When We Want More But Keep Choosing Less

2018 is almost upon us, so you know what that means. Everyone from your favorite podcasters to your yoga instructor is asking you to start setting your goals and intentions for the new year.

I have a lot of thoughts about 2018. I think it’s going to be a really good year. Why? Do I know something in particular about this coming year that will really set it apart?

No. Not really.

But I have learned some things in the previous years that I plan to carry with me in order to make next year, great.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about today: Perspective. Planning. Purposeful living.

I would like to propose to you that the biggest barrier between you and achieving the kind of life you want to lead is NOT  circumstances or timing or other people and is almost entirely one thing. You. 

We are the barrier that blocks our dreams. We are the thing standing in the way of living our best life. We are the barrier to pursuing the dreams and values and passions placed deep inside us all.

It’s not your finances or your kids or your lack of ability, it’s how you are looking at your life. It’s how you view your role in your life. It’s how you utilize (or under utilize) your gifts, passion, and abilities. It’s your perspective.

If you want 2018 to be the year where you begin to step into the things you know you were placed on this earth to do, accomplish, and experience, then the thing you need to ask yourself is whether or not you are going to take responsibility for literally the only thing in your control on this earth: your own actions.

So what’s it going to be? Are you ready to do this?

I know I am.

So where do we start?

I hear a common complaint these days and it goes like this (paraphrased version): “My heart longs for something more. But I keep making decisions that are decidedly less.”

Many of us instinctively know that we are “made for more,” (although the specifics of what that “more” is varies from person to person). We know that the people in front of us hold infinite value, and should be treated as such. We know that there is more to life than accruing wealth, checking off boxes, or doing all the things that everyone else says we should be doing. We know that we possess gifts and values and passions for a purpose far great than just fodder for our daydreams.

But when we are faced with the bigness of our heart’s desires and the smallness of our day to day, we get stuck. And we never. make. it. out.

How do you have goals when you are sitting at home on the couch for the 30th day in a row with a fussy baby and a body that is weird and foreign to you and a mind that wanders so far off the ranch that you have a hard time ever finding it again?

How do you live out your values when you go to work each day at a place that pays you well and gives you all the things you could ever ask for but fails to give you time and space to pursue the things that are far less tangible and far more fulfilling?

How do you continue to believe in your dreams when you did all the things you thought you were supposed to – you went to college, got married, paid all your bills on time – yet still feel like there is something missing? Why do you feel disappointed and even unfulfilled when you did what were supposed to do? You checked all the boxes. And yet…

Far too often the disconnect between our dreams and our reality cause us to feel overwhelmed, and for most of us, that is where we stay. We feel overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities. By the demands placed on us by work or family. By the dishes. The laundry. The bills. We feel overwhelmed by kids that won’t potty train and by husbands who are always gone and by jobs that never seem to pay enough. We feel overwhelmed by doing all the things but never feeling like it’s enough or like there is enough of ourselves to go around. We feel overwhelmed by doing what we thought was best but still feeling like something is missing. We overwhelm and we overwhelm until, one day, we end up completely discouraged, disillusioned, and in total disbelief that our dreams even matter.

But.

The life changing thing I learned in 2017 is that overwhelm is a choice. It’s not something that happens TO me, it happens because of me. Overwhelm is a mindset. And the key to fighting overwhelm?

Action.

And guess what, people. You, are capable, of taking action.

When life gets busy or hard or simply unfulfilling, many people will tell you to start clearing your plate. They will tell you to simplify. Minimize. Marie Kondo the crap out of your life. Tidy up your home, your wallet, your head.

But what if all that simplifying failed to  take into account that what most of us long for isn’t less…it’s more.

I’m convinced that when most of us complain about wanting less, what we are really bemoaning is the fact that life is hard and requires work. But you know what?

It does. So get used to it, buttercup.

The good news is, you can handle it.

The even better news is, not only can you handle the hard stuff, you can start pursuing the good stuff. 

The solution is not in less. Less stuff. Less on our plate. Girlll. Boyyy. Stop walking around acting like you can’t handle STUFF. Be it literal stuff in your home or emotional stuff in your head, You. Can. Handle. It.

Telling yourself that you can’t is a victim mentality and it’s getting you nowhere.

Maybe it’s not that you can’t handle your schedule. Maybe it’s that you don’t LIKE your schedule. That is a very, very different conversation. Saying you can’t handle something paints you as a helpless victim with circumstances outside of your control. This is factually and fundamentally untrue. You have control over your own life. If, however, you simply don’t like your schedule, this puts you back in the drivers seat of your own life. You don’t like something? Fix it. Change it. YOU GET TO DO THIS, but only if you choose it.

When we get stuck in a cycle of overwhelm, we feeling the feelings, shut down, do nothing, and lament feeling so overwhelmed.

We are confronted with the option to feel overwhelmed on a minute by minute basis. When you see your piles of laundry. When you see this week’s schedule. When you walk into a dirty home with a pile of groceries in your arms and are greeted by crying kids.

Overwhelm tells you that life is too big and too hard and you should just give up.

This, of course, is one option.

The other option is to get over yourself and start ACTING. The cure to overwhelm is not less stuff, it’s more action.

Tackle one load of laundry a day. Plan ahead for your week’s busy schedule. Send your kids to their room to start picking up while you put your groceries away, and mentally give yourself a break by planning on doing pizza on paper plates for dinner.

And sure, part of that action plan might include clearing up some literal or emotional space in your life. But don’t start chucking things out the window because you feel overwhelmed and can’t handle life. Start thoughtfully and purposefully asking yourself what fits into your life’s purpose and values, and what doesn’t?

The point is that you either live your life with intention – which is the result of planning and proper perspective – you end up with a life where the tail wags the dog.

Let me break this down even more.

All this starts with knowing what you want. Now, before you even come at me with a “but I don’t knowwww what I want my life to look like,” I’m going to just stop you right there.

For goodness sake. You aren’t a potted plant. You are a human being with a brain and a personality and a capacity for dreaming and feeling and becoming.

WHAT DO YOU WANT? Just blurt it out. Just be honest. Go to that place. No one is judging or listening. For five minutes, just give yourself the space to be real with yourself about who you really are and what you really want.

The funny thing is, our hearts already know what they want. There is incredible value to naming the things that are deep inside of us. When we don’t take the time to name them, that undefined tugging in the back of our brain that perhaps we are missing something causes doubt, worry, and anxiety. It’s our brains way of say, “pssss. Hey you! Dig a little deeper here!” So do the work to name your heart’s desires so that you can free yourself up to pursue them if possible, or make your peace with the loss of them if you aren’t in a season where that is possible.

Ok, now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about your values.

What do you really value in life? For me, I value connecting with others. I value connecting them to larger ideas. I value growth and forward motion. I value adventure and change. I value substance. I value independence and freedom.

What about you? What are your core values? Go ahead…write them down, right under whatever it is you determined you want out of life.

Now. Here is the next question. What things are in your life that don’t fit your values?

For me, working a normal 9-5 and sending my kids off to school didn’t fit my values. It wouldn’t give me the time or space to invest in my people in a way that fits my values.

Or, on a simply and recently relevant level, we value staying home all day with our kids on Christmas. So guess what we don’t do? We don’t go anywhere on Christmas. Family and friends can invite us but we will continues to politely filter all those invitations through our values and the answer will always be, “Thanks for asking, but we stay home on Christmas day!”

The point is, determine your values so you can determine you actions. Your life needs to fit your values, and if there are things in your life that DON’T fit your values, then your first step is to start snip snip snipping away at those incongruous items. Again, this is about action. You have the authority in your own life. You get to do this.

The next part, frankly, is the hardest part. Because it comes down to perspective. And if you want more out of life but find yourself chronically choosing less, then I hate to break it to you, but you’ve got a perspective problem. And those are hard to break.

I think there are a good majority of us who are learning and discovering how to filter out the essential few from the nonessential many (to borrow a term from my favorite book on the topic).

But then what?

Life still happens. Kids get sick. Work sucks. Laundry is never ending. Bills pile up. Tragedy continues to coexist alongside joy.

How do we manage to lead a life that reflects our values and passions and dreams despite all the frustrating to downright painful aspects of the human experience?

The answer, I think, lies in our entitlement. We’ve believed a lie that in order for our life to be good and fulfilling, it must be easy. There’s an app for that! The easy button! 10 quick steps to financial freedom! blah blah blah. This is all so completely untrue and it’s absolutely wrecking our ability to enjoy this beautiful life we are living. So many of us ARE absolutely living out our values and our passions but we fail to see that because we are so annoyed that life continues to happen. We get stuck in this beautiful, flawless, and specific way that we think life is supposed to unfold in order to have meaning and value, and that narrow definition absolutely destroys are ability to see the good things right in front of us, right now.

Figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life, as complicated as it might seem, is FAR easier than living out that life with gratitude and the understanding that we aren’t entitled to perfection. Just grace.

My favorite definition of grace is “the divine interaction with mankind.” I love this because I’m starting to see that life will always, always have it’s faults and hardships. But life always, always has an element of grace to it, too – and element of the divine reaching down his hand to interact with us in a loving and kind way. He did that. He still does that. It just really boils down to what we choose to focus on. Both are equally real and valid. But we can only choose one to dictate how we view life.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating a false sense of joy. I’m not saying we should pretend the hard stuff doesn’t happen or exist. Quite the opposite. I’m simply saying that what we humans tend to do is have 10 good things happen in one day and one bad thing and all we can think about or see or talk about is the bad thing. It’s bad perspective. We have a vision problem. We can process the bad through the lens of the good (grace), or we can fail to see the good because we are so blinded by the thick and exclusive lens of the bad.

Again, it’s all a choice. But we tend to passively slip into seeing the world in a way that will never give us a sense of purpose or satisfaction without ever questioning if there is better way.

There is.

Which brings me to my next point, and one of the biggest barriers to living out the more we want from life: our refusal to sacrifice what we have but don’t want, for what we don’t have, but want.

All of this figuring out who you are and what you want and creating intentional actions will ask, no, demand sacrifice.

We don’t want to do the work, give things up, or change. We just want our life to miraculously change for the better without us ever having to change ourselves.

I’m not speaking from a place of judgement. I’m speaking as one who knows this struggle all too well. We want what we want, but we aren’t willing to work for it. Fight for it. Sacrifice for it.

But friend, if you want your life to change, then you’ve got to start changing your life.

Let’s talk examples, shall we?

Sometimes when I tell people that I’m a stay at home mom, their response is, “Good for you! That’s awesome.” Other times, though, I get a response along the lines of, “Wow. You are so lucky. I wish I could do that but we just can’t.” And I have to be honest with you. That really bugs me. Because we aren’t lucky. We’ve sacrificed big time to have me stay home. We’ve planned for this. Prepared for this. We’ve made adjustments, for this.

More often that that not, when people say they “can’t” do something that they want to do, like in this case staying home with their kids, it’s not that they can’t actually do it. It’s that they can’t do it without any sacrifice on their part, and therefore they are unwilling to make that change. And sure,  if you want to continue living the life you’ve become accustomed to then I guess you “can’t.” But again, what are your values? If you want to be home with your kids, then it’s probably going to require sacrifice. We didn’t buy a home based off of two incomes because we valued the freedom and flexibility of me being a stay at home mom. So we bought a home where our mortgage is literally less than an apartment would cost each month. We don’t buy new cars. We don’t own a lot of expensive things. This is the way we’ve made changes to our life in order to pursue our values. You can’t keep living the life you have now but expect to suddenly start living the life you want.

And that is just one example.

I also know that I’ve been guilty in the past of saying that I can’t pursue certain passions or dreams in this stage of life while I’m raising little ones. But the reality is that I’m free to start, I just have to be willing to start from the beginning. And beginnings are usually small and humble and require a lot of non flashy work. And no one wants to do that. We want to jump right to the end. But you know what they call that? Entitlement. Also, disillusionment. Also, lazy.

What we often call barriers to living out the life we want are usually just nuisances we stubbornly don’t want to deal with. We want to jump right to resolution. To the big picture. To the end goal. We don’t want to deal with the annoying little steps along the way. So we dig in our feet and belligerently bemoan all the barriers in our way, failing to see that the only barrier, is ourself.

This all brings us to my final point about choosing to live a life of more when we feel stuck in a cycle of less. We need to give things their proper value and see things more for what they are, instead of what they aren’t.

Let me explain.

It might be easy to read all this and start selfishly cutting back the ways you give to others in the pursuit of what “you want.” This, my friend, is SO not what I’m talking about. I firmly believe that you will know your values and passions and dreams are authentic and life giving and worth pursuing when they are things that will add value to everyone around you. No, I’m not saying you cater your life to other people’s ideas of how you should live, but I AM saying that a meaningful and fulfilling life is one that first and foremost understands that you are not put on this earth solely for your own pleasure.

You were made on purpose for a purpose, and that purpose includes knowing God and loving others. Your life’s value will center and spring around those two truths. It is our connection to each other through the unique ways that God has individually hardwired us that gives depth and meaning and purpose to our days. So I would ask you, are you living a life that is all about you? Or one that uses all of who you are to make yourself and everyone around you, better?

If you desire to live a life of more in 2018 – be it more meaning, more purpose, more whatever – then you need to start thinking, dreaming, and planning. And you need to start acting. Because you only get one life. If you live it out of the fullness of who you are and who God has made you to be, then I promise you, you won’t waste it.  But you have to choose that life. You have to plan for that life. And when you are inevitably faced with the opportunity to feel overwhelmed in your life, just remember, it’s not about less, it’s about reclaiming your authority to act. To choose. To become.

Let’s choose to be who we were made to be in 2018. Let’s choose to remember that we don’t have to be defeated by overwhelm. Let’s choose to remember that what we really want isn’t less. But more.

 

 

 

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