Clearing Off

My dear friend, Lisa, told me a story about a colleague she once had whose habit it was to, each Friday afternoon when the workday came to a close, pull a trash can up to the side of his desk and swipe everything on it into the trash. His argument was that whatever project/correspondence/etc from that pile of paper that ended up in the trash was important, someone would certainly bring it back to his attention when the next workweek began and that if no one brought it back to him, then it clearly wasn’t that important nor worth any additional time or attention. 

I LOVE this.

There are lots of reasons that this habit isn’t perfect and we could spend all day arguing about its merits and shortcomings. But conceptually, it is GOLD. He clears his desk each Friday afternoon and comes back each Monday to a fresh start and a clean workspace, uncluttered by last week’s unfinished business. His energy is free to apply to whatever is before him today. It also puts the burden back on whoever’s “baby” a given project is to follow up. This likely falls into both the merit AND shortcoming category of the method (we’ve all had to chase people down over and over ad nauseam to get them to finish something they’ve committed to, which seriously sucks). But it’s kind of the ultimate “no” isn’t it? How often does your daily to-do list include tasks that aren’t really yours but you’ve somehow ended up accepting responsibility for? People are really, really good at passing off to others things they don’t want to do. Sometimes this looks like work projects, but sometimes this looks like chasing down the random socks your kids have left all over the house when you go to do laundry, or dishes mysteriously left in the sink, or bills left unpaid. Figuring out how to say no to work that isn’t truly mine is one of the great projects of my life, so any metaphor that helps me “clear my desk” is welcome in my world.

We leave New Hampshire in less than 48 hours. I haven’t done any laundry or sorting or packing. I haven’t caught up my bookkeeping or set up my autoresponders or checked in with my insurance company to confirm my coverage as we travel. I don’t have next week’s post planned (or even any idea of where I’ll get internet to make sure it goes up on time). I haven’t marked a single line item off the enormous to-do list I created on my plane ride home from Texas on Monday. I’ve spent the last 24 hours brainstorming a personal project and shooting a few final photos of this little town and catching up with some last minute friends and family. I’m sure I should be worried by now. I’m sure I’m going to inconvenience someone with something I haven’t gotten to. I’m sure some piece of unfinished business will come back to bite me in the ass.

But I’m officially "clearing off my desk" right now.

What is important will most certainly make itself known. What must get done will certainly get done. And the rest will wait. It will simply have to. As it turns out, I am not a neurosurgeon on call who is the sole person able to perform life saving brain surgery. I’m not the president. I am not doing cutting edge cancer research. I write words and take photos for a living. I love this work and I love my clients and I have goals and dreams attached to all of what I do that require time and energy and discipline and attention. But no one dies if whatever is on my to-do list doesn’t get done.

So right now, I’m deleting my to-do list. It’s gone. When I finish writing these words, I will hit “publish” without going back and revising or second-guessing. Which is not ideal and not the way I generally work. But today, it’s the reality. I'm metaphorically (and, well, not-so-metaphorically actually) shoving what's on my desk into the trash bin.

I want to drive away from here in 48 hours without lugging a bunch of burdensome baggage along with me, without having my brain still attached to what didn’t get finished. I want to drive away and apply my energy to what is before me, to what is at hand. I want to start my “Monday” fresh and free and with a clear “workspace” to fill with what is important in this moment. When we eventually land wherever it is we are going (we don’t have a next assignment yet, so our plans extend only as far as retrieving Kippee from Reno), I will once again sit down and see what is still asking to be done (*cough* bookkeeping *cough*). But in the interim, I will enjoy my free “weekend” knowing that my desk is clear.

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A little piece of South Dakota, y'all...

Sustainability

Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for being here and for including me in your life as we begin this year together. I so deeply appreciate the time you share with me out of your full lives and I strive to make this blog a place worthy of you.

How do you approach the new year? Do you set a laundry list of resolutions? Do you do some careful reflection and goal setting? Do you see January 1st as the same as February 1st or August 1st- simply another new month in the ongoing rotation? Or have you let go of all such notions and find yourself liberated from the yearly ritual? I’m honestly curious…what works for you?

Over the years, I’ve arrived at some kind of new-year-new-you middle ground. I admit that I relish a sparkly new calendar and the sense of “clean slate” that comes with one year sliding into the next. As I said recently, I like to mark time, to bring my awareness to the days and months and years as they pass. And I like ritual, whether it’s taking a few moments to cup a steaming mug in the mornings or lighting a candle and pausing to say thank you when I sit down to meditate each day. And piled on top of both of those things is my inherent and fervent belief in our ability to begin again and again and again, that we are always able to start fresh whenever we are ready and willing to take on the work. This applies, of course, to any day of the year, but I can’t help but believe there is a natural inclination toward new beginnings in this season in particular. After all, in addition to it being a new calendar year, we’ve also just celebrated the solstice, meaning that the days are growing incrementally longer and the promise of spring and growth lies ahead. These long mid-winter days and that promise would lend themselves to reflection and planning even without the turn of the calendar, but the fledgling year just begs us to to take stock and think about what we want.

I mentioned a few years ago that I don’t really do resolutions anymore, but that I choose a “word of the year” instead (btw, that post has some great resources at the end if you are looking for some extra tools...). That’s not entirely true. I do set resolutions…I resolve once again to do my work-  to continue to strive toward greater kindness and compassion, greater understanding and openness, less fear (and certainly fear-based decision-making), to be fierce in my love and my passion and my honesty and my integrity, to find humor and lightness tucked in with heaviness and pain. These are standing resolutions and I will always have work to do here. I also set goals for the year, both personal and professional, as well as review what worked and what didn’t in the year behind us, where I grew and where I stalled. But the “word of the year” continues to be a cornerstone of my approach to the coming year. 

I love the process of figuring out my word. Trying to find a single, succinct, encompassing word that will act as a filter in each decision I make. I’ve used Susannah Conway’s word-finding tool in the past, but I find that I haven’t needed it lately. When I allow myself a little time and space, it seems that the word I need most tends to present itself (or, you know, scream at me from my subconscious at the top of its lungs). As you may have guessed by now, this year, my word is SUSTAINABILITY.

Sustainability.

With every decision I make, from how I approach my work to the energy I give to relationships to whether or not I make time for my run in the woods, I will ask myself, “Is this sustainable? Am I creating sustainable habits and practices?” To proceed, the answer must be yes. I find myself decidedly uninterested in short-term results, in superficial band-aids. I want to build a life that is sustainable over time, that has a strong foundation of intentional decision making, clear and reasonable boundaries, and that prioritizes the truly important things in my life (as opposed to the simply “urgent”). This means being okay with things taking time. This means being okay with people sometimes being disappointed or irritated with me. This means being okay with saying no to projects and opportunities that don’t move my life and work in the direction I’m going, even when they are appealing or I could use the money.

This also means choosing to trust in the idea of abundance and to continue to let go of the fear that comes from a scarcity mindset. The life I build is only sustainable if I recognize that I have enough (food, friends, love, money, talent, ideas, etc etc etc) and that I am enough. It’s that last part that is a doozy for me. But I am. And you are. And when we really and truly let go and believe that, whoa nelly- hold on to your hats because magic happens. And work, of course- so much work- but work that is thrilling and energizing, work that fills your tank and lights you on fire. I’m not just talking about professional work, I’m talking about life work. The work of relationships, the work of self-care, the work of growth and adventure and dream chasing. We have it within us. We are enough and we have enough to make the necessary choices to build truly sustainable lives.

So that’s what I want as I move into this sparkling new year. That's my primary goal. That's my word.

Sustainability. 

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Can you guys believe I'm still sharing photos from our trip east from Reno? A few more will be heading your way (Glacier and Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks after these last few from Yellowstone!)...just think, by the time you see all of these, I'll have more for you from the next leg! Ain't traveling grand?!?