Nothing like the glaring light of social media to make you see yourself differently. Especially at 11:30 at night. When I first saw my friend’s status update on Facebook, my heart froze in my chest. Immediately I knew it was about me and I knew it wasn’t good. Fear, anger, sadness, and defensiveness all shot through me like electricity as tears sprung to my eyes. But as the feelings settled I was left with just one: disappointment, in myself. People say negative things about me on a fairly regular basis but most of the time I can dismiss them without too much pain by realizing that the person doesn’t really know me and their comments are more a function of who they are than who I am. Except in this case, my friend knew me very well. And she was right about me. As much as I wanted to rage, “but that’s not me! I’m not like that!” the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not only was she right about me in this instance but it wasn’t the only time I’d done something like this. The worst part was that it had all kind of happened by accident – I’d become someone I didn’t like and I didn’t even see it happening until I’d hurt someone close to me.
Any realization that comes in the darkest hours of the night is tough but this one was particularly so. These past couple of weeks have been really trying. The advent of summer vacation coincided perfectly with an onslaught of work. I love my children and I love my job but the two of them together equal two full-time jobs. With no childcare. My instinct in times like this is to hang onto everything like a pitbull, not allowing anything to drop and just telling myself I’m going to gut it out until every last thing on my to-do list is done.
Do you have a to-do list? A little about mine: it’s low-tech on a lined notepad with two columns. On the left hand side I write down everything that I need to do. On the right hand side I jot notes about things I don’t want to forget like blog post ideas, birthday present ideas, lessons I’m planning and little pictures and diagrams that help me clarify my thoughts. This notepad comes with me everywhere and I’ve very attached to it. I’m also kind of proud of it – every lifestyle guru says that is one of the primary tools of success and while I don’t follow much advice from gurus at least I’ve got this one down. Even writing something down on my list feels like a small accomplishment.
My dark-of-the-night epiphany: I need a to-be list. There’s nothing wrong with having a to-do list – I’ve lost 10 IQ points with each baby so heaven knows my list is a necessity – but there’s also no point in having a to-do list if it isn’t leading you anywhere. Looking over my to-do list, I realized that while every single thing on there felt So! Important! to me, very few of them would have any impact on me in a year and even less so in five years. And you know what wasn’t on my to-do list? Things like watching Jelly Bean freak out the first time she put her feet in sand (seriously you should have seen her, you’d have thought I’d set her down in hot lava – hilarious!) or making a fort with my boys or having a romantic dinner with my husband. Sure I was adding and crossing off hundreds of tasks but what was I really doing other than running faster in my hamster wheel? As my friend had showed me, I was doing a lot but I wasn’t becoming much. Nothing like the glaring light of pen and paper to make you see yourself differently.
So that night I sat down and wrote out a list of what I want to be, in no particular order. (I had to limit it to 10 because I’ll make lists all night if you let me.)
1. Kind & Compassionate
3. A loving wife
4. An attentive mother
5. A wise teacher and student
6. An inspiring writer
7. A daughter of God
9. A genuine friend
10. In the Cirque du Soleil
Comparing my lists side by side I realized that almost nothing on the to-do list was getting me any closer to the items on my to-be list. Not only that but quite a few of my to-do’s were making me into someone I didn’t want to be. Let’s be honest (ha!) and look at my list. Other than #7, which is a gimme, I’m a long ways off from being who I want to be. As I sat mired in my own blindness (and distracted by a strange poop smell that turned out to be a two-day old diaper that had gotten wedged behind the door – gah) I started to realize what is not on my to-do list: Skinny. Beautiful. Cut abs. Perfect thighs. And yet how much time do I devote to thinking about those things? Um, an embarrassing amount.
First task was to add a different #10, because let’s face face it, that ship has sailed. Because sewing vintage dresses, playing the piano, doing crossword puzzles, reading and cooking all make me happy (even if I’m bad at them, which I am), my new #10 is “well rounded.” I started looking down my to-do list and anything that didn’t get me closer to my to-be list got crossed off. I was surprised at how much got scratched out. (Although I later added “laundry” back on. Sigh.)
The next day, instead of doing more work, I took my kids, bought two bouquets of flowers and went to apologize to my friends for what I’d done (#2 and #9). And then I took my kids to the Farmer’s Market (#4 and #8) where I had visions of letting them wallow in all the fresh organic produce I could buy until we got there and I realized we still live in Minnesota, not California and therefore the only things the farmers are currently selling are jerky, honey, homemade soap and bread priced at $6 a loaf. So we got a loaf of bread and had expensive toast for lunch, saying a prayer thanking God (#7) for Chilean grapes, Alaskan salmon and the biodiesel that’s keeping Minnesota farmers in business since nothing else grows here but corn and soybeans.
I make a lot of mistakes. A lot. But never say I don’t learn from them (#5)!
Do you use a to-do list? When’s the last time you sat down and thought of who you wanted to be rather than what you needed to do? Any other grown adults out there still dream of being in the circus??
*I know I didn’t come up with the concept of to-do versus to-be lists but heaven help me I can’t remember now where I got that from. If you know, feel free to link it in the comments!