get done - your priorities. You'll find a way to do those things. It's not that you're too busy. It's not a priority.
You're not that busy?
If your external world is not that busy, how about your inner landscape? It's easy to chase after addictions, noise and activity to escape from dealing with a soul that's not at ease. A soul that's too busy. It's very easy to create mental and emotional busy-ness to keep from sitting still with who you are.
This Week's Episode Art
The art this week is about all the things we allow to get in the way of living. The basis of this piece, the very first layer is made up of maps. Think of them as the path you should be on. The physical, mental and emotional places you should be present in. But all the bright colorful lines and shapes tend to cover that up. Don't let that happen in your life. Or, if it has, let's untangle that.
I want you to live your life as an expression of who you are. Not as a reaction to every single thing flying by on the highway of our culture and it's expectations. Don't be too busy to live.
If you weren't so busy...who would you be?
Life can be hard. I can't even begin to know or understand your pain. It would be silly of me to try, actually. Our pain can't be compared. though I do tend to believe that mine is less than many of yours. But, a large part of that's just because I know mine so well. Intimately. I live with it. It's familiar, like a broken in pair of running shoes that I wear every day to the gym. A daily companion. Your pain would seem big to me. Scary and new. More like a pair of stiletto pumps that's a size too small. I don't do heels very often any more. It would be painful and I'd have to learn how to walk in them again.
As I was prepping this episode to go live (there are a thousand little details between blog posts, downloads, art and audio!), we had a family emergency. I was working on the files when mom came downstairs and said she thought she had a detached retina and was heading to the emergency room. It wasn't a detached retina and we didn't know what it was for about 24 hours. It turned out to be a stroke of the optic nerve and by last night, her sight in that eye had started to return.
We don't know how much sight she'll regain, but we're so grateful that's what the problem was. It could have been so much worse. Brain tumor, cancer, what you think of when you normally hear the word stroke...it was none of these. But, that 24 hours of not knowing was hard. And since I had already been immersed in thinking about responding to hard stuff, not only was it easier for me to deal with, but I had this odd outside of myself perspective for how I was reacting to it. Had I slept more than an hour or so that night, it would have been easier - hint, sleep when you're going through hard stuff. Sleep when you can.
We all have pain points in our lives and we choose to walk through them with grace or...not. Part of our response to our own difficulties has something to do with our background and our personalities, I'm sure. And a huge factor in how we deal with them is whether or not we have a faith-based perspective, a belief in something larger than ourselves. But, aside from those things, here are three actions you can take to make life easier to deal with when it gets difficult.
Accept it for what it is.
It may not be fair, it may not be within your control and by definition, it won't be easy or pleasant. Sit with that for a moment. Let yourself feel it. Running away from the painful emotions doesn't eliminate them, it just bottles them up in a place that will eventually overflow. Allow yourself to feel the unfairness or disappointment or anger. Recognize those emotions and write or talk about how they feel in a safe place. In a healthy way. As many times as you need. Realize that there's a difference between whining and processing emotion. A difference between healthy expression and experience and unhealthy wallowing.
At the same time, accept that these are the cards life is dealing you right now and choose to channel the energy you might easily spend in unhealthy emotional reactions like whining, fighting or running into something more productive. Accept that life can be hard and it just happens to be hard for you at the moment.
Second, Learn from it.
There's not a difficult experience that I've been through that I haven't received good from in some way. No matter how painful, I've always been able to point to something I've learned or gained through the experience. I can't always find it or recognize it right away, but it's there. There has always been a gift of some kind wrapped within the pain.
Humility, patience and perseverance have been born in adversity in my life. Love, joy and empathy have grown much faster in hard times than in easy ones. When you're in a hard time, watch for the gifts. They may be small, quiet and easy to miss. Sometimes our experiences don't shout out their lessons for us. Set yourself to watching for them. Expecting them.
Being human can be hard. Being human in community makes the hard parts so much more do-able. We're made for community and hard times are a primary reason. In community we can care for and support each other. We can gain from the wisdom of those who've been through the trials we're dealing with. We can be reminded that we're not in control of all the things we think we are (Oh, how we like to imagine we're in control!).
Yes, community requires vulnerability, but that's cheap payment for what you receive in return. Our culture here in the United States is not particularly community oriented. We're taught to be strong, independent and that needing help is a sign of weakness. But no. Needing community is not weak, it is wise. Love is both expressed and perfected in community.
In the last few days of my mom's health scare, I'm reminded again how precious life and family are. I'm reminded to live the way you want to live NOW. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. I'm reminded to love your family NOW. There is no guarantee of tomorrow.
Also, she was able to have an X-ray of an old ankle injury that's been bothering her and had a brain scan that revealed a remarkably healthy brain for her age. I know that Alzheimer's and dementia are a fear of hers and this may set her (healthy) mind at ease.
So, there is the good, wrapped up in a hard few days.
What if you weren't so busy? What if Experience podcast
In this art piece you see both the darkness and the vibrancy and color of life. Even in the darkness, however there is color, pattern and beauty. And the bright vibrant colors are present in spite of the darkness. Is your eye drawn to the darkness? No, it's drawn to the vibrancy. The life in the midst of dark. It steals our attention and reminds us that it's possible to focus on the good in the midst of pain.
A friend of a friend was recently robbed at gunpoint in an intersection in Haiti. Multiple shots were fired into his car. Luckily, he and his driver only suffered minor injuries from broken glass. They were robbed by strangers and they were also tremendously cared for by strangers afterwards. What captured my attention was not the details of the incident. Instead, near the end of his recap, he says:
We, along with our kids exchanged tight, life-giving hugs. Tears and sobs as we embraced one another and life's paradox... A world filled with so much pain and suffering. And, the incredible love, joy, meaning and beauty that can and should be part being human.
Pain and suffering, love and joy. Life's paradox. Humanity.
Yes, it's hard. But at the same time, it's a miraculous, beautiful thing.
Treasure the hard times for the gifts they offer. And treasure the hard times for they make the good times that much more beautiful.
Before we can chat about what happens when you're not doing what you say is essential, we probably out to take a few minutes to talk about essentials. If you haven't read the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, you should. Greg defines Essentialism as the disciplined pursuit of less...but better. So, it's not about being more productive or just doing less. It's really about deciding what's important to you and creating a life that makes that possible.
As I recorded this episode a few weeks ago, I was at the tail end of a really busy six month season. In the last few weeks I finished up developing an online course (by the time this is published, it will be available and if you struggle with being overwhelmed, you can check it out at Cure Overwhelm), I'm getting this podcast to launch and my business has dramatically and unexpectedly picked up this month. It will get better, but in the short term, I'm too busy. Too rushed. Spread too thin.
It's easy to pay lip service to what's really important to us. Our essentials often include our family, friends, career, queso dip. Yeah, that was cheesy. But, I tossed that on top to remind you that everyone has different essentials. However you define your essentials, it's very easy to let other stuff get in the way and crowd them out. I've realized some of the things that I say are essential could easily be pushed aside right now and I made a conscious choice to not let that happen.
I've made two commitments to keep my attention where I want it.
First, my workouts are a priority. I decided in advance that I'm not going to try to find more time by cheating on my workouts. My health is not only one of my essentials, but one of the things that makes it possible to do everything else. It would be really easy to take one day a week off. Or a week. Or just skip a workout here and there when I need to finish extra work. But I won't. Workouts are non-negotiable me time.
Second. The real essential in life is my 11 year old son. It's easy to be so busy hustling at work or at goals that we let the people around us drift off to the outskirts of our attention. Rather than arbitrarily deciding what would keep that from happening this month I decided to ask him to help find a solution.
I said, "I'm in a super busy season right now, and it should be improving in about a month, but until then, I don't want you to feel like you're any less important to me than my work. Because you're infinitely more important. What can we do in the next 30 days that will make sure that we stay connected and you feel valued?" He thought for a few moments and said, "Mom, I'm a fact guy. I love random facts. How about we each find an interesting fact each day and share it and talk about it for a little while each night?"
Child. That's brilliant.
I would never in a million years have thought up that idea. But, it's perfect. And we've been doing it (mostly) consistently and I think it's working. He's feeling valued and I'm feeling less guilty, because I'm able to give him exactly the kind of time he requested. Fact time isn't the only time I spend with him, but he knows I'm making that particular time for him because he's a priority.
Episode Artwork: Connect To Your Essentials
Lots of colorful, urgent, attractive, good, interesting, and worthwhile things have a tendency to get between us and what we say is essential. In this piece the essentials are represented by the bright yellow area in the top part of the piece. And all those things that get in the way are shown by most of the other colors.
While you certainly can do a full on overhaul and clear everything non-essential away (and, this is a great thing to do), sometimes that's just not possible for a season. What can you do then?
Make intentional choices that help keep your focus on the essentials intact while you work through life until you reach a place you have more margin. These decisions are the red rings throughout the image that lead to and connect to the essentials.
What can you do to connect to your essentials today?
What's that thing that you think of when I ask you that question? Something you've always wanted to do? Something you're procrastinating?
What keeps us from starting? Sometimes it's not realizing we actually can. Not knowing that we can step into our own potential and possibility. Sometimes it's not taking initiative. Sometimes we simply like the idea of doing something and not the actual doing.
But, quite often it's fear.
Fear screams at us about big things, but also about small things in our life. Fear tells us before we try that we're going to fail, that it's not an important idea, that there's no point in starting, that we're not good enough. It tells us anything it can to keep us from starting.
When I have a day that I really really don't want to run, I tell myself, "just go for 5 minutes and you can quit then if you want to." Just start. Because I know that if I start, I'll most likely get into it and keep going and I'll most likely finish. I can't promise you'll finish everything you start. After all, I'm the queen of not finishing. But, if you don't start...you CERTAINLY won't finish. You've closed the door on that opportunity before it even has a chance to breathe.
It seemed appropriate to ask a question about starting in my very first episode (not counting the "about me" episode 000...which, if you haven't listened to, you should do that next, you can find it here).
It seemed appropriate because this seems like the start to you. But, in reality, our "big" starts often have smaller starts along the way.
Fear screams, whispers and throws tantrums all along the way - at every one of those small starts. And I could have given in to it's taunts at any one of those small starts and let that be the end of the idea. The dream. If fear can stop you before you even get to the starting gate, it doesn't have to work as hard. And if it trains you into a habit of quitting before you begin, it can even be lazier.
Fear has a few antidotes, though, and one of them is action. In this episode I talk about one of my experiences with fear and how as I (literally) walked through it, it evaporated.
I was originally planning on talking about our path this week, but as I worked on this piece, I realized I'd been really thinking about the start. You can see a hint of the yellow path in this piece, but it's not the focus.
What would you have done if you woke up and you were suddenly deposited in a strange landscape with unusual people? The only familiar thing you had with you was your home and your dog. Sometimes our life circumstances deposit us in exactly that place, in a new circumstance with very little of the familiar to grasp.
Dorothy could easily have shut herself up in her home with Toto on her lap and tried to think through ways to get home. Safe, not-scary ways. When she was feeling especially brave, she could look out the window and make observations about her new surroundings.
But, She didn't do that. Because if she had, there would have been no adventure, no friendships along the way, no memories made and no story for us to read. She could have stayed inside and experienced a life of fear and isolation. But, instead she stepped outside, left her comfort zone and started a journey that gave her everything she wanted and more.
I'm glad she started. And, while I'm wading through the uncomfortable parts of this podcast start right now...the everything-is-new-and-so-harder-and-takes-forever part, the I'm-not-as-good-as-I-will-be part, the I-should-have-done-it-that-way part and the why-am-I-doing-this-again part...I'm glad I'm starting. I'm already richer for the experience.
And you? What if you started?
So many influences pull us away from our own path. Sometimes it seems like everyone around us and society at large has an opinion about what our lives should look like. And even if we set out to make our own path, it's easy for outside influences to creep in and nudge us off course. It doesn't take very many nudges to change our trajectory completely.
I don't want to live society's version of my life. Or, my co-workers. Or, my friends, parents or sibling's version of my life. I want to live my version. The life I'm made for. The one that my personality and experiences have perfectly shaped me for. The one written, edited and produced by me.
This podcast is about asking myself - and you - weekly "What if" questions that help move me step by step toward that best life. The podcast episodes will be available on Sundays and each weekday morning, I'll send a short actionable email that relates to the episode. If you'd like to participate in those, you can sign up here and then meet me over coffee each morning to apply the week's question to your own life.
Since this pre-episode is sort of like a podcaster's version of an about me page, I told a few stories that give you an idea of where my heart is and ways I'm moving in toward that life.
One of the ways I'm going to process the questions each week is in a piece of artwork or illustration. You'll see that image as the episode artwork each week.
Episode Artwork: Unwritten
In this week's image, the dragonfly represents my struggle to become who I'm designed to be and how denying who we are is futile. When we work with our nature, however, we soar.
The blank notebook page represents my conviction that we can choose to live a better story, no matter what has come before. The lyrics of Natasha Bedingfield's song (yes, I think I butchered her name in the episode, eek, sorry Natasha!), "Unwritten" expresses how I feel about potential and possibility. She wrote the song for her brother's 14th birthday, but I believe it applies at any age.
If you want a fun way to remind yourself of the weekly question, feel free to download the episode artwork to use as a lock screen for an iPhone. You'll find it here.
It's not nearly as fun to take road trips alone, so I'd love you to join me on this journey. Let's write ourselves better stories...together!