Away with distractions!

I have too many interests. For years Erik has watched me struggle to balance all my activities and remarked gently, “Maybe you’re taking on too much.” But I always shook my head in denial. I would find a way. I could manage. It had to be possible! But after Friday’s post of desperate mental misery, I finally acknowledged that Erik was right. Right after I hit “publish” on that post, I opened Notepad (no distractions even in the form of type formatting!) and, heart sinking, without giving myself a moment to stop and think, I typed out a short list of life priorities:

  • learning to paint
  • Erik, family, friends, and kitties
  • moving my body
  • eating good food
  • writing
  • time for myself
  • a home that feels like my perfect sanctuary
  • connection and community

That’s it. That’s my ideal life. I punched “enter” to skip down a few lines, then began the second half of the list: how I currently spend my time. I wrote down everything I could think of, every single thing that takes up my time or psychic energy (open loops). It was a dreadfully long list and as I wrote it out, I could feel my heart sinking still further into the depths. It was so obvious I couldn’t do it all, no matter how much I wanted to. I had my priorities now, and I would have to cut out everything that didn’t speak to those. But it hurt.

After completing these two lists, I spent much of the rest of Friday in a depression. In the middle of the afternoon I realized I was in mourning — mourning for all those life goals I had decided to give up. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the lists again, I just mooched around the house and felt sad. Shortly before dinner I made the first cut: I composed an email to my singing teacher telling her I wanted to stop my lessons. I read it, edited it, hit “send,” and mourned afresh. I’d been taking those lessons for a year, and they were so much fun, something I’d always wanted to do. But for months I hadn’t had time to practice, and without the practice, there’s not much point in regular lessons. After I sent that email, I felt more depressed, but I also felt the beginnings of (grim) relief. I’d been feeling guilty about not practicing, and now that guilt was lifted. Then I knew I had to keep going, through every item on that long list of mine, until I removed every distraction from my priorities with the same lack of mercy.

I told Erik later, it’s like escapes in melodramatic movies: if you’re shackled down but the way out is clear, you’re going to have to cut off a limb if you want to live. It shocked me to realize that even any one of my short list of priorities could easily become a life’s work: being a partner, making a home, writing, painting. Even without the distractions, a lifetime may not be enough. I don’t want to be 60 and mediocre at everything. So, by removing everything from my life that doesn’t move me toward my priorities, I’m cutting off my limbs so I can live. The mingling of pain and relief is incredible. I’m closing so many open loops — just by declaring “I’m not going to worry about this anymore” — and after this, I’m going to have so much more time for what’s really important to me.

Next up for the cut is my shop… no, I’m not shutting it down, but I’ve decided to approach it differently. I’ll write more about that in another entry (which I’ve already begun drafting).

My head feels so nice and clear today, after sorting out my priorities. It’s such a good feeling, like I’ve just been handed an upgrade to life!