“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.”
~ Elizabeth Gilbert
Two of my good friends give Martha Stewart a run for her money this time of year.
They both bake enough to feed a small country, decorate as if Better Homes and Gardens is scheduled for a photo shoot, and write holiday letters that could be short-listed for a National Book Award if there was a letter category.
But there is one major difference between them. For my friend Amy (the names have been changed to protect the innocent), it’s a truly wonderful time and my friend Michelle is ready for a nervous breakdown by the first week in January.
The holiday season can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming.
There are a slew of additional commitments, the to-do list seems to have been sprinkled with super-growth powder, and all those crowds mean everything takes longer than normal.
But it can also be a particularly joyous and relaxing time. Work tends to slow down, we spend time with friends and family (I know, sometimes the latter belongs in the stressful category!), and it’s a great time to take stock of the year and express your gratitude.
What makes this time enjoyable for you? And what makes it stressful?
Make a list of both and then decide what choices you can (and will) make to maximize enjoy and minimize stress.
If you’re like my friend Amy, what tradeoffs can you make with your regular commitments to give yourself time to really enjoy all your holiday-related activities? And if you’re like my friend Michelle, consider letting go or simplifying the things you think you “should” be doing and focus on doing what will bring you joy during this time of year.
There’s no right way to do it. But when you make the choices that are right for you and your life, you’ll be living your days the way you want to live your life.
“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
~Edith Lovejoy Pierce, Poet
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.
As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.
So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
~ Steve Jobs
Since the premier of the American series Survivor on May 31, 2000, reality television has skyrocketed in popularity. A quick web search yielded over ninety shows dedicated exclusively to the genre. That’s a big audience watching other people’s seemingly more exciting, exotic, or sordid lives, waiting every week to see what happens next.
However, I’m placing my bet that your life is much more fascinating than any of those shows, even if you’re not competing to be the last one left on the island with all that crazy drama.
I’m serious. There’s all sorts of incredibly interesting stuff to watch in your life.
Give the same attention to your words and actions that reality TV viewers give to their favorite characters and all sorts of information about how your choices, interactions, and attitude affect your outcomes begins to unfold.
You’ll be amazed at the discoveries to be made when you start watching yourself throughout the day.
My clients have experienced eye-opening realizations about everything from their communication style (did that really just come out of my mouth?) to their time management skills (why do I respond like Pavlov’s dog every time my email dings?) to their day-to-day attitudes about work and life (I really did believe it would all be just fine … how do I live in that perspective more often?).
Spend the next week starring in your own reality show, taking a few minutes at the end of each day to reflect on what you’ve noticed.
And be sure to rate your show “L” for learning, best accomplished by viewing yourself through the lens of curiosity. (This is contrasted with “B” for beat yourself up with anything that’s less than perfect!)
Although your reality show may not be picked up by network television, your new awareness will be just the thing to help you live your day the way you want to live your life.
“Courage is an everyday thing. When we look reality squarely in the eye and refuse to back away from our awareness, we are living courage.” ~ Unknown
“Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.”
~ Babe Ruth
Our dog Jasper arrived into our lives when he was eighteen months old and immediately proceeded to redecorate our house.
We called it the Milk-Bone look. Crumbs, pieces, and piles that resembled abstract art covered large swaths of the floor.
He quickly honed his process to perfection.
Take one bone, toss it in the air a few times, ignore the pieces that break off, then lie down and chomp with gusto.
He’d then step over the fragments all over the floor, trot off with the biggest piece to settle down elsewhere until boredom set in, whereupon he abandoned the Milk-Bone, and headed off for a nap. By bedtime he’d tackled several new bones as well as bits and pieces from prior days.
It’s your basic start and stop cycle – something most of us are familiar with as well.
Since Jasper was in the game for sheer fun, it was of no consequence whether he finished what he started. But that’s not true for most of the busy people I know … myself included.
As my client Stacy describes it, “I go through the day in a complete blur without ever feeling I can point to what I accomplished, and every day I feel a little more stressed and overwhelmed.”
In fact, she achieves a heck of a lot, including a consistent top ten ranking in a sales force numbering more than one hundred while juggling a full personal life that includes three children.
But it’s hard for her to feel productive when the day ends and she hasn’t completed much of anything she set out to do. It’s also not much fun, and it was beginning to take an increasingly high toll: think too many late nights, personal commitments going by the wayside, and a growing resentment towards a job she really likes.
So we ran a little experiment. For one week, she picked one thing to accomplish each day. Just one.
Guess what happened? Yup, she was able to get it done … every single day.
The simple act of starting each day with the question, “What’s the most important thing I can do today?”, helped her keep her eye on that specific ball and see it through to completion.
The experiment has become permanent. Her stress is down, her real priorities are getting done, and she’s an all-around happier camper.
If you find yourself in a similar situation – you start and stop a bazillion things, or just as bad, you never even start what’s on your agenda – try the just one thing experiment.
First thing in the morning choose the one task that’s most important to complete that day. And no cheating ;-). When I suggested this approach to my client Jenny, she tried to negotiate for three. Nope, it’s gotta be one, because that’s virtually guaranteed to be doable. And if it’s truly the most important thing, you’ll find a way to get it done.
Once you get started you’ll quickly see progress in what you’re accomplishing … and in living your day the way you want to live your life.
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” ~ Albert Einstein
Life is short.
We all know that intellectually. But knowing doesn’t always translate into living.
That was true for me until twenty years ago, when I lost my best friend. When Paul died, I shifted from conceptually knowing that life is short to smack-me-upside-the-head, holy-cow, life really is short.
That recognition changed my life.
Since then, I’ve lived my life with the conviction that life is too short to stay stuck, to be unhappy, or to invest time in what won’t matter in the long run at the expense of what does matter.
Most of the time my choices align with that conviction. But I’m far from perfect.
I get caught up in busyness. I can put off and procrastinate on things that are important to me. I bang into resistance, sometimes understandably, other times leaving me scratching my head wondering, “What’s up with that?”
I know I can do better.
Not in a striving for perfection, denying myself permission to be human kind of way. Just a straightforward, gentle acknowledgment that I can make different – better – choices.
That acknowledgment is what I need to get a practice in place, something to help me be a little more mindful of my choices. But recently along came another life-really-is-short, don’t-be-putting-things-off reminder.
In just four weeks, one of my business acquaintances went from seemingly fine health to a diagnosis of stage IV cancer to dying.
Just a few days before Margaret started feeling unwell, I ran into her while getting coffee. We had a brief exchange of, “Hi, how’s it going? Great, how about you?” A few more minutes of chit-chat, a “see you later,” and off we went on our separate ways.
Never did I imagine it would be the last time I’d see her.
I was sad, shocked, and rattled for weeks. I’m still sad and shocked. But I’ve channeled my “rattledness”into a life-is-short mini-manifesto-disguised-as-a-list.
Life is short so …
- Laugh lots.
No more to add. Just laugh. A lot.
- Express love.
Say it and show it. There’s ALWAYS time to tell the people you love that you love them.
I still won’t be perfect, but perfect isn’t my goal.
I know that seeing the words of this manifesto every day will impact my choices and help me live my days the way I want to live my life.
I hope they do the same for you.
And here’s to a life well-lived filled with success AND happiness.
“The days are long but the years are short.” ~ Gretchen Rubin
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.
To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
~ Henry David Thoreau