Monday, April 20, 2015

Making Time for What is Truly Important to You

It feels like in today's world, everyone is trying to do everything. Maybe it is our overly ambitious culture.  We over-schedule our kids and as adults, we think we are supposed to be able to do it all. Maybe it's the immediateness and inter-connectivity of our world now.  With smart phones, tablets, laptops, video chats, social media and now even watches, we have the ability to always be connected with anyone in the world at any time.  It's ironic, we are living longer, but we think we need to be at a certain place career-wise earlier and earlier, but we wait later and later to get married and have a family (if that is the path we take at all).  

It's not that any of this is wrong nor am I judging people for their high ambitions, I am one of those people.  I am constantly trying to think about how I can be doing more, making a bigger impact, finding steps to take now to get me closer to my future goals.  But I do wonder if people are truly making time for what is important to them, versus what they think they are supposed to be doing.  Sometimes, I feel like I am making decisions about things because I am still trying to have the most well-rounded college application.  Except I am 20 years out of school and really just trying to make sure I have a fulfilling and meaningful life :) 

Recently, I have had several reasons to stop and reflect on what is really important to ME; what makes ME feel fulfilled.  Not what I think I should be doing or what a book tells me I should be doing or what I think society tells me I should be doing.  But what I WANT to be doing.  And that too takes discipline.  To me, there are two big things that are important to consider when figuring out how to prioritize what is truly important to ME!

The first thing is relatively straight forward, but needs to be said:  You have to find time to do the things you NEED to do, even if they are not what you want to do.  You have to pay your bills.  You have to do what is required at work (so you stay employed and get a paycheck to pay those bills).  Your house and clothes have to be clean.  You have to eat :)  You see where I am going with this.

For me, I find ways to multitask or allow myself a splurge to get all this done.  For example, the one thing we do that is very "New York" is that we drop off our laundry at the laundromat to have them do it for us.  This keeps me from having to sit in the laudromat for hours.  But a friend of mine uses her time at the laundromat to catch up on her favorite shows or Netflix because it's a time no one else is around her! Another friend meets her girlfriends and they do laundry together with their coffees in hand and use that time to socialize and catch up.  I know a mom who does laundry during a specific playtime event with her kids (craft time, homework time, etc) since it's something she can step away from for 5-10 minutes here and there to switch the loads but her kids are heavily engaged so they are ok on their own for that short time.  Or maybe the "have to" you hate is grocery shopping, meal planning, or cooking.  Try Blue Apron or Plated and have a couple of meals planned out for you.  They will deliver a box of ingredients for one meal each week.  It will also will introduce you to new things (if you like that kind of change and spontaneity).  Another thing my husband and I will do, is cook and do dishes together.  Even if it's a simple meal, the other person will just sit in the kitchen to keep the cook/cleaner company and talk about our day.  As for bills, we have finally joined the 21st century and do more of our bills online to make it easier and save us from not having to sit and write checks during the month.  It's about finding anything you can to spice up the chores, multitask the boring stuff with the fun stuff or just make those "need to do's" less painful!  

The second thing I have learned is to make sure the "extra" stuff fits into the life I want to lead.  I tend to be very busy during the week.  My workload is often overwhelming (and at best just flat out a lot) and I have long days during the week.   So my weekends with my family are precious to me.  I want to be able to relax, go out and do fun stuff, have adventures and enjoy my amazing and fortunate life.  But there are a couple of things that were important to me that I wanted to make sure were part of my well-balanced life.

One example is to find a way to clear my head on the weekends.  I read about meditation and how to clear the clutter out of my brain by disconnecting from screens.  I loved the concept so I tried that on my weekends.  But I was getting more stressed making sure I was meditating right...did I have the right location in my one bedroom apartment, did I have the right thing to focus on, could I do it at a time when the house was quiet and the dog and cats wouldn't try to help!  So then I was getting up early to do it, and I just found myself tired later in the day.  And while I was "offline", I was wondering what I was missing by not checking Facebook, that it cluttered my brain more than helped.  So then I tried Yoga.  There was a class right down the street on Sunday mornings.  In general, I really liked it.  It was a small enough class that the teacher was able to give individual attention  so I knew I was getting the most out of it physically.  It also included a cool down meditation in the end which gave me a chance to clear my brain for my final day of the weekend.  But then the class-time shifted to later in the morning.  And since the class always ran long, now I wasn't able to start my Sunday, my final day of the weekend, until almost 1:30.  Now my quiet healthy, time for me, was again only causing stress.  

It was then that I realized that it wasn't about the event or action that would help me disconnect on the weekends, and give me a chance to breathe, but just that I found something.  And wouldn't you know it ended up being the simplest thing.  Anytime I go out on the weekends, whether it's to walk the dog, go to the grocery store, drop off laundry, or head into the city for an event, I make a point to look up to the sky, breathe in the fresh air, close my eyes and just smile.  And then just pay attention to the beauty around me.  Kami (my dog) and I will literally stop and smell the flowers (thanks Aunt Donna!) or I will point out an intersting building to my husband, or I will take a different route to experience something different.  Or just hum something in my head as I walk with the other million New Yorkers and notice the people that walk past me.  I realized  MY way to clear my head, was just to enjoy my surroundings and be in the moment!  It's not taking time away from anything else, it's building it into something that I am already doing.  For me, this works.  I have plenty of friends who prefer to schedule the time to meditate or go to that yoga class.  And that works for them.  But again, the lesson here is to find what is important to me (clearing my head) and finding a way to do it in a way that works for me!

Another thing that is important to me is finding a way to give back to my community.  As I mentioned above, my weekends are precious to me.  Especially as my husband and I consider having children in the future, I am focusing on putting into practice good behaviors now to make sure I am presentand engaged when at home and setting boundaries and priorities with my job (and my writing and speaking and everything else I am trying to do outside of that job).  Side note, my husband deserves that attention as well, and so do my friends and family, so I should have been doing this for years :)  But I need to know that I am making a difference in this world.  The biggest influences in my life growing up all made an impact in our community.  My mom was a teacher and always volunteered at our schools, brownie troops, etc.  My dad volunteered with Lions Club, did community theatre and coached all my brother's sports teams.  And my maternal grandmother was a proud AA member for 30+ years and sponsored many new people in the program.  I want to know that throughout my life, I am able to make similar contributions.  So a few years ago, we signed up with NY Cares to be a volunteer, but each weekend, we would look at the open opportunities and nothing really inspired us to give up those precious 4 hours on a weekend.  But then I felt guilty that I wasn't doing anything.  So instead, we found one cause very close to our hearts (NAMI, which is a group that works to end the stigma around mental illness and provides support and education to individuals and their families) and we do their annual walk to raise awareness.  We also make financial contributions to other organizations that align with our beliefs and causes that are important to us.  And I give blood on a regular schedule.  I am a universal blood type so I know my donations can really go a long way.  Right now, these things work for us and I believe I am making a difference.  Other friends find ways to volunteer at a local organization on their lunch breaks or during down times in their schedules at work.  And that works for them!

I don't have it all figured out.  For example, I have not found the right balance for my physical self.  I need to change my eating habits again and find ways to burn some calories and get in better shape. Right now, that is not going to be going to a gym or an exercise class and I'm ok with that.  So, I actually just scheduled an appointment with a nutritionist to help weed through all the internet advice about taking in more calcium since I'm a woman, but not too much because that may not be good for my skin. Or how I get enough fruits and grains without overloading on sugar and carbs.  I just need someone else to tell me the right answer :)  And we bought a rowing machine that we can use in our living room while watching tv or while the other one is working on something else (writing, gaming, editing pictures, recording music).

But I can say that I have found some tricks that work for me and I encourage you to do the same.  Figure out what is truly important to you and then how you can realistically find ways to include that in your life without hindering or hurting other areas.  There is a realistic approach and balance to having it all based on your definition.  How you go about it will look different for you than someone else and that's ok :)  What things do you do that allows you to prioritize what is truly important to you?