Meaning, mission, and our valuable time

Out of all of the things we do, which activities relate to our mission, and which operate silently in the background? A weekly visit to church, a diet or exercise plan, or a creative hobby could be one person’s lifestyle but another’s scaffold, holding space for other meaningful things. The question could be parsed: is our mission personal, communal, or professional? If these diverge, do they overlap, remain discrete, or enable each other?

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When people describe their ideal personal and professional lives, no matter how related, they often seek the intersection of meaning and happiness, and focus on a job for at least part of that, as jobs occupy so many hours. For some, employment is purposeful, while for others, it steals time from purpose.

Finding your balance point can be as challenging as seeking purpose itself. Meaning doesn’t arrive only in one big chunk, nor does it exist in direct proportion to time. It’s unsurprising that sweet, small moments, or quick challenges are as important to our sense of purpose as our 40-hour-a-week lives. And, as we routinize things (like food shopping, diet, exercise, even work or hobbies, depending on your life balance), they can come to support our sense of a meaningful life instead of operating as meaning themselves. Alternatively, we may find that we need to become experts at certain routines and expand their space in our lives, so strong is the sense of connection.

If you are reading this, you might ask: what routines bear personal meaning? What challenges do you hope to “turn routine”? And what larger impacts do you hope to have that, combined with the efforts of others, can be greater than yourself?

Magnifying our impacts through collaboration is one goal of the workplace. Honing expertise to maximize impact is one goal of work for those who work alone. In this vein, I separate work from hobby, which animates the personal space and engenders connection and community. Hobbies that transform spaces might be rightly described as work within a community. What lends meaning to you, and what lends happiness? How do you prioritize your work, communities, and hobbies?

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Doing less

It’s a new year, and with that comes heightened reflections on what I want to get done. It could be 8pm, and I’ll still have laundry to do, meals to prep, rugs to vacuum, hair to wash, personal emails to write, that craft project to start on,  and books to read for edification or leisure. There’s no way that fits with a bedtime before 11pm, or the even wiser 9 or 10.

So, how does one get things done? Being a night owl stopped working for me once I had an office that opened early; it works less now that I try for pre-work yoga. With waking up early unlikely (I had striven for this unsuccessfully for some time), my attempt will instead be to just do less. Yes, less.

‘Less’ is the only way that priorities emerge. So how do we prioritize with practicality? I use obvious time frames. For example: my current priorities are work, school, family, health and wellness, and a couple of personal projects and engagements (like the blog). I wrote them in the “January” box of the year-view section in my planner. How many interactions with those priorities, per week, would allow me to feel self-supporting? I noted those numbers on the ‘month view’ spread for January, and made boxes to check once I hit my weekly or monthly goals. On the weekly spreads with lots of space for each day, I can make tallies when I do a ‘priority’ task, and note daily expenditures. I can get specific with how I support health and wellness, i.e., making boxes to check for significant time spent outside or going to the gym. Being social isn’t a stated priority, but I do track social events, mostly to remind myself how frequently I indulge myself in attending them.

My hope is that managing my priorities monthly and weekly will help shape daily behaviors. For instance, when the late night urge to organize hits me (and it hits me hard pretty regularly) I can remind myself that health and wellness are on my list, but filing is not. So I read, help my brain decompress, and go to sleep. In addition to interfering with rest, staying up late to organize won’t help me work out the next day. Going to sleep is basically a two-fer.

All the things I want to do are theoretically good things, but you really can have too much of them. Pushing yourself too hard erodes your ability to be realistic, to stay on track, or to recharge. It’s a little sneaky, I suppose. My real reason for doing less is hoping that prioritizing will help me get more done in the end; I’m tired of having half-finished projects and not being consistently sure what I want to work on first. If nothing else, I imagine I’ll get a lot of sleep. Doing less: great already.

 

Things I will miss when I’m no longer human

  • The feeling of the flats of my feet hitting the ground as I walk.
  • My hip flexors moving.
  • The feeling that I get when I stretch my neck as I point the crown of my head backwards to the floor and roll it from side to side.
  • The feeling on the crown of my head, when I start to smile in my eyes and my mouth and all of the skin pulls back, and I feel an expression of joy that I’m not sure I can quite explain.
  • My eyes watering when I feel excited or happy or in love or scared.
  • My mouth watering when I’m hungry and everything smells good.
  • The way my body responds with feelings of joy when the corners of my mouth move back into a smile, intentional or not.
  • Embracing someone.
  • That weird feeling on my eyeballs, when the night is cool, maybe around 68°, and I’m a little bit tired but I’m walking briskly, and I can feel the air around me waking me up.
  • Rolling down power windows.
  • Bass in the car.
  • The clicks and beeps and bells of happy electronic notifications.
  • The steering wheel going back to center after a turn.
  • Sweat.

Time

Waiting tables as a second job has been, mostly, a happy challenge. It’s less and less stressful as time goes on, which probably has more to do with a mental shift than any logistics or responsibilities change. That said, I have very little free time, and there are some things I’d love to do once I have it again. These things include sunbathing, getting really good at shooting skeet (because my dad hunted quail as a teen and because of this article: http://wholelarderlove.com/where-there-is-stubble/), doing that textile design course I purchased online forever ago, cooking more, learning upholstery, and hiking. There’s no anxiety about rushing to quit, though. Rushing is the worst feeling, so that and these can wait.

5-year plan or whatever

I’m not sure that I’m really living the life[style] that I want, but I sure am good at imagining and talking about it.

Life is a study in interrelatedness, right? Full of moments when you run into your high school friend at the dive bar you never frequented even though it was by your house but when you get there he’s on a date with a girl you introduced him to when you and your friends gathered up for an elections-results party at a bar, and you just know the girl from one shift in food service but you ran into each other at a dance party at 1 AM on a Saturday and traded numbers because you were looking for a roommate and maybe she knew someone and then you reconnected and now here you are, a couple years later, all together again. That kind of stuff, on so many levels.

Social overlaps are one tangled ball of twine; another is how the habits you hold in one part of your life influence the way you conduct another. One of many reasons that I picked up a second job was rooted in my ever-growing list of small projects, and the fact that I wasn’t following through on working on any of them. I was afraid of a significant amount of time passing with nothing to show for it. The income and skills from job two would be the worst case scenario back-up plan. I was sure of guaranteeing myself momentum; this added responsibility would turn my other gears, too. It’s been ten months since I had that thought, nine since things came together with job #2, and I’ve barely worked on any of my projects. I imagined being busy as an inertia that sweeps up everything in your life–nothing escapes! It’s more like climbing a wall back-to-back: great, but one person moving guarantees nothing.

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You get the idea.

If I find the quote, I’ll insert it here, but around the time I was job 2-planning, I saw something online that encouraged people to ‘be a star’ by reflecting light. Maybe it was Henry Miller–who is great!–but this quote bothered. My astronomy class was discussing star birth, and they don’t become stars just because they choose to be reflective and beautiful, like the quote implied, but because there’s a bunch of dust floating around and eventually enough dust is in the same place for it to pull together then add pressure then boom -!- star. (More than any hard facts, the main takeaway from that class was, “wow, existentialism and science really go hand in hand.”) So I thought to myself, “I’m not doing enough. There’s not enough dust. There isn’t enough pressure on my time to force me to come out the other side shining. I’ve gotta add work.” This is the problem with overextending metaphors.

Often, when I think about that amorphous thing that is “the life I want,” I get a feeling, and it’s young and sort of silly: freewheeling, healthy, awake, laughing, accomplished. I rarely imagine the process of achieving those things, which is, of course, the important part. Maybe, maybe there is an image of myself, but the headshot version: proud stance, cared-for appearance, good lighting. There’s a contented, post-bubbly feeling to it. This must mean that advertising has really gotten to me: all image, no substance. “Down with fluff,” as I once said, referring to something entirely separate from this. Down, also, with the idea that you can just work hard generally and get where you want without tailoring your focus. Hard work is hard work, but hard work at one job doesn’t transfer to ground covered on a project you’ve dedicated almost nothing to. It’s obvious, I know. Thank you, I’m a savant. Time just passes so quickly, and before you know it, six months or a year or five years are gone and the only things you managed to get better at were the tasks you kept at hand on a small, manageable basis, things you made into goals for your week. (With all this work ethic business I feel like a Puritan. Fine, but add 10x the amount of vacation time and nix all the church-going.)

The second job brought me some things I wanted and thought it would, even if it didn’t make me work harder during my free time. At least for this past year I haven’t felt like I wasted it. And despite the perspective, I can’t quit yet: they’re starting an a capella group! And I kind of like it. What can I say?