Yesterday morning my husband took me out for a ride in his fishing boat out on the river where his mother lives, and on Big Wolf Lake. It was a lovely day, a little cool but beautifully sunny and peaceful since only a couple of fishing boats out that early in the day. We always enjoy getting out on the water.
It reminded me of the summers I spent in Bemidji as a kid. Since my parents were teachers, they had summers off. So we would go to Grandma’s house for the summer, on Three Island Lake, and spend time on the water and relaxing with books and lots of unstructured time. I didn’t go to camps or have summer activities scheduled until I was in high school (and signed up for those myself).
Of course, we had chores to do when we were old enough, helping Grandma with the garden, the yard, dishes, grocery shopping and a few house cleaning tasks. But chores did not take up very much time, and for the most part, we had time to enjoy ourselves.
I loved to read, and there was a loft up above the garage that was my sanctuary where I was able to enjoy plenty of solitude and “thinking time”. My sister would sometimes join me, and we would play. Occasionally a cousin would visit for a couple of weeks, and we canoed or hiked with them. We did a lot of swimming on the lake, rowing out to the dock since it too weedy by the shore.
I am so grateful for that wonderful, unstructured time. Today as I consider what I will do with my time, I know that I need to plan things – I will go to yoga, I will spend some time de-cluttering and organizing. I will spend time reading, writing, doing errands and preparing for the upcoming road trip with my sister.
There is a huge emphasis these days on productivity, on getting more done every day. I understand it. But I also want to celebrate time when we can just BE not always DO. I cannot remember who said once, “you are a human being, not a human doing.” But how often do we forget this? Our striving and wanting for more can draw us into a frenzy of activity.
Brené Brown writes about this in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” One of the qualities of wholehearted men and women is that they let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. It runs counter-culture to do this, and counter to many of our family admonitions. We saw parents who worked all the time, and saw “hard work” as valuable but play as lazy. Fortunately I was exposed to rest and play as components to a happy life, and I am forever grateful for that.
I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to enjoy unstructured time off. But it also reflects choices we make and values we have. I will probably forgo some “things” I could have or money I could earn. But I will live fully and gratefully. I enjoy this moment that is here, and do not postpone my joy for some future that exists only in my mind.
On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.
I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.
Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.
As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.
First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French… Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?
I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.
I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.
In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.
I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…
This is another concept I learned from Tiffany Dufu’s book Drop the Ball. I already passed it along to a colleague that I thought could benefit from the book. I may have to re-buy it… So many great lessons and stories that she told in the book that really resonated with me when I read it last year, so I will share another in this post.
There is a link to a short summary piece about home control disease here. Or if you look up Tiffany Dufu on You-Tube, she has a bunch of really interesting short videos. I will summarize and add my take on the issue. I am so enamored of the minimalist concept, and yet I live with someone else, so I struggle with how much I want to control, versus how much I need to let go.
I used to live with someone who was a slob. He owned a huge house and would allow piles of junk to accumulate in the corners, and just ignore them. He might be considered a hoarder if he had a small home. Hoarding is usually cast as a “lower class” behavior, so we do not normally think of people with large houses as hoarders. They have so much more space than the average person. So if they have rooms that are reserved for books, or a room that is called a “parlour” then it does not seem to matter. If they have a room that is piled with junk, over which they throw a sheet when company comes over, they may be viewed as eccentric. But they are not labeled hoarders, because they are middle-class people with college degrees. I digress.
Anyway, I’ve been determined NEVER to live up to the stereotype of Latina housewife, who cooks and cleans for everyone. So I cultivate a well-practiced habit of ignoring messes at home. One might think this makes me a slob. I don’t encourage you to ask my husband… he probably would agree. 😉
Learning to ignore the mess means I could avoid becoming the default “cleaning lady” for that former house-mate. I certainly tried to keep my own possessions and areas neat so I could function in those spaces, and not to contribute to the overflow of junk. Having a.d.d. makes it a bit harder for me to focus unless I have an orderly space in which to function. I am a little embarrassed to admit I currently have a spare bedroom at home that I aspire to use as an office. But right now It is too full of stuff: boxes, books and random things I want to clear out this year. I work from the dining room when I work at home.
Common spaces like the kitchen are shared, which means I take turns at doing dishes or clearing the counters. I’m the one who usually takes out the garbage and recycling because it bothers me a lot more to see those pile up. I also tend to do the laundry. Since I have the option of working at home a couple days a week, and it seems pretty easy to throw in a load while here, or fold when I take a break from work. But:
Making the bed = optional, not done most days
Vacuuming the carpet = optional (did we do this sometime in the last two months?)
Dusting = optional.
Full disclosure: we both work full-time and do not have children. So our income allows us to have a cleaning service come in once a month for a couple hours of cleaning in the kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was a promise I made to myself when he moved in 3 years ago that I would NOT be the housemaid, and that we would spend some money getting help, since I did not want to be stuck with it all.
But I still find myself taking responsibility for household tasks probably more than my husband does. It is a default switch for me that I am working to change.Maybe women feel like we cannot be in control at work very often. Especially if we work in corporations with large amounts of bureaucratic junk we have to shovel. So we want to be in control SOMEWHERE. And home is the place that society considers our “domain.” Ugh.
But what if we recognized our home control disease and learned to live with some amount of mess? What if we dropped the ball and let others pick it up? And if they do not pick it up, then is it really a requirement? If living in a neat house is more important to us than to our partners, perhaps we need to negotiate and work together as a team.
If my suspicions are correct, more women than men are judged over having a messy house. If a guy has a messy place, he’s a “bachelor.” If a couple has a messy home, then she is the one blamed for the state of affairs. It is not fair. For sure. But I would suggest living with some level of mess may be an adaptive strategy when we live with others, unless we share the chore.
Try it. Tell me what you think. Is there more or less conflict in your life when you give up home control disease?
Last February I read a book that changed how I think about women in leadership, and the gap between household responsibilities for men and women. It was called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu, and I have written about it before.
One of the concepts that hit home for me was the idea that we sometimes get resentful of our spouses, partners or even coworkers about things that have not gotten done, even when we never made a specific request about those tasks. We all have those times. Maybe you wish your spouse would decide on the meals and grocery shop for a change. For some reason, you have always done it (maybe like me you are pickier about the foods you eat than your husband) and things get busy at work, so you do not have the energy this week to do it.
But rather than ask your husband to do it, you just sigh, feel sorry for yourself and think: “Why doesn’t HE ever make the decisions about this stuff and offer to shop?” Well, probably because you are the one that usually does it, without any prompting. You may think, “nobody has to ask ME to do this!” and sulk because you know that it saves money to shop at the grocery store instead of eating out.
When I asked my husband if he could go to the store, he willingly and cheerfully did so, and asked what was on my list. Instead of spending energy being resentful and getting annoyed about it, I could have saved myself the trouble and just asked for help, instead of assuming I had to do it. Since people have an easier time hearing your actual words than reading your mind, opening your mouth to graciously ask for help is a better option.
We all have habits and patterns in our relationships and roles which we play both at home and in the workplace. Sometimes these roles and “job descriptions” need to shift and change depending on our overall workload. When we take on a new challenge at work, or commit to something important to us, we may need to ask for help from our spouse on household tasks. This is very hard for me, I realize.
I grew up in a household where Mom stayed home until going back to work when my sister was in middle school, and I was in high school. She and my Dad had a very different division of labor than I aspired to in my life. So I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily “supposed” to grocery shop, plan menus and take responsibility for food prep at home. Indeed I know a lot of households where the opposite is true.
At work this applies when I have a task that could easily be done by a colleague and perhaps they are better at it too, but somehow it ends up on my to-do list. I realize that, if I do not ask anyone else to do it, nobody will “take it away” from me and get it done. I need to use my words, not my imagination to ask for help, and I need to be specific about what needs to be done, though not necessarily how to do the task. I do not enjoy micro-managing, so delegating the responsibility involves stepping out of the way to allow someone else to bring their own approach to the job.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It allows us to do what we are best at doing, without getting bogged down in a lot of details or menial tasks that may deplete our energy and time. But some of us who are still learning how to not take on too much, or who lived happily as single people, need to question our assumptions about who does what at home and at work. If we have a spouse or partner that supports our growth and development, and someone who understands that household management is a shared responsibility, we can probably negotiate these matters.
I am working on recognizing those times when I feel resentment but the real battle is going on in my own mind, rather with another person. I have a situation at work where I realize I used to take on responsibilities that are actually the job of the other manager. He has been blissfully ignorant and relying on me to do these tasks, but I now aim to be more specific with him about his responsibilities. I realize this will go against my “go along get along” attitude at work, and my concept about being a “team player” but I have enabled his blissful ignorance for too long.
As I am less tolerant now about certain things at work, given my overall dissatisfaction with the role I am in, I realize I have less to lose. So what if he gets annoyed that I am asking him to do his job! I respectfully do not care. Wow, there’s power in that.
I was reflecting this weekend on the topic areas I have written about for the past few months on this blog versus the original intention I had at the beginning.
One intention was to comment on politics and privilege from my unique perspective as a bi-cultural Latina woman. I still do that now and then. But more often, I have shared about topics like mindfulness and taking care of my health. So I wanted to consider why the blog morphed as I committed to more of a daily routine of writing. Here’s what I came up with. I would love to know what you think.
It is best to write about what we know. Since I know myself better than I know anyone, writing about my own experience, and my own journey seems to be a good way to start. It limbers up my writing practice, and allows me to reflect on what I have learned from a personal perspective.
“Research is me-search.” I am a clinical researcher by training, but the topics I find most interesting are my own little n=1 experiments in health. For those of you not familiar with this terminology, “n” is the number of subjects/patients you include in an experimental sample. When I experiment with a new wellness practice, I am the sole participant so n=1. There is no control group, so it is not a “valid” sample in the methodology we typically use. But of course, there are subjective measures we can use to validate our own experience. I rely on those rather than on statistical work to conclude whether I will continue particular wellness practices I try.
Taking care of ourselves well is a radical act. I believe we do not live in a culture that does not properly value taking care of ourselves, and women struggle with this most. We give lip service to taking care of ourselves, but we also cut corners on sleep and fill our lives with unnecessary obligations and distractions. We must step away from the “busy-ness culture” that is supposed to signify our importance in the world. This helps us have space to truly thrive. But so few truly commit to this path.
Until we care for ourselves, we will not have long-term resources to help others. I began finding in my personal life about 2 years ago that I was putting my work and family ahead of taking care of myself. It was taking its toll on my health. I did not like the results. I did not like constantly feeling tired and strung out. But I felt desperate to make a contribution “to the world” because I saw political and economic systems I did not feel were serving people. A decade before that I had been very involved in political campaigns. But that had burned me out, and required much personal sacrifice that I simply could make at this stage in my life.
We are in this for the long haul. Any type of societal change is slow-moving, and requires sustained effort. What is done in one day has fairly little impact. But what is accomplished over time, with many small efforts (and many people) daily is what creates a movement. If more of us were to look inward, take care of ourselves and our needs, and thrive personally, we would likely have more time and energy to care for others. This includes our families, our communities, and our society as a whole. Not that we can stop caring for others as we care for ourselves, but just that we cannot care for others at the expense of our long-term health. This will serve nobody.
So these are my initial thoughts on why my blog has morphed from its original intention. I may come back to writing more about politics and other topics about which I am passionate. Right now, I write about what I most want to learn and master. That is where my attention is most focused, and writing about these topics clarifies my thinking.
Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful week!
Today I will return to work after the holiday break. I also have an appointment this afternoon for post-op check-up following my appendectomy surgery a few weeks ago. Though I usually wake up around 5:30, this morning I was awake at 4, so I opted to roll out of bed at 4:30 to start my coffee pot.
It is again a chilly morning at zero degrees F with a windchill of -15F. I plan to go to the gym in a bit for some exercise. I am not yet “cleared” to get back to yoga so I will go again for a walk on the treadmill.
This past weekend I went a little stir-crazy after no exercise for a few weeks, so I just had to work up a small sweat by walking on the ‘mill a couple of days. Typically I do yoga 3-4 times a week, and I like to run at least a couple of times a week. I have not run since my last trip to Mexico early in December, when I managed a few short treadmill workouts.
I exercise for my mental health as much as my physical health. As someone with an attention issue, it is a highly recommended natural intervention for this condition. It also helps prevent depression and anxiety, which I have contended with in the past. It has been at least 7 years since I had a true “episode” of depression as categorized by the DSM-5. It was minor, fortunately, and responded well to a few sessions of counseling, and addition of healthy fats and protein to my diet.
A few years ago, when I was racing many half marathons per year (and even one marathon) I felt such a sense of relief from previous depressive symptoms. I think this was for many reasons but here are the top ones:
1) Exercise is good for the brain and this is documented in the research.
2) The running community and the friends I met were so positive, supportive and uplifting (this is actually how I met my husband).
3) A regular routine and training goals for races kept me in touch with friends, getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine regularly. Nature is such a beautiful balm for all that ails us.
As I consider goals for 2018, I know that there are some daily rituals I will keep, that serve me well and contribute to my health and well-being. Getting good sleep (and patience as I gain mastery over insomnia) is a non-negotiable one. I will aim for 8 hours regularly, because I feel better with adequate rest. It helps maintain my weight, gives me more consistent focus during the day, and adds better decision-making. If you have one thing you do for the next year to commit to your health and you get routinely less than 7 hours a night – try to get 30-60 minutes more sleep each night. Your body and brain will thank you. Trust me.
My other daily habits are: meditating (I’m on day 333), journaling in a hand-written journal in addition to this blog, and doing some yoga or walking/running. I also typically end my workday with taking 15 minutes to plan the next day or two, review what is on my schedule and prepare myself mentally for what is head.
I enjoy my coffee in the morning, so even though it is half caf these days, that one is not going to change. I avoid caffeine in the afternoon since it does tend to mess with my sleep when I am not careful.
Sitting with a cat on my lap and reading at home is another wonderful ritual that makes me feel especially happy in winter. Having time with my husband to chat and catch up on the day is another ritual that keeps me connected. On the weekends I typically make breakfast for us, since he leaves so early for work on weekdays. I enjoy that also.
As I consider whether I should add anything, I believe I want to continue the work on the de-cluttering project I began last Spring. This has gone in fits and starts for me, usually when I get too annoyed by not being able to find things that I go all “KonMari” for a few days, in a frenzy. But this time I will follow through to the end, and really put things away at the end of every day, as she recommends once the big de-clutter is over.
The month of January for me is typically one of reflection and consideration of where my life is and where I want it to go. I know a lot of people use December for that, but really I find it too stressful between holiday hoopla and social obligations. There is no hurry to begin something new for me. When I commit, I like to go all the way. So I allow myself a few weeks to plan and dream while I get my daily routines back into place, and get my head back into work.
I have a new planner with monthly and weekly pages instead of a daily list. I am experimenting with that, making my daily rituals more routinized and still working with a to-do list but working to schedule that time in my electronic calendar instead of keeping the endless list. We will see how that goes. Really I am trying to take away, not add to all the obligations I create for myself.
What are your favorite daily routines, that keep you grounded and sane? I love hearing about what works well for others.
Happy New Year, Friends! I hope by now you have slept off any late night parties and begun 2018 with vim and vigor.
It is very cold here in Minnesota, only -11F as I write this (without wind chill). My husband and I laughed at the NYC ball-drop countdown last night when they were complaining about 12F. Wimps, we said! You don’t even KNOW what cold is.
Then we went to bed around our usual time after a few episodes of the Twilight Zone, an annual tradition on NYE. I used to stay up late, and as a morning person, the result is that I nearly always ushered in the New Year tired and cranky. Oy, SO not worth it to me.
I dearly love my sleep, the older I get, and I refuse to sacrifice it for something arbitrary like midnight. So I let go of that habit when I realized it was not serving me. When I embrace what makes me happiest and most vital, and let go of doing things just because our culture encourages them.
I spent a lot of New Years in my youth trying to start a new habit, or get on a better eating plan, or become more committed to some new activity. I realize that since I look at January 1st as arbitrary, I do better at starting new things on a date I choose.
Perhaps I use a new season, or a new month or a new week. The past year, I started writing daily as of October 1st. 330 days ago I started meditating daily. So that was February. It happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. Coincidence? Perhaps. I also attended a Satsang session at a local meditation center. But I do not do that regularly. It just helped initiate the ritual for me.
What is more relevant to me this year is not necessarily starting something new, but instead letting go of what does not serve me. They say that adding something new is actually much easier than breaking a habit we do not want. I can see how that is true.
But at the same time, there are a few things that I realize no longer serve me, and I will work on letting them go, replacing them with habits that are more compassionate and that honor my needs. Here are a few:
Self-criticism – this is a hard one. I have a pretty tough inner critic. But I have worked at being more forgiving lately, and realizing that I am doing my best. That’s really all I can do, and I will continue to honor this.
Self-blame – I have been told I sometimes feel “inappropriate guilt.” A mentor mentioned this to me once when I talked about moving onto a new position but not wanting to let my team down. It would probably serve me to let this one go as well.
Judgment of self and others – It really is impossible to live someone else’s life, and understand what they are going through. Empathy is something to practice, for sure. But beyond that, people need to just be allowed to be who they are, without my imposed story-lines of what they should or should not do.
Doing others’s work – There is another manager on my team (a physician) who conveniently does not always follow the bureaucratic procedures we need to follow for things like hiring at work. In the past I would often pick up the slack to be sure things were done correctly. This year, I intend to let him do his work. By himself. Yes, I want to be a team player. But last year I did more than my share. This year I will let him fail when he does not do what is required for managers. His boss (and mine) is ultimately responsible, not me. My husband will be proud of me for this one, if I can follow through on it. He heard me say last December “I’m done!” when it came to another scenario where my colleague’s lack of follow-through put me in a difficult position.
Whew I guess you can tell what pushes my buttons. And it felt great to get that off my chest. The first three of these things, I have worked to let go, especially in recent months and over the past year of committed meditation practice.
It takes some work, awareness and commitment to change old thoughts that do not serve us. For some of them, they have worn grooves into our brains after thinking the old and tired thoughts too many times. It is not because they are TRUE, it is just because we have practiced them. The good news is that we can practice other thoughts! And over them, we then “weed out” those ones that no longer serve us.
Some thoughts I prefer to practice are:
“I have time to do what I need to do today.”
“I am doing my best, and that is enough.”
“I trust myself and deserve compassion.” or “I trust my body to tell me what I need.”
I may set a few goals this year with my husband, because I want to work better as a team when it comes to things like money and savings goals. That will undoubtedly be a topic for a future post, as I examine my own obstacles in learning this new practice.
But for now I feel satisfied with letting go a few things so I can welcome in more compassion and love for myself and others. I’m ready, 2018!