Thoughts for Thursday- What are you willing to give up?

In January 2012, I read Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet.  I. Loved. It.  As I combed through the pages, daring anyone to interrupt me, I was in awe of how this woman so beautifully described almost every thought and emotion I had wrestled with over the past several years.  I dog-eared and underlined basically the entire book, but there was one chapter, in particular, that challenged and spoke to me. In the chapter entitled “Things I Don’t Do,” she starts the chapter off by relaying a piece of advice her mentor gave her years ago:


From there she discusses her own struggle with the “do everything better” mindset and how she lives under this constant expectation of “do everything better.” She then shares two lists: “Things I do” and “Things I Don’t Do.”  She lists things such as her faith, working on her marriage, motherhood, becoming a better writer, living in community, cooking/entertaining on her “Things I Do” list. She puts gardening, DIY home improvement, baking, scrapbooking, and spending time with negative people on her “Things I Don’t Do” list.

Reading this was huge for me.  It was like a revelation…

Hold the phone… are you telling me I can declare there are things I don’t do and let that be it?  I can decide there are things I am no longer going to force myself to do because I think I “should” so I can really invest my time and energy into the things I believe in and am passionate about??  You mean I can finally stop feeling guilty that I have never planted one flower in our yard??

This was huge for me and resulted in a complete shift of how I allocate my time and energy.  You see my problem isn’t that I can’t figure out what I want my life to be about.  I have all sorts of ideas of what I want my life to be about.  I have all sorts of ideas of what I would like to do with my time.  If someone tells me about something I should do or see or read, before you know it I have hopped on that bandwagon and I am looking into it.   The problem with hopping onto bandwagons is you can only hop onto so many of them before you are exhausted from traveling around with no clear goal or vision of where you want to end up.  You end up feeling lost and scattered.  My problem is that I want to say yes to so many things (both big and small) that I lose sight of what is truly important in my life.

There was something about the way she wrote that phrase that it finally clicked for me.  Mazi, you must decide what you are no longer going to do so you can really do the things you want and feel called to do!  Sometimes we can hear something 100 times, but there is just something about the 101st time that it just clicks for us and it feels life changing.

For example, sometime back I was thinking to myself that I wished there were 36 hours in the day because then I could get more things done.  My follow up thought was that perhaps the problem wasn’t that there were only 24 hours in a day.  Perhaps the problem was that I 1.) committed to do too much and 2.) had an unrealistic expectation of what I should accomplish in a day and how long it takes to do certain things.  Again, it felt like a revelation.   I am trying to do too much in a day!!  It’s so incredibly obvious it’s like looking in the sky for the sun and wondering what that bright orb is that is blinding you.  I’m slow, but I do get there.

It can feel like a risk to say here are the things I do, here are the things I don’t do, and I’m no longer going to feel guilty, make excuses, or beat myself up for not doing them.  At the time, it felt like a risk to begin applying this piece of wisdom to my professional and personal life.   I identified what the clear priority in my personal life was - my family - and recognized that everything else had to play second.  I clarified what I wanted my counseling practice to look like and what populations I wanted to serve.  I also identified the things I needed give up; things that either drained my energy, that I had no interest in doing but did out of guilt, or just did not align with my values and sense of calling.  Two years later and I still use this little quote as a tool to keep me from chasing after every idea that pops into my head.

Giving yourself permission to say no to some things so you can give a more resounding yes to other things is the pathway to more freedom and sense of purpose in your life.  You will always struggle to know the purpose and direction for your life if you are saying yes to everything for fear of saying no and missing out.  You will never experience freedom in your life if you live under the yoke of fear of disappointing someone or of failing or of being criticized.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about what is the one thing you want to work on or work towards in your 2014.   To dedicate yourself to your one thing- whether that be investing more in your marriage and family, taking risks professionally, healing some old heart wounds- you will have to give yourself permission to let go of some other things.  You will have to give yourself permission to say, “Here are the things I don’t do.”  There is freedom and purpose at the end of that permission slip.

So what are the things you do?  What are the things you don’t do?  This may be the exact permission your overscheduled, scattered, exhausted spirit is looking for right now.

Why Are You So Busy??

The days are starting to cool off, I have heard rumors of pumpkin flavored M&Ms, and my Pinterest main page is filled with Autumn décor and soup recipes.  All of this tells me that, indeed, Fall is before us.  Like so many, I love Fall, and as I shared a couple of weeks ago, I see the start of Fall as an opportunity to press the restart button.  After taking a breath over Summer, the Fall marks a chance to shift and change things.  For me personally, Fall is usually a fairly busy season, so inevitably I find myself wrestling with the seemingly always present conundrum of how to create more balance in my life.  And at some point during this season, I will inevitably ask myself… Why am I so busy??

Busy is indeed a treadmill.  In my life, at least, it is a treadmill that seems to gain speed and increase in incline without the touch of even a button.   When we are trying to keep up with the treadmill of Busy, we often feel that our lives our haphazard, unbalanced, and maybe even pointless and directionless.  We know we have a lot to do, but sometimes we can’t even say why we are doing it all.  Busy takes away our sense of center, and after living in constant motion, eventually we grow tired.  We need a break, but we don’t know how to take one.

One of the greatest theives of our sense of peace, joy, and wellness is busyness.  We will never be able to effectively manage our time or our lives if we stay on this neverending treadmill.  There is a difference between having a full schedule and being busy.  A full schedule is just that- full.  It may be full of commitments, responsibilities, and to do items, but all of these things move us forward in a clear direction.  We’re not just spinning in place, but we are moving towards something. They contribute to a greater sense of purpose and direction in our lives.  Our schedules may be full, but we don’t feel like a prisoner to our calendars, and we don’t feel that our worth is measured by the number of checks on our to do lists.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a lot of activity in your life, but we can get addicted to busy.  We can get where we don’t know how to say no and we don’t know how to slow down without feeling restless, or worse, guilty.  We can get to the point where busyness becomes a badge of honor or a marking of worth so we stay busy simply for the sake of being busy.

You deserve to break free of Busy.  You can break the chains of Busy in a variety of ways, but to do so you have to answer this one important question:

Why are you so busy?? 

I don’t mean this from a scheduling perspective.  I mean, what role is Busy playing in your life that you keep going back to that trough.  We don’t do anything unless we get something out of it, even if that something is twisted and unhealthy.  We engage in repeated behaviors because we think we are going to gain something.  What is it you think you are going to gain through busyness?

Sometime back one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist,  wrote an incredibly wise blog post on the role Busy plays in our lives.   Below is an excerpt from her post entitled My Drug and My Defense.

“Busy is both my drug and my defense. By that I mean that I use busy-ness to make me feel numb and safe, the way you use a drug, and I use busy-ness as a way of explaining all the things I dropped, didn’t do well, couldn’t pull together, as a defense…

This is what I do: I keep myself busy, for a whole constellation of reasons. I do it because I'm addicted to the feeling of being capable, because I hate to be bored, because I hate having to face the silence, because it might force me to feel things I don’t want to feel… If I stay busy I don’t have to feel those things, don’t have to worry about them, don’t have to let them blossom in to full-fledged questions. I don’t have to sit and think about that thing someone said about me recently when they didn’t know I was there, something I can’t get out of my mind. And so I run away from it, and from everything, faster, faster, faster.

And I use my busy-ness as an excuse for why I might not succeed, or accomplish the things I want to, or have the relationships I want to have. 

‘I mean, I’m juggling a million things here, of course the book’s not perfect. 

Seriously, where am I supposed to find time to work out and become some gorgeous supermodel, when I have like seven thousand things on my plate? 

I probably didn’t get invited because they knew I’d be out of town anyway, right? Right? Right?’

The busy-ness is a drug to keep me numb and a defense to keep me safe.”


Hauntingly insightful and truthful, isn’t it?  Busy truly is a drug and defense.  If I’m really busy then you can’t get mad if I make a mistake or have to bail on something.  BUT if I do everything and never say no then I look even more awesome and people are even more impressed by me because I did everything and I was soooo busy!  That type of high most certainly numbs our self doubt and insecurities.

Is busyness your drug and defense?  Is it your badge of worth and importance?  Why are you busy?

How do you break free from Busy?  You break free by choosing a full schedule over a busy one.  You accept that cutting back is not a sign of weakness or failure.  You learn that because you can do something does not mean you should or have to do it.  You don’t say yes to everything and you don’t say no to everything.   Instead, you invest your time and energy into things that are in line with your priorities and what you have deemed as truly important in your life.

Busy is a burden you do not have to bear.  May you find the courage to step off the treadmill this season.   Here’s to a FULL Fall!

What role does Busy play in your life? How are you choosing full over Busy this week? 


Take care!

P.S.  If you would like to read Shauna Niequist’s full post entitled My Drug and My Defense, click here