In January of this year, I decided not to create any goals for myself. I did, however, do something even more important.
I sat down, with a pen, last year’s calendar, and my notebook, and created a “Life Giving & Life Draining” list.
You can read all about why I didn’t set any new goals for myself in 2019, here. But I still wanted to be intentional with my time and perspective on my life so that I can continue to grow. So, instead of writing down goals, I wrote down two lists: one, of things that are life giving to me, and another of things that I find to be life draining.
The exercise itself was simple, but the results were so powerful. Here is what I did:
First, I carved out some time alone to be quiet and reflective. Then, I grabbed last year’s calendar and a notebook. For the next hour or so, I went through my personal calendar, day by day, and noticed what I felt when I looked at each entry. This was so incredibly insightful. I think that if I just sat down to create the list without my calendar that it would have been too easy to include my automatic, autopilot responses of what I tell myself should be on each list. And, perhaps even more importantly, there were some things that felt so simple that they almost didn’t even warrant a notation on the calendar but when I looked at them, the feelings that came up showed me that they certainly deserved a spot on the Life Giving side of my list. But I doubt I would have thought to include them otherwise.
When I looked at my calendar, I noticed that things like working out with a friend, my book club, family day trips, having friends over for dinner, and delivering snacks to Mike’s classroom all brought with them a sense of fun, energy, and excitement. Yes, they also took work and time and planning. But at the end of the day, they felt very life giving, and that was important for me to notice.
Then there were other things on the calendar that, even though they were already past, brought with them a sense of dread. Of weight. Of obligation. Things like trying to make plans with people who are perpetually “so busy,” homeschool activities that feel like I’m doing them just for the sake of doing them, and large play dates because honestly, in this season of life, the last thing I want to do with my limited time is spend it with other tiny humans other than the tiny humans I spend every. waking. minute. with. LOL. Oh man. That one is so real it should be on the Life Draining list five times.
After I created my list, I looked over it and was a little surprised at how it helped me narrow my focus. In some ways, I already “knew” what things in my life felt life giving and life draining, yet it’s so easy to just keep doing the things we know we should stop, and fail to make time for the things we know we need. And like one of my favorite books, Essentialism, likes to point out – if we don’t prioritize our life, someone else will. Meaning, we have to think about spending our time like we spend our money. We have to name where we want it to go, because if we don’t, we will end up spending it in ways that others want us to spend it. And that is simply a recipe for dissatisfaction and frustration.
Once everything was written down in black and white, things just felt a whole lot more clear. I had gone through the work of processing how I felt about the way I spend my time. I wrestled with what I really want my days, weeks, and months to look like. I looked openly and honestly at, not theoretical concepts but actual dates on the calendar and determined if I wanted less of that thing in the future, or more. And in doing this, it took the guess work out of moving forward.
I’ve found a lot of clarity and confidence in my responses lately. I’m more sure of myself when I say yes to a request to spend time with someone who pours into the relationship as much as they take out – a very real factor that needs to be evaluated at this point in my life. I pour into my children so much. My adult relationships need to be a balance of give and take in a way that my daily motherhood just isn’t right now, or else I end up feeling incredibly raw, depleted, and bitter. But I can choose better, and now, I do. I don’t have to think through things in the moment as much because that work has already been done by creating the Life Giving and Life Draining lists. I know what I want to say yes to. I know what I want and need to turn down.
Another really important and unexpected thing emerged from creating these lists that I want to share with you. I think that, as women, it’s easy to believe the lie that choosing what is life giving to us is selfish. And sure, we can be selfish at times. We all are. But assuming that life is either all self denial or all self centered is dualistic thinking and generally untrue. Those are both two ends of the spectrum. They are the two extremes. You can live a life where you constantly say yes to Life Draining activities and still be a totally self centered jerk. Just like you can strive to become more intentional about saying yes to Life Giving activities and be a thoughtful, selfless person who aims to honor the wants and needs of both yourself and those around you.
Choosing to live your life isn’t selfish, it’s simply a choice. You either live your life, or or you live the life other’s demand of you. And I would argue that living a life that others demand or expect of you isn’t you being selfless or humble. It’s you being a people pleaser. And being a people pleaser, I’ve learned, is no different than being a lier. Because it’s living a life that isn’t true.
Getting honest about what fills us up and what depletes us is a powerful tool that helps us be honest with first ourselves, and others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said yes to people and things in the past so that I would make them “happy,” then dreaded it so much that I ended up just feeling resentful towards that person and drained by the experience. And it’s not their fault, it’s mine.
Learning to be honest about what we want to include and not include in our life takes a lot of practice and comes with it’s own growing pains and discomfort. Sometimes we will disappoint others with our choices. But let me tell you a secret – even if we tried to make everyone happy all the time at the expense of what we wanted, we could never actually achieve a life where everyone is always happy with us and never disappointed with our decisions. It’s just not possible. All we can do is get really, reeeally intentional about knowing who we are, what we value, and making decisions out of the bullseye of what is most essential in our life.
And yes, doing this will include some people’s disappointed expectations and dissenting opinons. That is ok. We are not here to manage other people’s expectations and opinions. We can not please everyone and that should never be our goal. But we can live thoughtful, honest and authentic lives that honor the person that God made us to be. This will look different for everyone, and that is exactly the point.
Naming what brings us life and feels life draining also makes space for our disappointed hopes and expectations. Sometimes we are living and responding from a place of unacknowledged hurt and disappointment, which helps exactly no one. It is healing and powerful to look at our calendar and thus – our lives – and openly and honestly face the longings of our heart.
I truly, with every fiber of my being believe that those longings are there for a reason. They have something to tell us about who we are and what we are on this earth to do. Again, it’s so easy to doubt those longings and label them as selfish, but oh my friends – I would ask you this: ARE you selfish? Is that who you really are? In your heart of hearts, are you a self centered person who could care less about other people’s dreams, feelings and needs? Oh. I doubt that very much. If that is not who you are, then your longings are not something to be doubted, smothered, or ignored. Sure, there is always a way to go about expressing our longings that is selfish. Just like there is a way to go about expressing our longings in a way – that isn’t.
I took my Life Giving and Life Draining list to my husband and we had an open and honest conversation about it. I told him how important it is to me that I get time to practice yoga, to write, to spend time with other women who mutually build each other up, and to have adventures together as a family. I told him these things because I knew I couldn’t include them in my life without his help. What was so interesting, though, was how our conversation also included a time of me confessing how I tend to say yes to people, plans, and events simply so that I can have a full calendar (ummm, hello enneagram 7). I have created a very bad habit of doing things I don’t want to do just so that I have something to do. As I was sharing my list with my husband, it helped create space for me to apologize to him for a habit that, honestly, can be very draining for him. Discussing this together, we both felt energized and excited by the idea that I would be narrowing my focus of what I would be filling my calendar with. He didn’t see this as me being selfish. He saw this as growth.
Because that is exactly what it is.
How we spend our time is, of course, how we spend our life. Zeroing in on what is life giving and life draining helps us choose to spend our time well. And time well spent, is a life well spent.