Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. – Buddha
The soul does not grow by addition but by subtraction. – Meister Eckhart
Some time ago, a friend of mine who had recently received a severance package said the following to me:
“The worst part is trying to figure out what to do with all the time in your day.”
This, my friends, has NOT been my cross to bear over the last two months. In fact, it’s been exactly the opposite.
Here’s a sampling of what was on my list of THINGS TO DO while enjoying my early retirement hiatus:
- Clean out and ready my parents’ house for sale by April 1. It’s useful to note here that this property is SIX hours away from me, and has the accumulated crap of my parents’ 80+ years lifetime stuffed in it. My father left it over five years ago, when his Parkinson’s disease worsened, to be cared for by my brother in North Carolina. While we’ve done the minimal required maintenance over that time, the house has not had much tender loving care since around 2007.
- Clean every closet and drawer in my Charlotte house; paint all rooms and remodel bathrooms.
- Go to Italy for a month; take an Italian language intensive class. In February, I put a deposit down on an awesome apartment in Florence, for the entire month of April. I registered for three weeks of an Italian intensive language class at the Leonardo da Vinci Scuola in Florence.
- Get healthy; lose weight and discover self-care.
- Job hunt for an executive-level position.
- Re-vamp my blog’s website and write. Write a lot.
- Finally really learn Lightroom and Photoshop. Take a lot of pictures. Dip my toe into offering photography services for hire.
- Adopt a dog. It’s damn lonely around here without grand-puppy Bear.
- Execute a thorough financial/retirement planning analysis and plan.
- Make deeper connections with friends and colleagues. Is it frivolous ‘lunching’ if you are are also ‘networking’?
- Volunteer again – find a meaningful cause that could use my time and leadership gifts.
- Do a lot of yoga and learn to meditate. Quiet the fear monkey and release some lingering deep-seated anger at persons we shall not name here.
In January, I saw absolutely no problem with this list. In fact, it was just the list for the first three months of 2016.
After 33 years of pushing daily to get “important” stuff done, it was all I knew from my professional life as a Program Manager. I and my team marched to 3,000-line work-breakdown schedules, detailing all critical activities and reporting on % of accomplishment weekly.
“Busy people get stuff done.” That was my motto. If you’re not busy, you’re just lazy. And probably on the B/C talent list. If there is no list of accomplishments – no checkmarks – on that status report, you don’t look good. No check-marks mean no acknowledgement, no progress, no advancement. And after a few weeks of no check-marks, you’re probably due for a talk with somebody above you.
So, in January and February, I felt guilty for those very few days when I got nothing accomplished, where there were no check-marks; for a few days where I just sat on my butt, and God forbid, even took a nap. I kept a running list of everything I had done since Dec 9 (a personal WBS, if you will), just to prove to myself that I wasn’t a slacker. It ran to three pages, so why did I still feel like one?
In February, my massive project plan to make my GAP year GREAT began to unravel. I logged a lot of ISSUES and RISKS.
- After twenty-five inches of snow in the Shenandoah Valley, the contractor for my parents’ house reasonably sat on HIS butt. (I think he went to Florida – smart guy.) Italy by April 1 was looking less and less likely.
- It took three weeks to get painting and bathroom remodeling contractors to give us estimates on the Charlotte house, and now at least three more weeks to schedule the work. Home improvement is definitely NOT for sissies.
- I started seeing a sustainable nutrition coach, who is really awesome. She says you have to have a ‘relationship’ with the food you eat. But do you have any idea how much TIME it takes to shop for and cook real food?
- A decent executive job search requires at least 25 hours a week, per the recruiting experts.
- Learning to calm the fear monkey and achieving forgiveness and release is not something you do in a few weeks on the yoga mat.
Feeling frustrated and thwarted, I signed up for a short 10-day on-line course on Making Your Leap, offered by Patti Digh. (ANOTHER task/activity! My God, I am such a masochist.)
When I described my situation, and why I was taking the course, here’s what she wrote:
After a career of “doing”, a life of “being” feels different, for sure. If you made a list of how you have “been” since December 9th, what might that look like? Have you been present, engaged in self-care, building relationships, lonely, alive, happy?
A epiphany of the highest order occurred, right there and then.
The quality of my daily ‘being-ness’ needed some work.
I was ‘doing’ a lot, just for the sake of ‘doing’. Why?
Was I trying to prove to someone that I could really made my gap year great? Who the hell was going to read my personal project scorecard except me?
LIFE does not necessarily get better if you manage it like a project plan.
I was doing what I had always done; falling into my well-worn, habitual patterns of how to respond to uncertainty and change. Working on my personal status report, to achieve gold stars and multiple check marks to impress whoever, for who knows what reason.
In Buddhism, going around and around, recycling the same unhealthy patterns, is called samsara. And samsara equals pain. Pena Chodron, in her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, says that the instructions for breaking this cycle are simple and clear:
Be fully present.
Feel your heart.
And engage the next moment without an agenda.
So, I stopped and thought about Being vs. Doing. I thought about what’s truly important now. I thought about WHY I was engaged in a such a frenzy of doing. And I thought a lot about the true quality of my days.
Despite what the corporate business culture demands on multi-tasking, science says that most people can only do two to three big things at a time without losing focus.
I had too much on the plate. My formidable attention and capabilities were scattered across too many seriously big things. And I was not always listening to my heart.
So, I did something rather radical for me. I decided to chuck the year-long transformational project plan methodology, and just focus on a plan for the next day, the next week, the next month. No more.
I looked at the list and highlighted what was important right now – now, and in the next 30 days. I took some things off the list.
Each day I ask myself these questions:
- What’s important right now?
- What does my heart tell me to do?
- WHY I am doing what I am doing? Am I really present while I am doing it?
- How do I make this a really good day?
And that’s enough for right now.
What is the quality of your ‘being’ each day? What have you subtracted from your soul list lately?