Curating

I’m not a runner. I have spent some time wanting to be a runner.  I envy runners. But it’s not for me. Safe to say I never gave it a really good shot, but if I have to try this hard to like something, there’s a good chance it’s not for me.

I’ve had many of these realizations in the past couple of months. When you’re not really sure of yourself, your direction, your goals, you have to ask a lot of questions.

What do I need more of?
What do I need less of?
How do I want to feel?
What can I do to add value?

There’s a good deal of deciding who you are not when you are trying to decide who you are.

A phrase caught me, I’m not quite sure where I saw it now, but I jotted it down. “Protect your energy.” I’ve used that phrase more times than I can recount over the course of the past few months, across a range of topics: relationships, arguments, chores, commitments, activities. We are constantly exerting energy. There is not a lack of things in which we can invest our energies; a quick consultation with Pinterest would confirm that. I started to fill a page with things that boosted my energy, everything that I could think of from sharing experiences with the girls, citrus scents, painting, an evening with friends to being on the water, mountain-biking dates with my husband, flowers, and yoga. I started paring out the things that didn’t protect my energy, that didn’t hold value to me even if I wanted them to.  Some things were easy to let go of, others a bit more challenging.  It’s a work in progress, but it’s something I try to remind myself of every day.

Another question that I carried with me was “Does it spark joy?” I didn’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as I have zero interest in learning how to roll my socks or fold my shirts in any particular fashion, nor did it feel was geared towards those of the child-rearing stages.  I have a diaper genie that certainly sparks emotion but it is the furthest cry from joy you’ll meet, especially given that my youngest daughter has entered her third year of its residence in her bedroom. I did, however, use this thought process in conjunction with protecting my energy.

For example: I am not one who has an overwhelming amount of clothing; I own exactly 6 pairs of shoes. I do not store my clothing between seasons. I did, however, read a blog post about being especially critical about the items in one’s closet, was inspired to do the same, and still found a number of articles of clothing that didn’t spark joy. I found that the most common reasons that an article of clothing didn’t spark joy was fit, cost, and “I would wear this, if I had some place to wear it to.” This is what I settled on: if it didn’t fit, there was no damn point in keeping it as it did not serve me any purpose other than to feel terrible about myself when I tried it on for the tenth time in the span of a month (or a year, or several) and that didn’t protect any positive energy; if I wasn’t wearing the article of clothing, or I was wearing it because I needed to justify the expense but didn’t like the item, it was only serving the purpose of making me feel guilty for a purchase that occurred in the past, which was more misused energy; third, if I hadn’t had a place to wear whatever item I was holding for a certain period of time, the likelihood of having something that did spark joy as an alternative was high. If that failed, there was always Rent the Runway.

I hung on to my outcasts for a month. They sat in our upstairs hallway, taunting my decision. I worked on focusing on what I had, versus the spaces and the hangers left in the wake of my action. After a month, I asked my husband to take them to Goodwill. I wanted to go back through, revisit the outcasts. But I didn’t. My closet was finally breathing; getting dressed in the morning wasn’t such a chore with less options, and the clothes that I kept didn’t make me feel negative about myself. I have a goal to fill a few of those empty hangers with quality staple pieces. That might seem material, but it’s not.

I feel the same way about tea as I do about running. I want to like it. It’s better for me than coffee. There are three boxes of tea sitting on my kitchen counter because I purchased them wanting to like them. I’m not quite sure why it was important at the time; they’ve been there for months now. I’m going to go throw them away right now, and protect my energy. Even tea wants to steal it.

Help Wanted

Mothers need help.  A lot of it.  As I started paying more attention to how I was spending my time and where my focus needed sharpening, I realized this was an area I needed to work on if I was going to have the time and energy to devote to defining and being successful in not just setting but accomplishing personal goals.

Some of the more heated “debates” I have had with my husband have been rooted in my feeling overwhelmed.  I may have even quoted The Breakup where Jennifer Aniston’s character exclaims “I just want you to want to do the dishes.”  How noble of a man, to want to want to do the dishes, right?

Wrong.  No one wants to do the damn dishes.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to help; my husband helps with more than I could possibly give him credit for.  It’s that he is not compelled to complete these things, these menial tasks that seem so overwhelmingly important, in the way that I am.  I thrive on lists.  I have grocery lists, laundry lists, rotating chore lists, to do lists, future gift lists, project lists, writing lists, inspiration lists, reading lists…I over-utilize note apps to take the incessant check lists out of my head.  While this helps to control the madness, the spiral of endless things that need to be done, or could be done, is maddening.

For example, a clean home is essential to being happy, comfortable, calm and able to relax for me.  I can become completely unhinged about cleaning our home and because of this one of the best things I ever did was hire a housekeeper.  There are people out there who make a living off of doing the shit you do not want to do, and are more than happy to do it for you.  As soon as I realized (OK, to be honest I should say that as soon as my husband pointed out) that the time I was spending to clean our home was time I was taking away from actually spending quality time with my family, I acquiesced.

I had a hard time admitting that I needed help at first.  I, the doer of all of the things, needed to clean my house just so.  The house was “my responsibility”.  And how could I admit that I couldn’t do all of the things? Blasphemy.

The truth is, I wanted to do everything for everyone.  I wanted to be everything to everyone.  In one of those funny ironic twists, that wasn’t helping anyone, least of all myself.

To be as honest about it as I can be, there was a part of me that scoffed at the thought.  Who was I to hire someone to clean my home?  Did I think I was too good, above doing household chores?  The answer is no of course, but that definitely crossed my mind and it is because I was concerned with how it would be judged by others.  My mother, for instance.

Eff that noise.

No one can put a price tag on the time that you can spend doing the things that are actually important to you.  There is no better trade off.  If you’re still having trouble justifying this, take a different approach – you’re helping that person earn an income that will help them obtain the same goals that you likely have with your career.

This is not just limited to house cleaning; one of my favorite services is Hannaford to Go.  Considering there are no bonafide grocery stores inside of a 30 minute radius from where we live, grocery shopping can consume the better part of half a day.  If you can outsource a significant drive, a significant time consuming task, by all means do it.  I have gained three hours on my week simply by ordering my groceries online and having my husband pick them up on his way home from work.

Seek the help.  None of us can build more hours into our days, we must make the hours and how we are spending them count.  Outsource that which does not serve you and your goals.

Discovery

So much of my identity was wrapped up in being “mother” for so many years.  I lost connection with myself; once I recognized this, I was determined to fill the “Year Ahead” portion of the YearCompass with worthwhile, personal goals.  I just needed to find out what those were, and that has been an exercise in trial and error.  Several pages into reviewing the year prior portion of the assessment, we were asked to write down the title of our past year.  Mine?  “Directionally Complacent.”  And the three things that I wrote to say goodbye to?  “Not knowing what I want; not believing in myself; not putting myself first.”  My first challenge was to change that title, and really walk away from those sentiments.

In determining the root of these three offenders, I started to recognize how much time I wasted on completely insignificant things, on feeling frustrated but not knowing why, on feeling unfulfilled.  My life was consumed with day-to-day busy-ness: things that “needed to get done”, grocery lists, meal plans, sports schedules, appointments, chores, the lists are never ending because there are always things that need to be done, to be remembered, to be scheduled.  Mothers hold so much in their heads; we have so much minutia on our minds on a daily basis that it’s not a wonder that we slide into the blurry sidelines; if we are not intentional with our time creating goals and actually focusing enough to accomplish them becomes less and less of a priority, and we become consumed by all of the things.

The next few months for me were filled with the consumption of self-development books and blogs, following suitably inspirational Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, stalking life coaches (a career territory I wasn’t familiar with prior to this endeavor; I’ve followed Cara Alwill Leyba across every platform she is known, including purchasing her books), downloading podcasts and generally trying to consume as much get-off-your-ass-and-make-something-of-yourself content.

Perhaps one of the more consequential actions I took was enrolling in a Facebook Group program called Morning Routine Refresh.  Paula Stang Stinnett, Chief Possibility Officer at The Art of Being Queen offered a free five day program that focused on mothers who are feeling lost, frustrated, tired, drained, chaotic, stretched too thin, discouraged…the adjectives that were used by the participants in my first round were among all of these (she does not just focus on mothers, however this particular program was designed specifically for this).  These vapid, desolate words resonated so loudly with me.  The premise of the program was to focus on yourself first and foremost, to set your day up in such a way that by rising earlier in the morning you would commit a section of time to yourself, and you alone.  Not to clean your kitchen or rotate a load of laundry, not to commit to an exercise program, but to focus on and reconnect with you, the woman that you are, by whatever means felt right to you.  Self-care (at the time of enrolling in this program I hadn’t quite acknowledged this term), journaling, yoga, meditation, reading for personal growth; the rules were loose as far as what activities were allowed, as long as it benefited the growth of you and you alone.

This simple idea was eye-opening for me.  My days up until that point were cyclical; I was up at 6am if I was lucky, showering, getting the kids up and ready, packing them up for the day, dropping them at their respective places, spending 8-9 hours at the office with its own demands that bleed not just slightly but into each and every hour outside of the office, leave work, pick up at daycare, pick up at school, head home, start dinner, do laundry (there is always more laundry, it is a never-ending constant), help with homework, facilitate baths and showers, enforce nighttime routines, and then prep for the next day if I was feeling up to it; if not, that meant that the next day was already starting behind, which was most days.  Most days I wasn’t sitting down until 9:30 at night, and I just wanted to drink a bottle of wine, watch something mindless on Netflix, bury my head and sleep.  In the mornings I was pressed for time, on edge, stressed and absolutely lost my shit on more than the occasional basis.  At night, I ran a drill sergeant’s time clock: homework, dinner, shower, bed.  In between tasks or while waiting for dinner to cook I zoned out scrolling through Facebook catching up on other people’s lives, which had no significance in my own life but felt overwhelmingly important.

Just reading that makes me exhausted.  It weighs on me in an almost physical way.  Because under all of the tasks and routines and busywork, there are the things that I would have liked to do for myself: exercise, read, a hobby, something creative.  I always felt frustrated that I didn’t have the “time” to allocate to these things that I desperately wanted to be doing.

Dedicating 20 to 30 minutes to meditation, yoga, personal growth, writing, journaling, anything that allowed me to focus on something that I wanted to do allowed me to really determine the activities that resonated with me the most.  Carving out time to focus on and to reconnect with myself, in the quiet of the early morning, and take a breath before diving into the day was simple and easy (minus the early set alarm) yet extraordinary.  I read books that sparked ideas, listened to podcasts that motivated, I meditated, journaled and focused on gratitude.  Once I had committed to creating that time that was solely for me, I found that I was much more at peace with the demands of the day, of the pulls from my daughters, my husband, my home and my job.

I highly suggest trying it for a few days.  Carve out time for you and you alone.  In the quiet of the morning (or whatever time of the day you can), pursue yourself.  Reconnect, invest and prioritize you.  Find the spark that will light you on fire.  It’s there, you just have to be willing to take the time to connect with it.  This was all a part of my journey back to writing.  To here, with you, the consumer of my thoughts.

I wouldn’t ever suggest that I have all of the answers, nor have I mastered the balance of woman and mother.  I’m simply sharing my journey.  However, as I developed a keen interest in developing myself outside of the role of mother, I saw a window of opportunity to share my story in a way that might scale to something that other mothers were feeling.  Mothers who were stuck, unhappy, and not living up to their fullest potential.  And I rediscovered a strong propensity for writing, the previous evidence of which was long ago burned in my parents’ fireplace.

Motherhood is all-consuming, if you let it be.  That is why carving out time to dedicate to and staying intentional about your growth and goals as a woman is paramount in finding success, in finding the illusive feeling of “balance”.

Catalysts

So, exactly what kept me from publishing my first blog post has kept me from, until now, publishing a subsequent post.  There is a large project going on at work, three girls starting and falling into the rhythm of school, Labor Day weekend, life.

Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?  Not the moments where you are engaged, not when you are doing things that are fulfilling, satisfying or enjoyable, but all of the things that happen around those moments.  When you are scrambling through, hitting snooze on the alarm, ushering children out the door and into their days, running late for work, eating lunch at your desk, leaving mere seconds before the kids need to be picked up at school, getting home to perform the endless tasks of laundry and cleaning, prepping for dinner, coaxing everyone through dinner, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed; paying the passing days, and the wasted time in them, no attention at all.  In a round-about way, life getting in the way and time slipping away unheeded prompted me to start thinking about writing again.

2016 was a tough year.  The challenges that year brought are thoughts for another day, but one thing 2016 will always stand for for me was that it made me question a whole hell of a lot.

For Christmas I received “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero as a gift.  This book was a catalyst for me.  It sparked a movement towards general change.  If you are looking for motivation, this book likely will cause you to start thinking a little differently and I highly recommend it.

What I discovered in reading this book was that I harbored a mix of discontentment, frustration, dissatisfaction; I felt unfulfilled in an area that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.  I hesitated to say these sorts of things out loud, or at least outside of the circle of a few close friends, because that would likely warrant plenty of unsolicited advice about being grateful for what I had and reminders of those who were less fortunate than I.  But you know what?  There are plenty of people out there chasing – what they are chasing varies from person to person, but chasing something.  Why not me?  I wanted to change my own status quo.

In December 2016, I sat down with three close friends who were feeling similarly to how I felt – overwhelmed, unfulfilled, looking for “more”.  We had consistently been each other’s sounding boards, each other’s support system, for years and were in similar seasons of our lives.  We had stumbled upon a workbook, the YearCompass; I forget how now, but the idea behind the workbook was that you would gather with your friends over tea (or cocktails) and have a great time analyzing the previous year and your accomplishments, your goals and your direction; the second half of the workbook focused on your goals and vision for the year ahead.

What I discovered in the first half of this workbook was a punch in the gut; I walked away from this exercise feeling a mix of shock, disappointment and sadness.  I catalogued 2016 week by week; of the standout moments, my children and husband were center stage.  Which was absolutely wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t list one goal or passion that was mine and mine alone – I could list my daughters’ accomplishments, the leaps and strides my husband had taken in his new career and his achievement in winning the Vermont Amateur – but I could not list one goal or accomplishment I had attained nor could I drum up a passion that I had.  I had nothing to add to the highlight reel, nothing notable of any measure.  I took time out to enjoy with my friends, I had taken a real interest in mountain biking, but I had no goals, no vision, no real successes.  In 2016, and for many years prior, my family was the sun and I orbited around both them and my career.  One section of the worksheet asked what the biggest thing that I had completed was, and the only thing I could come up with was a painting for my daughter’s bedroom.  One singular thing that surely didn’t deserve its spot on that particular page.

After absorbing this realization for some time (because let’s face it, our lives are not built for reflection and analyzing given their pace and everything else that begs our attention) it was clear to me that it was no wonder I was feeling shiftless, frustrated, unfulfilled and just a bit lost.  This is not to say that your passion and goals cannot be entirely wrapped within your family; if it is for you, embrace it.  This was simply my awakening to the realization that mine, after so many years of focusing solely on family and my career, were not.

So, I set out to find that spark, a passion, goals and a vision that I could define as truly my own.  I’ll take you down the rabbit hole in my next post.  Until then, share with me in the comments – what sorts of goals and passions do you set for yourself outside of your family and your career?  Something that is one hundred percent solely for you.