What Rules Rule You?

When updating my Brainfoods page recently, I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Essentialism.

“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.” -Greg McKeown

At first glance it might seem the quote is about societal and cultural rules. For example, most of us grow up believing we must achieve the following:

  • College
  • Job after college
  • Family after job
  • Monogamy
  • Retire
  • Hopefully travel, etc. etc….

Then there are the “rules” we apply to the minutiae of daily life:

  • Read something every day
  • Exercise 5x per week
  • Style hair such-and-such way
  • Go to bed by 10
  • Call mom once a week
  • Eat dessert infrequently
  • Attain X progress with Y project
  • Etc. , etc…

But let’s face it: we don’t have to do anything in any particular way. Especially random personalized rules we’ve arbitrarily instated upon ourselves.

(We also don’t have to do the big societal ones, but they can be more difficult to overcome. More on that later.)

a cement wall w/ "stay off wall" spray painted on it

For most of the past year, I journaled everyday. Somewhere within that time, I unconsciously decided that journaling was a requirement for my “productive” existence. I made it a part of my narrative, of who I was as a writer.

Though I enjoy journaling, the thought of “you must journal” eventually caused me to rebel. Yet it had become such an unspoken requirement that once I began veering, it felt I was screwing up my life somehow.

Nobody was holding me accountable. Perhaps we could say I was, but I hadn’t even consciously created this rule. Instead, I’d created a formless godlike point-keeper to leer down and judge my break from routine as wrong.

I worried, I chastised, I tried different hours and different techniques to win back my journaling passion…but the rebel was too strong.

For a month or two, the journaling stopped, but the guilt remained.

Then I read about the Bullet Journal. It incorporates the written techniques I use every day to stay organized (calendar, to-do list, note-taking, etc.), but everything goes into one notebook. And, you know…if you feel like it…you can journal, too. Here’s my favorite webpage explaining the bullet journal.

Anyway, I tried it…and I’m a convert. A quick one. And I’m journaling again. Not like before, but more than nothing.

(At least until I begin losing interest and once again beat myself up during the time it takes to find something new.)

Or maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by then—that changing preferences isn’t a sign of moral and productive decay. Sometimes things just exit our lives.

bullet journal journaling style

So this bullet journal is Spanish, and thus is not my own. also, I am not nearly so beautiful about it. But you can be.

We don’t have to judge ourselves for losing interest when we’ve given something a fair shot; deep down, we’re making an unforeseeably important choice. We decide to unclasp the hand.

It’s not giving up—it’s choosing. Habits don’t abandon us because we become unworthy, we abandon habits because we make a choice, conscious or not.

I chose to give up a certain style of journaling, and in the process of [self-flagellating] release, I found something even better. The abandonment was necessary, the self-flagellation was not.

What are the things you’re unwilling to let go of out of fear that something else won’t come along?

In an era where psychological evolution moves more quickly than physical, if we commit to mental stagnation, then stagnant is how we’ll stay.


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photocred:photopin.com

What Will You Miss?

Sometimes, when you’re not watching, the mess grows into something too large to handle.

 

Something has to be done.

 

You stand there, arms akimbo, surveying the room. What’s to stay? What’s to go?

 

Each item you pick up, take in, turn in your hands. You set it back upon the shelf, but grasp it once again before the hand pulls away.

What did it mean to you? Why does it remain?

view of a desk in a room with a mirror

The problem when things get out of hand like this is that the cumulative weight of their needless existence catches in your bones, causes you to move more slowly.

Sometimes you have to get rid of everything, or nearly, to figure out what you’ll miss. What you needed at all.

Keep the bed, the toothbrush, the books, the pen.

Keep the essentials, let go of the rest.

 


 

Your thoughts? Leave a comment below…(oh, and sign up to receive 1-2 weekly articles in your inbox 🙂

 photocred:photopin.com

 

When Do You Harvest Yourself?

This August finds me in a whirlpool. You know the feeling?

It’s not always a bad thing. But it is a thing.  

Consolation comes from knowing that I was in this exact whirlpool last August, too.  

It was something about sensing life was about to change, that life needed to change, but reaching that oblique “changed” point could only be done with blind steps into the mire.

Being here again makes me think about years, and seasons.

It’s been said that the human condition follows a relative harvest year (not necessarily congruent with regional climates). So…

Spring/Planting → Ideas-Action-Creativity

Summer/Upkeep → Results-Outcomes-Maintenance (weeding)

Autumn/Harvest → Results of Effort-“What’s Next?”-Preparation for winter

Winter/Death → Doubt-Scarcity-Incapacity

On and on, the season cycle continues.

It certainly seems applicable to my past year. If so, winter has begun. All my habits have been falling off. Even morning journaling—a stalwart for 10 months—has diminished.

Much that’s been planted, loved, grown, and harvested now seems lethargic or inert. It’s scary. My first impulse is to figure out what’s wrong, but maybe it’s just frozen ground for a while.

Natural—not wrong.

If the seasons theory holds, productivity should come again, sooner or later.

This reminds me of something else: love. Ever noticed a similar cycle play out in relationships?

person in the middle of a whirlpool

Anyway, that’s all I have. I’m in New Zealand with the prospects of spreading roots here for the foreseeable (short-ish-term) future. Fittingly enough, it’s winter here. I wonder what’s next.

I’d love to hear your thoughts? Leave a reply below.

photo:photopin.com

The Beans of Overanalysis

My psychologist tells me I tend to overanalyze things. She is not the first loved-one to do this.

I finally asked her, “Do you mean compared to other people?”

“Well, yes.”

This surprised me. What do others do during the quiet stretches of mental solitude? What do people talk about?

Years ago I might have taken Carole’s comment as a badge of honor, but not anymore.

Overanalyzing doesn’t lead to answers, it leads to the illusion of answers. It’s like stirring a pot of beans and expecting them to become something other than beans. They only become more mushy.

Analysis has it’s benefits. It gives us space and time to empathize, strategize, and creativit-ize.

But analysis is also an excuse for inertia. Analyze instead of act.

Or a way to feel an [often false] sense of control over current situations or outcomes that don’t yet exist and may never come to be.


I forgot to write a blog post last week. Since October, I’ve written at least one weekly, but suddenly–poof— the habit disappeared. Realizing this, I began to catastrophize:

“What’s going on with me? How could I forget? Where is my mind? Do I still care? Am I losing heart? Am I letting love distract me too much? Am I weak? Emotionally detached? Hiding from myself?”

These thoughts have been visiting me now for five days. I finally sat down to write about it, and lookie here, I’m writing a post. I’m not coming apart at the seams.

Failing to do something I love didn’t mean I don’t love it anymore.

In fact, maybe last week’s issue was that my family was visiting while I was simultaneously preparing for an open-ended trip to Asia and Africa that would last at least two months.

Maybe it was just that.

Analysis often has little to do with the plans life actually has in store. But the living continues.

I’m going to just try to live.

meggan feeding a monkey in bali


On that note, what do you think about most of the time? I have a feeling a lot of my readers are fellow over-analyzers. But what else? How do you deal? Leave a comment!

 

photocred: photopin.com & my friend in Bali

Now, When All the Moments are for You

You didn’t make the wrong decision.

There is no wrong decision.

It doesn’t exist behind you, nor in the minds of yourself or others. It doesn’t exist anywhere.

There was never any outcome with judgment attached to it. There was just an outcome. That’s all.

We exist rather negligibly in a gargantuan universe. Applying a subjective human judgment system to the outcomes we think we’ve created is a bit…grandiose.

Every moment leading to now has simply been a stepping stone. Every moment has served one singular purpose: to get you to now, and now, and (wait for it)…now.

Lucky for you, the now decisions are the only ones that matter. Not because they will procure “good” or “bad” results, but because with every “now” moment, you are given a choice to start over: move toward fulfillment or move away from it.

It sounds simple—painfully so. Shouldn’t life be more difficult? More complex and exacting?

a river with stepping stones

So the question is this:

Is now moving you toward where you want to be?

Not where you want to be in ten years or forty, but where you want to be in the next moment. We’re not living for a future life. We’re living for this life. Now.

Do you feel the nudge of instinct pushing you toward fulfillment? Do you follow?

Or—

Are you going through the motions? Letting a blueprint embossed upon your brain from schooling, culture, and/or familial norms make the decisions for you?

It’s not about knowing where the stepping stones lead—we can’t know.

It’s about enjoying what’s under your feet.

Now.

 


 

I write something like this to myself because I need to remember how I can’t control everything. My decisions are only decisions; when I look back at all the times I think I’ve screwed up or gotten it right, it all just seems to equal out.

It all has gotten me to here. “Here” is a place I enjoy…but I’d enjoy it more if I could stop worrying about whether or not I’m doing the right thing.

Here’s to now, at any rate!

I’d love to hear from you—leave a comment or subscribe to follow!

What Are You When You Grow Up?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Don’t answer that.

You can spend a lifetime chasing after that question. Landing on something, asking if it’s right…wondering if you’ve made a mistake. Deciding to wait, stay, or try something else.

The five-year-old son of a friend came home the other day distressed.

My friend said, “What’s wrong?”

The crestfallen child admitted, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

As kids and teenagers, we hear things like:

You’re so great at that—you should be a [salesman, pilot, singer, investor, etc.] when you grow up!

The implicit message is that we should strive to make a living off what we’re good at. But we humans can be good at a lot of things. And there are a lot of things to be good at.

It’s easy to be good, less easy to be fulfilled.

kid hiding behind a gate

When we commit to certain paths, we are committing to eschew infinite others.

Most of us don’t get a good idea of who we are until we’re at least into our twenties. But beliefs we have about ourselves often take shape before then. The decisions we’ve made based on those early-formed beliefs should be inspected often to see if they still hold true.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, sung by Baz Luhrmann in Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

In my youth, I was told I should pursue singing because I was a good singer. This advice lodged itself in my mind as truth, probably because adults were saying it. For years I half-heartedly pursued music thinking I was “supposed” to make use of the gift.

Since I’d been told I was great on stage, I also gave acting a try. I’m great at talking about food, so I was a foodie for a few years.

I finally accepted I just didn’t love those things enough. I liked them, but not enough. I would still be doing one of them if so.

Nobody ever told me I should be a writer and I never thought it was possible. Eventually, I reconsidered–I was lucky. Most people think it’s too late to pivot when they’re 30. Many people think it’s too late when they’re 20.

It’s never too late.

man in middle of four diverging paths

Angela Duckworth advises not to ask “What do I want to be when I grow up?” but instead, “In what way do I wish the world were different? What problem can I help solve?”

Essentially: “How can I be of service?” But that’s missing something. The question should be:

How can I be of service while enjoying myself?

Life is too short not to enjoy the way you spend time. More importantly, if you don’t enjoy yourself, you’re probably not being very useful.

I’m not being kumbaya, it’s true: being of service will make you feel good. It makes us feel valuable, powerful, and useful. It gives meaning to our actions; we all know how empty it feels to spend hours (or lifetimes) on something where the end goal is profit.

Think of life as a bank that deals in good and bad feelings. You are the investor and the currency. When you contribute to good, you are part of the resulting growth, and you feel bigger. When you take away from good, you are part of the loss, and you feel smaller.

Or maybe you sit in limbo adding and taking nothing. Maybe that’s worse.

Aim to be a net-addition. You don’t have to save the earth. You don’t have to rescue orphans. I’ve never felt so valuable as when someone says “thank you for writing that.”

There is no when you grow up. You are what you are right now.

Is it worth it?

two paths in a forest pivot to take one

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What did you want to be when you grew up? Did it change? Did you stick with it? How do you feel now?

Leave a comment!

photocred:photopin.com