One day a few years ago, I was at a training and we were prompted write down a list of our values.

I paused, and I felt puzzled. And then I felt surprised at how puzzled I felt! For someone who reflects as often as I do, you’d think a list of my values would pop into my head immediately. But it took time, and even when I’d written my list, I didn’t feel confident that it was accurate or complete.

I started to think about this again recently when considering my digital minimalist diet. I’ve stepped back from my phone and social media and several other apps for 30 days. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, advocates taking a 30-day break from social media and then gradually adding things back to your digital life that support your values.

So that left me, once again, which a simple but complicated question: What are my values?

This is the list I developed, in no particular order –

  1. Kindness. I want to embody kindness in all areas of my life.
  2. Laughter + joy. I want life to be fun and enjoyable.
  3. Books, reading, and writing. Writing and reading are two of my fundamental hobbies and joys; I value them immensely.
  4. The outdoors. I believe fresh air and physical engagement with the outside world keep me healthy and sane.
  5. Family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me.
  6. Friendship. My friends, too!
  7. Connection + community. This is related to family + friends, but also different; I want to feel connected with my community. I don’t always feel like I have that connection – but I want it.
  8. Peace of mind. I want to feel peaceful and on top of things as much as possible.
  9. Creativity. I am at my best when I have a creative outlet and ongoing creative projects.
  10. Presence. It’s important to me to be fully present in my life.
  11. Flow. I love it when it feels like my life is in a state of flow – everything making sense and happening in a natural and smooth way.
  12. Positivity. I value a positive attitude and optimism whenever possible.
  13. Wellness + sobriety + recovery. I value my sobriety and my overall wellness above just about everything else. (Because, well, if I don’t have sobriety, then I don’t really have anything else.)

That’s my list, and I love it. I feel proud of it. It’s not fixed; it can evolve. At times, I think certain values will rise in importance and others will take a backseat.

I’m so glad I did this exercise. I think it will help me, in a few days or weeks, to be able to look at my digital life – my phone, my iPad, my laptop – and be intentional about what apps and other digital tools support these values. Stay tuned.

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Slow Down

When I do an inventory of how things are going in my life, I almost always end up resolving to do one thing: slow down. 

I have a tendency to move quickly through life. I’m a fast walker. When something tough is happening, my goal is to get through it ASAP so that I can recuperate and move forward. I’m impulsive. I often start getting ready for the next event on my schedule before the current one is even over. I love getting prepared ahead of time for things, even if it means scrambling a bit.

Lately, it almost feels like I’m too busy to even remember to do all the things I want to do, let alone to actually get them done! And it gets overwhelming. When I am overwhelmed, my tendency is to move even faster than I usually do – I race around, buying things, doing things, anything to feel in control.

That’s not how I want to live my life. I want to slow down. I can feel a visceral difference when I intentionally slow my walking and my talking. For a few days in early March, I had a cold and low fever, and I found myself moving slower and more intentionally throughout the day. As bad as I felt physically, it felt lovely to be living life at a slower pace. It’s so easy to forget this; the world moves fast, and I find that the more stressed I am, the faster I go.

When I slow down, it helps my boys to feel calm and safe. When I slow down, I can think more productively. When I slow down, I can process input from the world without reacting too quickly. When I slow down, life goes better.

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balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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Lower Your Expectations

I was thinking recently about the 2018 holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and everything that goes with it. I had a pretty fantastic holiday season this past year, and I think the secret was this: low expectations.

That sounded a little sad to me at first, but it’s really not.

I have always had a tendency to romanticize and fantasize. My expectations of life and love were tainted at a young age by television and movies with scripted, well-lit scenes that make you feel warm, fuzzy, and inspired.

This has gotten in my way at different moments in my life. I find that I get extremely emotional during significant life events – graduations, weddings, holidays – and it often is because my expectations for myself, for others, and for life itself have been high. I want every moment to be magical. Many moments are magical – but not all of them are. Combine high expectations with a highly sensitive person, and the result is often disappointment which almost always (in my case) involves ugly crying.

A month or so ago, my sister gave me some good advice. She told me to stop trying so hard. This was unrelated to the holidays; I was stressed about something very different. And she basically advised me to stop caring about it so much. Which is really hard for me to do, because I care about everything and I think that if I do things a certain way, then things will work out a certain way.

But, this advice sort of sounded good. So I moved into the holiday activities, reminding myself before each event: This activity might just be sort of okay. And it worked beautifully. Not every event has to be perfect; not every moment has to be life-altering. It still sounds a little sad to me, even as I write this! But I think it’s true. And I think it’s a key to happiness.

Lower your expectations. It will actually help you to squeeze as much joy out of life as you can. And isn’t that just a little bit wonderful?

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balance · goals

Now Versus Someday – Who Will Win?

One of Edgar’s books is titled Shark Versus Train: Who Will Win? He loves it. It’s a series of contests between a shark and a train, and it asks who will win in a variety of different scenarios – a diving contest (shark), a burping contest (train), playing basketball (train), or a hot air balloon ride (shark). At the end of the book, it turns out that the shark and the train are actually toys, being pitted against each other by two little boys. I’ll be honest – it’s not always clear to me WHY one would win over the other, and I guess that makes sense, since it’s two little kids applying the logic. But it’s a cute story anyway.

This book keeps coming to my mind when I consider a debate that keeps popping up for me: now versus someday. When it comes to the things that need to get done in my life, will they happen now or someday? Which will win?

My word of the year is NOW. My 2019 goal is to stop putting things off for “when the boys are older” or “when I feel better.” I want to be able to achieve my goals even with limited time, energy, and resources, especially my creative goals.

However. However. HOWEVER.

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, or have seen the dark circles under my eyes, or have had a disjointed conversation with me recently – then you know that I am exhausted and short on sleep and energy. Tamara and I have gotten into a better routine with the boys and sleep, but better doesn’t really mean awesome. 

So it’s hard to do anything NOW. NOW is a blissfully happy time that is not conducive to productivity.

I keep telling myself, Write now! If you can write now, you can write anytime! But the reality is, even if I do keep myself writing throughout this crazy time, I’ll still have to wait for Someday to devote the REAL kind of time I want to devote to my craft.

It’s an interesting thing to think about – now versus someday. It reminds me of another interesting debate – acceptance versus striving. Do I accept myself and my life as they are, or do I strive to reach what I want to have, to do, and to be? In the rooms of recovery, we are all about acceptance, and I do believe that happiness begins with acceptance. So much of my unhappiness in life has stemmed from desperately wanting things to be different when just accepting things as they were could have brought me peace.

But – we don’t want to stop striving, do we? It’s good to have ambition, to have a vision or a goal and to work toward it. I can accept the fact that I’m 36 and haven’t published my novel yet, but I can also strive toward the goal of publishing it eventually.

So maybe the answer to the acceptance versus striving debate is that it’s all about balance. A little acceptance, balanced with a little striving, makes a happy and fulfilling life. And perhaps it’s the exact same answer for the related debate, now versus someday. If I balance doing as many things NOW as I can, while also knowing that some big things (like hard core writing time) may have to wait until the summer, then I can feel good about what I get done each day while also knowing that more is possible.

So neither will win – now and someday will tie. And they’ll agree to be friends and co-exist (somewhat) happily in the toy box until the next time they’re taken out to play by a couple of imaginative pre-schoolers, just like in Edgar’s book. And we’ll all live happily ever after, accepting the now gratefully and striving for the someday with grace.