What Do You Really Want To Do?

That is the question.

It is a question I grapple with a lot.

It sounds simple at first. Of course you know what you want to do. But do you, really? Can you separate what you really want from what you think you should want? Or more to the point, what other people think you should want and since you want other people to approve of you, you adopt that as your wish? Yes, you might have to read that through one more time.

My backyard Hammock

Complicated as it is, I would say that what most people want is for other people to approve of them. And there lies the problem. This is often something people are not consciously aware of. It’s so ingrained to want approval that we often make choices based on what we think others’ reaction will be, without questioning whether it’s something we deeply desire.

I haven’t written a blog post in months. I’ve thought about it often. Various topics have run through my mind. But I’ve been too busy. The nagging feeling that I “should” write a blog post has continued to bother me. Why? Because when you begin engaging with people online you “should” keep it up on a regular basis. And I admit, I have let things slip. The truth is, I’ve been trying to do too many things. I know I have to cut some things out and I’ve been at a loss.

So this question: What do you really want to do? This has been hanging over my head. Every day. For months.

The underlying topic of pretty much all my blog posts has been self-care. I love this topic. The importance of self-care never goes away. You never get finished with self-care, just like you never get finished eating or sleeping. It’s an essential part of life. There are so many layers to it. It comes up in big and small ways around everything we do.

It fascinates me because I am always craving more self-care. I fantasize about taking myself to the coast, going for a walk in the woods, lying in my hammock reading a book. But all too often, I put these things off because I’m trying to get other stuff done. And I’ll tell you, there is an endless amount of other stuff to get done. When I am exhausted, worn out, overwhelmed, even burned out, the question always comes up. What can I do to take care of myself? What do I really want to do?

The quiet spot in my driveway

One of my projects is writing a book on self-care. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t had time to write blog posts. My previous posts inspired the book. There’s a lot to this topic. It’s important for our health, for our well-being, our sanity. It’s so important to take care of ourselves because it’s so easy to get worn out and have nothing left to give. You are no good to anyone when you are burned out, including yourself. Especially yourself.

My favorite books are about people’s journeys. I love memoirs and self-help books. These books help me feel less alone when I realize how other people have struggled and how they coped. They give me ideas and inspiration. And they inspire me to write my own stories. It is why I am writing a book on self-care, as I spend every day and every week exploring the issues around this. I am also writing a memoir about two very difficult years of my life when I attempted a career change that was not right for me. It was the ultimate in doing something that everyone approved of but was not a good match. There were some big realizations I had that I want to write about as I tell the story. It was quite a journey and I will someday finish that book. But I have put it aside for the time being to focus on the self-care book. This is how I end up with too many projects.

Relaxing on my patio

The more I write about self-care, I keep seeing an underlying issue. And that is, we get very strong messages about what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to want, what our families should look like, what the progression of our careers should be. These messages affect our choices. Whether the messages come from our parents, our teachers or even our close friends, everyone has an opinion on this. Whether the message is to conform or to be a rebel, people have very strong opinions. One only needs to take a quick look at social media, to the abundance of selfies to see how important it is for most people, to have approval. “Look at me! And for God’s sake, like this post!”

So, what happens when you want to do something that perhaps no one understands?

First off, it’s not necessary to tell people everything you’re doing. It’s perfectly okay to keep parts of your life private. In fact, it’s a good idea to have privacy around some of the things you do, just so you don’t have to think in terms of how you will be judged.

Here’s the thing. You are totally okay exactly the way you are. No matter where you are in your process, it’s okay. Whether you are on your way to developing a new skill, a new career, creating something, or choosing to take it easy and not do anything new, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s your right as a human being to be however you want to be.

As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you have a right to living the way you want to live.

I have a lot of difficulty allowing myself unproductive time. Wherever I got those messages that I should be getting things done, they are very deeply ingrained. One of my biggest self-care practices is to allow myself to do nothing. To simply rest. I have set up a number of resting areas around my house because this is so essential to me. Yet, I struggle to take advantage of them. I have a hammock strung up in my backyard, a chaise lounge on my porch and another chaise lounge under a tree, down my driveway. These are all very attractive places to relax. I am embarrassed to admit how rarely I take advantage of them. My goal is to spend some time relaxing in one of these spots every day, but honestly, I am doing well if I do so once or twice a week. Everywhere I look, I see things that need to get done. The garden always needs weeding. I’m always behind on my writing projects. There are too many papers on my desk than need sorting and discarding. My closets need to be cleaned out. My emails have not all been read. On and on it goes. I cannot wait until everything is done to relax. Otherwise I will wait forever.

What do I really want? Honestly, it’s to feel less pressure. And that pressure comes primarily from within me.

When I realized I didn’t feel like writing a blog post I gave myself permission not to write posts for a while. The world would not come to an end if I did not write a blog post. Instead I focused on the book when I had time to write. I have a great critique group where I get wonderful feedback. The process of crafting a good book fascinates me so this is clearly a project I want to keep.

All the books I have about writing say that you need to have a writing routine, so you can get so many thousands of words written every day. I do not have a writing routine. I don’t want one. I just want to write when I feel moved to. So that’s what I do. Maybe I will never finish my book. It’s okay. I am not depending on my writing to support me, so these things really don’t matter. Even though I can see the ghosts of writers shaking their fingers at me, telling me I won’t amount to anything if I don’t get my writing done, I know ultimately it doesn’t matter. I am not living to gain their approval. They are, in fact, my own spooky creation. I am not living to gain anyone’s approval. How freeing it is to say that! I am not living to gain anyone’s approval! I needed to say it again!

Each day that blooms is fresh. Each day is an opportunity to do what I really want. Or to not do things I don’t want. Regardless of the expectations.

My work schedule provides a little structure for which I am grateful. I am someone who needs a little structure. But beyond that structure I get overwhelmed trying to do way too much. My biggest challenge with time is narrowing the list down so I can spend more time lying on the chaise lounges, and rocking in the hammock.

What is your challenge? What do you really want to do that you have not yet made room for?

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Staying Sane During Insane Times

You can’t go crazy right now, tempting as that may be. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant about our emotional state. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling torn into pieces as I am watching events in our country unfold. I find myself going through a wild cycle of feelings, none of them good. Fear, anxiety, anger, disgust, despair all take turns occupying my psyche.

Take the sane road

Take the sane road

It’s been hard to go about the usual activities in my life without talking about it all the time. But, honestly, I can’t talk about it all the time. When I do bring up the state of the world, because that’s what’s on my mind, people nod and I see that same stressed out look on their faces that I see in the mirror. They are reading the same articles I’m reading, the same news stories. They are feeling much of what I’m feeling.

This gets exhausting very quickly. After the big Women’s March I said, somewhat flippantly, “We should March every Saturday!” Now I realize that wasn’t just a random remark. We probably WILL march or protest every Saturday. The Saturday after the Women’s March people were protesting at airports around the country because of the outrageous and chaotic ban on immigrants that was suddenly imposed out of the blue. I saw people’s rights being violated. I saw the Constitution being violated. I wondered about our system of checks and balances. I wondered if this was still the United States of America.

So, given that the assault on our rights and way of life is not going to stop, and aware that being in this debilitating state of mind is not any way to live, I had to figure out how to get a grip if I was to be of any use at all. One of the strategies of the people who are currently in power is to wear us out, so after a while we have no energy to fight back. Here’s how NOT to let that happen.

I am always telling people, “In order to have the energy to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself, first.”

That has never been more true than right now.

All things considered, these are my thoughts regarding the best way to manage right now. Although a great deal is happening beyond our control, make the most of situations where you are in charge. Start by being present in your own life. Often, we can get so wrapped up with anxiety about the future or about things happening beyond our reach that we lose sight of beneficial things that exist right here, right now. We tend to focus on the things that need fixing, rather than on what’s working. And even though we are watching our democracy getting smashed like a beautiful piece of pottery, we mustn’t lose sight of those things we do have that make our lives worthwhile.

Say a silent prayer of gratitude for everything you love about your life, throughout the day, as often as possible. For instance, I love the beautiful Northern California community where I live. I love the work I do for a living, being a massage therapist, helping people feel better in their bodies and their hearts. I love the people in my life and hug them as often as possible. I love watching the patterns that are made with light when the sun casts shadows on everything. I love when the sun comes out and warms everything up. I love when it rains and the cool water soaks into the earth and cleanses the air. I love watching the clouds move. I love eating squares of dark chocolate and almonds. I love eating apple slices with cheddar cheese. I love my new writing class, Creative Unbootcamp 2017. I love cuddling with my whippet, Spencer. I love taking all three of my dogs for a walk. I love going for walks while listening to my latest audiobook. Throughout the day, whatever else I’m doing, I give thanks for everything about my life that I treasure. I suggest you start doing that as a regular practice. Focus on everything you can be grateful for.

Take time to disconnect from the world every so often, to give yourself a break from the constant bombardment of information. News sites, social media sites, TV, email. There is so much info coming at us all the time it gets overwhelming very fast. The other day someone was saying, “What did we do with our time before there was Facebook and Twitter and Instagram?” We lived, that’s what. We had time to ourselves to quietly relax and enjoy life in the moment. We got together and talked face to face. We did more in person. We relaxed more. Try giving up your connection to electronic devices for brief periods. Or not such brief periods. Not permanently, but for sufficient chunks of time. Maybe only check-in a couple of times each day. Notice the difference. It’s called breathing space.

I stopped checking Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, as had been my habit. It makes a big difference to start my day without immediately reacting to the latest news. And at night, switching from the media to reading a book before bed helps me sleep a lot better. I have begun limiting my attention there to just a couple of times a day. I’m not missing much, and I’m not in an emotional state of constant reaction. That reaction button? That was my heart that kept getting pushed.

Make a point of scheduling quality time every week (or every day) to do things that make you feel good. Whether it’s getting together with a friend, going for a walk in nature, finding a quiet place to read a good book, give yourself some respite from engagement. Because only when you leave the constant madness, to recharge your soul, can you come back to it and be effective in whatever you’re trying to do. We will figure this thing out as we feel the growing pains of shaping a new world. We are smart, capable people and there are huge numbers of us. But this is going to be a long haul, so we need to maintain our energy wisely.

We all need reminders of how to maintain our balance. Me, too, which is why I wrote this.