Last year, I did a little values exercise courtesy of my friend Jami. You take a set of 200 words or so, and you give yourself a few minutes to categorize each one as important, somewhat important, not important. Then you take everything under the important pile (doesn't matter how many words you've put there), and give yourself a minute to pick five. That's right, five words. Don't overthink it. (Reminder to self: I also need to duplicate this exercise so I can give it back to her eventually, ha.)
New year's resolutions always feel like too much, and I like having five themes or buckets to consider as priorities or goals. My words in 2017 were honesty, passion, growth, humor and solitude. I did the same thing for 2018, and my words were family, mindfulness, solitude, generosity and humor.
For me, it's specifically related to quality time together, because even though I don't want to freak myself out on a regular basis, the reality is that you never know what tomorrow brings. And I want to know, most days, that I am truly connecting with the people I love. That sounds nice, right? The reality is that even though this is, duh, always my intention, daily life gets in the way. Like going through the motions of chores and work and parenting and errands. Like changing diapers and being patient through tantrums and wondering how children outgrow clothes and shoes so far (but like really though). Like paperwork and returns at the post office and a muddy dog and going to the car wash but 25 cars were in the line so coming home. Like the television blaring 24/7, like rushed leftover dinners, like skipped hugs.
So I'm limiting phone use in the mornings when I wake up for at least an hour, and in the evenings between 5-7 because that's when we are all home together from daycare and work. And I downloaded the Moment app to keep habitual phone use in check. We aren't ridiculous about it - I mean, some days you just need to zone out with Instagram before bed or clear out email at 6 a.m. - but MOST of the time, I'm on my phone as a distraction. And that's dumb, and I want to do less of it.
Also! Monthly date nights where we trade off planning. I'm super stoked about this on the relationship front. (#parenthood)
Lest you think I'm about to deep dive into how I started meditating, I'll go ahead and redirect: all I'm aiming for in 2018 is to be mindful about letting my brain chill out on a regular basis. Maybe that looks like a meditation app and a face mask in the morning. Maybe it's being on my phone less. Maybe it's being intentional with stress, anxiety and worry - to notice when it's real and when it's a silly self-told lie. Maybe it's slowing down and kissing my husband. Maybe it's not multi-tasking when my parents call. Maybe it's playing with Ezra and not letting my mind drift, but instead noticing his dedication to stacking dinos and playful little smirk. Maybe it's going to yoga or taking a bath, to give myself one hour to reset. Maybe that's sitting on my couch with a blanket eating grapes and staring out the window, doing absolutely nothing on a weekend with no plans.
I've been reading Shauna Niequist's Savor as a daily observance, and she advocates for savoring your life. Everything, all the little and big moments, good or bad, annoying or boring or delightful or sad or unusual. I also read somewhere recently that weekends aren't supposed to be extra weekdays, and I was like, whooooooa I have been doing this all wrong! I 100% use my weekends in that way, usually, to check off a bunch of to-do items and feel productive and pack in activities. And lately, I'm trying to flip it around: I work in all kinds of ways during the week, but on the weekends, I actually give myself pockets of time to REST. And to savor.
This one is a continuation of 2017, and I'm slowly but surely finding a rhythm. Waking up at 5 a.m. three mornings a week tends to be enough, alongside a few yoga classes. As an introvert, I use this time to recharge my batteries and do something just for me minus any scrap of guilt. I journal or blog or read or catch up on freelance work; it varies. It doesn't always pan out, but I know when I am intentional about checking the solitude box - even if it involves walking the dog around the block for 15 minutes in total silence - I feel like I can breathe.
One tactic that I'm loving? Reading before bed. My friend Katy told me she tries to read as many books as her age every day, and I was equally impressed and motivated by that, so I'm making a huge push to swap phone or television time for a real, live book in my hands a couple nights a week. It's strange - I'm someone who ingests a fair amount of content, but I realized last year I wasn't reading many books, and there's a tangible difference between that medium and others, like social media or articles or podcasts. It makes me happier to read before bed, and I sleep better. And I'm reminded of how much I ENJOY reading a book - learning something new or being challenged or feeling riveted to a juicy fictional storyline. It takes me back to my elementary and middle school days where I lounged around reading anywhere and everywhere, and in that way, I feel reconnected to my sense of self. More importantly, I'm working to expand the authors I read, making sure there are women and men or color with very different experiences than mine.
Also: I've switched my mental mantra of "I don't have time" to "I make time for what's important to me." (Thank you, Jen Wille.)
Last year, I struggled with figuring out how best to show up for causes and communities in need. 2017 was a year of watching the news and repeatedly thinking, what the fuck is going on. And then I'd get fired up and donate some money and call my representatives and write a letter to the editor of my local paper. And then I'd return to my regular, normal life where I have a roof over my head and plenty of food to eat and a solid job and funds to vacation and really no risk whatsoever. Even the sense of astonishment at women's rights and reproductive rights being sliced away felt far away because nothing tangible touched me, if that makes sense. I was perpetually horrified and perpetually stunned into apathy, despite windows of action.
And I knew it wasn't working, that approach. I still don't exactly know what does work, but here are a few things on my list:
Donating on a monthly basis to causes I care about. Everyone can do this. I often felt like donating $5 or $10 dollars here and there "didn't count," but then volunteering my time never seemed to pan out either, and both were just an excuse to do nothing because I felt a little paralyzed. The reality: if I have money to buy dinner or a coffee, I have money to give back. And if I have time for self-care (a true, important thing, but also a privilege and luxury) in any way, shape or form, I have time to give back. Going forward, I'm picking one of them, time or money, every month. I'm also thinking through which organizations matter most to me. It gets overwhelming, the amount of need in the world, and in 2017 I kind of threw money at whatever came up, especially at the end of the year for tax purposes. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I want to feel like I know what my root causes are, and stay dedicated to supporting them.
Keeping a little cash on me at all times. When I lived in Chicago, people who were homeless or in need were everywhere; I don't say that to be flippant, but you got accustomed to being asked for money and you figured out a way to respond. I knew people who always said no, and redirected to a service or organization that could help; I knew others who always handed over an energy bar or a couple bucks to whoever asked. I landed somewhere in between. Then I moved to Des Moines, where the homeless population is *somewhat* invisible. (Disclaimer: It is NOT invisible, but in comparison to a city like Chicago, it's much more under the radar, at least in my social and work environments - which I know are bubbles themselves). Meaning, I forgot about it. I know. That's terrible. But I really did. And then when I ventured downtown or drove past someone with a sign asking for money, I felt so uncomfortable. In response, I've challenged myself to act - because I am not interested in being the kind of parent or person who models detachment. I don't want my son to grow up and see me avert my eyes and ignore someone asking for help and pretend like I'm in a rush; it doesn't model my values and it's a copout to the type of community and service I was raised to believe in. I just forgot for a little bit, I guess. So now, I'd rather have a dollar to give to anyone who asks than walk or drive past, feeling stupid and selfish. (If you have a better strategy for this or perspective to share, particularly as a parent, please do tell.)
Listening to the women (and men) who are already doing the work. At one point last year, I saw my friend Nancy was collecting hoodies for youth at her church. I wanted to help. Then I thought, wait, why hoodies? Why not winter coats? It was December in Iowa; didn't these kids need something better and warmer? I offered to donate coats, and Nancy kindly said: "Thanks, but we've been doing this a long time and the kids prefer the sweatshirts; it's a cool, status thing for them to have and they actually wear them more than coats." Ha. Right. I felt slightly embarrassed because I should've just ASKED her. Or listened to what she already said, which was "we need hoodies!" Of course, Nancy was more than gracious in her response, but why did I automatically question her subconsciously or think I knew better? I don't. She is the one doing this work, like many of our brothers and sisters. I swear I'm not being hard on myself - I mean, awkward moments are how we all learn - but it was a good reminder for me to listen to the people who are already in the trenches. I don't need to be a savior or reinvent the wheel or offer more suggestions; I just need to respond when possible when there's a need and space for me to help. i.e., one version of how I needed to take a hard look at my own white feminism and privilege.
I read this letter a female leader wrote to her teenage self, and she said "Take things seriously, but not personally." (It was HRC in one of the final print issues of Teen Vogue, if you're interested). I love that. It's incredibly easy to be serious in today's world, but you will burnout so fast and forget about how much doesn't matter in the long run. I want belly giggles with my toddler, cackling with my husband on the couch about our dog snoring, funny texts and memes between girlfriends, and smile wrinkles around my eyes (with a semi-effective eye cream, let's be real).
I'm trying to be less precious about everything. My work: criticism is welcome, but not reflective of my value or ability; a no doesn't mean I suck, it just means no, which probably has little to do with me. My home: it can be messy, with play-doh bits on the carpet and dog hair all over the rug and blankets that don't match. If E draws on the floor, we'll wipe it off; if my bedroom isn't Instagram-worthy, it's not the end of the world. My reputation: I want to be known as generous and compassionate, so if that means I'm no longer cool because I don't go to social events or relevant enough because I don't hustle constantly or pretty enough because I have gray hairs, that's fine.
Because all I want is to enjoy my life and do my part to make someone else's life better. Not later, when I'm done paying off student loans and I've written a book and our basement is perfectly tidy and I've mastered the five cookbooks I own but forget to use (lol) and I finally have the resources to write a check for thousands of dollars and my capsule wardrobe is legit. Now. Now is now.