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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Radical Self-Care Step Five – Rest

Is It Nap Time Yet?

This is the hardest self-care step for me because it means that I have to stop my usual frenzy of activity and really slow down. I talk a good game but in reality I am always in motion. Between all the things I have to do and the things I want to do it’s really quite a challenge for me to stop and just be still.

But, oh my goodness, it is so necessary.

Watercolor Molly & Grace

We are like bees buzzing around an endless array of flowers, getting caught up in the colors and aromas and we can get lost there, always buzzing, never resting.

And yet, magical things come from rest.

To do nothing is a powerful act. To be, to rest, to let go. Letting the swirl of energy that is constantly driving us come to a halt. Taking some time to stop and evaluate what we’re doing gives us a chance to prioritize what’s really important. It also gives us time to recharge our batteries and it strengthens our immune systems.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to take one day a week just for rest. No goals. No chores. Not even scheduling a fun activity with a friend. A day for true rest. Reading, gardening, taking a nice long walk, even curling up on the couch and watching a movie. For me, rest requires not engaging, which is why I don’t make plans with anyone on my rest day. But your mileage may vary. The important thing is to give yourself a true break, where you aren’t “on” and nothing at all is needed from you. It’s quite a luxury.

A day of rest gives you a chance to just be yourself. You aren’t playing a role (parent, spouse, friend or whatever you do for a living). You aren’t responding to anyone. It’s a day to truly nurture yourself, to allow yourself to be 100% okay just as you are. Nothing else required.

When I was in my 20’s I went on a long trip for several months to Southeast Asia. I happened to arrive in Bali the day before what they call “quiet day.” On that day everything on the island is shut down. No cars or buses run. No restaurants are open. No fires are lit. It’s a day where the entire island hits the “off” switch. All food has been prepared in advance because no cooking is done. A local person explained to me that they do this so malevolent spirits will think everyone has left the island and they will move on. I thought it was wonderful that this whole culture observed a day when absolutely everything and everyone came to a halt and rested.

Even the bible talks about having a day of rest each week. Many spiritual traditions honor a day of rest. Clearly, there is something to this.

Think of it as a way to re-boot. You know that when you re-boot things they work better. As the deeply down-to-earth writer Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

This is what I’m talking about. We all need some time to unplug. When we can’t screw up because nothing is required of us. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds delicious.

 

Radical Self-Care Step Two – Time

Our Most Precious Resource

Can I borrow some of your time? I’m a little short.

It doesn’t really work that way, does it? Whereas I have a savings account with money that I can accumulate until I’m ready to spend, time is always passing. It is constantly being spent, whether it’s on something I absolutely love, dealing with necessities, indulging in a bit of foolishness or even on things I don’t like.

How do you spend your time?

Young cute girl sleeping on pillow in fresh spring grassDo you save it up for juicy experiences of pleasure? Do you manage your life efficiently so that you have the most amount of time for the things you really love to do? Do you sit quietly, observing the slight breeze making the leaves dance in the trees, so you can feel its slow, gentle passage?

Or do you blow it frivolously, not even realizing where it went until you notice that suddenly you are all out of time.

This is something I am becoming acutely aware of. It’s like a secret treasure that has been there all along that I never even paid much attention to.

This became very obvious to me recently, when I was struggling to fit in all the things I wanted to do: all the projects I wanted to accomplish, the friends I wanted to keep up with and the realization that I had very little breathing space. There was so little unscheduled time. I rarely had days where there was no agenda, no appointments, no errands. In fact, I almost never have days like that.stream

I started thinking about that being an unmet need. And how luxurious it felt whenever I had a few hours just to myself, with nothing in particular I had to get done. How insanely delicious that was. And the way I would try to hang on to it, as the minutes slipped by, until it was over and I had to move on to the next thing. I would look into the future, wondering when the next block of uninterrupted privacy would emerge. And that’s when I started regarding my time as a very precious resource.

So now I set aside blocks of time where I take getaways by myself, with two or three days at a time that are just for me. Sometimes I stay in bed until noon, lost in a good book. It’s hard to even describe how heavenly that is!

Once I started going away I found myself becoming greedy, wanting to do this more and more often. I think I value this sacred time almost more than anything else.

I am more aware now of how valuable time is, and how easily it can get squandered before we even realize it’s gone.

This is really about honoring our relationship to ourselves. No one cares when you run out of time. Nobody feels it but you. No one can give it to you but your own careful planning.

And it costs us absolutely nothing. Except mindfulness.