March 5, 2015

The Pulse of Essentials

It's taken me awhile to find the pulse between what is essential in life and what is not. I've whittled it down to my main essentials, which are: family, community, learning, justice and empathy. They encompass the heart of what I care about; and what I'm steering my life towards.

I used to live life like a game of dodgeball, running around trying to dodge failing or disappointing people ~ the equivalent of chasing the urgent and diminishing the important. People would need help with something or need a favor or need a project done and I said yes, when I wanted to say no. If I mustered up the courage to say no, I felt guilty. Berating myself, I'd pour over it again and again, trying to see if there was any way I could jump through the other person's hoop and actually do what they wanted. 

But over time, through the wisdom of good friends, mentors and inspiring authors; I learned how to say no. In fact, I went through almost a year of pulling back from all my obligations and paring back to the bones. What I found was freedom. Without spending my energy on everything else, I could actually focus on the few important things I wanted to pour myself into. I was more productive, more creative, more present.

And's so easy to forget this lesson. While I've trained myself not to commit to anything until I've thought about it, I still have those times I forget or take on a bit too much. I'm better at spotting now and take care not to add more.

Finding the why behind what I agree to is always important. If I can pinpoint what I'm hoping to gain out of doing something for whomever is asking, then I can objectively evaluate if this goes along with my essentials or not. If, perhaps, I'm wanting to help out a friend; well that's not wrong, but is this the right time? If I also have my college daughter coming home that day and she's wanting to spend time with me, then that may change my priorities. But if I am free and clear then it might be a yes.

Sometimes however, I know that what I'm asked to do will drain the only energy I have for my essentials. Those times I decline whether my schedule is clear or not.

I've found these questions to help me in my decision-making:

1. Why do I want to do this?
2. Is this part of my essentials?
3. Would this time be better spent on other things?

The why is the biggest part. If I'm wanting to do something to impress someone or keep someone from being upset with me, then I know those are selfish reasons and I'm not doing it out of love. If I'm not doing it out of love then I won't be the best person for the job. Or if I feel the task is necessary, then perhaps it's my attitude that needs to shift.  When I genuinely want to help and I can't uncover wrong motives, then I can forge ahead with a clear conscience.

What about you? Do you find it difficult to say no? What are your essentials?

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