How self-aware are you? I consider myself pretty self-aware. It’s a skill that I have been cultivating for years. And I am a seeker, constantly reading and learning and working to be my best. But something I still struggle with is consistently living with intention and having the courage to hear and then take action on my heart’s desires. It means acting on what is authentic and true for me daily while saying no to the rest. This practice involves so much more than self-awareness and it’s just not easy.
But what’s even harder than living with intention, is paying the price for always saying yes. A life of hustling, of just going through the motions or letting others decide your priorities for you, means you risk missing life’s really important stuff. By saying yes to every big, shiny opportunity, we miss the little things–the tiny moments where love lives. One of my favorite quotes says “if you miss love, you miss life” and that’s just not something I am willing to miss anymore.
Now that I am in my amazing 40’s (where you finally start to care a whole lot less about what others thinks of you), I have developed a practice of checking in with my wants daily or even multiple times a day. If we aren’t intentional, it’s so easy to say yes to things that seem fun or positive or like a great opportunity in the moment, only to discover that when it’s time to deliver on that commitment, our heart’s not really into it and we aren’t inspired to follow through. We must remember that there is always a trade off, so every time we say yes to something or someone, we say no to ourselves, our priorities and our goals, which for me involves my family, my health and our joy.
When I was growing up, I was taught to be a person of my word and to always be responsible. In the South, especially for women, we are taught not to disappoint people. Our job is to make everyone around us happy and that typically means saying yes a lot! I was also taught to be a hard-worker. “Don’t be lazy, Tobi”. By trying to avoid lazy, I created a life as a workaholic, a person addicted to achieving. And whether I consciously realized it or not, in my mind, achievement equaled my worth.
These ideals, teachings, raising, conditioning–whatever you want to call it, caused me to be a person who followed through with my commitments no matter what, even when I over-committed which was often. And even to the detriment of my health, my happiness and my family.
Living with Intention, listening to your intuition or your desires, and following your heart means un-learning these core beliefs that were passed along to you, but that no longer fit. “Being responsible” the way I learned it as a child, has meant doing what pleases other people. It has meant sacrificing my wants and goals at times, particularly in the area of self care. I believed for years that putting myself first was selfish, or at least taking care of me was something that I would get to after I did all the things I promised everyone else. Now I know self care is imperative for me to be and give my best to the world. And there is almost nothing worth forgoing taking care of me first.
I also thought for years that success came with the hustle–that the harder you worked the more successful you would be. Or worse, that to be successful, you HAD to work hard. But I have learned that working harder doesn’t equal success, but it can definitely equal exhaustion. If working hard guaranteed success, all those working 3 jobs to make ends meet, would be. But sadly most are still struggling, and they are definitely tired. However, I don’t like the saying “work smarter, not harder” either–I mean do any of us really think we are working “stupid”? I believe the key is working differently, or really it’s about thinking differently.
The reality is that we get most of our values from our parents and usually our parents are well-meaning, I know mine are. Parents want their children to be successful, to be happy, to be liked. But there comes a time somewhere between your 20’s and your 40’s that you start to consider whether all those beliefs your parents instilled in you, really work for you. And it takes a lot a courage to decide that they don’t work anymore. As I raise a daughter of my own, I am becoming so much more careful about the core beliefs and ideals that I instill in her and about the way I model and talk about success. But I am not perfect, and so I know she will have to decide at some point if the ideas I passed down, work for her. I now know there is more to life than work, being responsible, and pleasing others and I only hope I can model that for her in a way that serves her future self.
I have been moving in the direction of slower and more intentional living for about six or seven years and it is not a straight line from workaholism to living a life of balance and alignment. It is messy and hard. Shiny, exciting opportunities present themselves every day and we have to have the perspective and the tools to know when to say yes and when to say no. I believe we are here to do more than just push ourselves through another day of hustling. Yes there are trade-offs for every commitment, and some of them are really costly. I have learned this the hard way.
To live with intention, we have to get comfortable disappointing people. The old Southern way of making everyone happy just isn’t an option for me anymore, and it’s likely not working for you either. In fact to choose my family and me, I know I am going to disappoint multiple other people every single day, and just like with anything else, the more I practice it, the better I get at it. Yes, I am becoming a “master disappointer”. And to my surprise, it feels good!
So if you want to live with more intention, here are my top 7 tips to making it happen…
- Create Space–If your schedule is jam-packed like mine has always been, you cannot get perspective on what is good for you and what is too big of a trade off. When you are worn down by too many commitments, you are much more likely to say yes in the moment. You have to create some space in your life. Whether that means meditation, prayer, yoga, taking a nap, walking in nature, or bing-watching your favorite Netflix show, slowing down and creating some breathing room will allow you to step back and better evaluate all those shiny opportunities that are being hurled at you every day. And when you’re rested, you’re more likely to say no to a lot of them.
- Write it out–I journal every day, sometimes for as long as an hour. It’s how I work through my thoughts, ideas and challenges. Writing clears my mind of worries and fears. It helps me remember what is important. It’s where I count my blessings. It keeps my priorities top of mind and my goals too. Give it a try. I think it makes living with intention much easier.
- Have a Waiting Period–Just like in some states where getting a marriage license or buying a weapon requires a waiting period, there should be a waiting period for saying yes. So often when someone asks you to commit to an event or idea, it’s on the fly, right? You are usually juggling 10 other things at that very moment, so what do you do? You break down and say yes. Waiting to give an answer until you are able to clear your head and focus on the costs and benefits of saying yes, can make all the difference. So let that call go to voicemail or let that email sit in your inbox a day or two and then answer. You will thank yourself later.
- If it’s not a Hell Yes! It’s a No–Time is our most precious commodity, but we often treat it recklessly. We only get 24 hours in a day and tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. Do we really want to be so casual with how we spend those valuable hours and moments? Or worse, give them away to people that aren’t on our short list of most important people? I know I don’t. So when considering any commitment, if it is not a HELL YES!, then it is a no. Easy peasy, right? Ok, maybe not easy, but it’s totally worth it.
- Give up Excuses–Stop with the excuses already. If you are going to succeed with living intentionally, you have to be confident in just saying no, with a smile of course. Give yourself permission to say no just because. You don’t have to have an elaborate excuse like “I’d love to do dinner with you but my great-aunt’s neighbor’s dog is having it’s seventh birthday and I really have to be there!” Feeling the need to come up with a reason or excuse is just silly and it’s a waste of your time. Have the guts to say “Thank you. I wish I could” and move on. Don’t even say “maybe another time” because then you will have to think up a wild excuse all over again the next time they ask.
- Do the Math–Every time you say yes to someone, you are saying no to something else like family time, rest, and your health. Nothing is without a trade-off. So take committing seriously. Do the math and make sure you are willing to give up important moments, goals and your priorities when you say yes.
- Dance with Ones that Brought you–There is an old saying, especially in the South that means give your attention to those that have been with you along with way, that have paid their dues, and had your back. For me that means my family and a handful of true friends. There have been many times that I said yes to the world or my industry in search of recognition, money or excitement, or the promise of some big payoff in the future, while saying no to those that mean the most to me. At the end of the day, all that other stuff is fleeting and much of the future payoff never even comes to pass. Other people will forget about you easily, when you aren’t giving them what they want over and over again. And you hope the ones that brought you, are still waiting for you when you return. So pick them first, and be very selective about committing to the rest. No matter how much you give to the world, it will always want more. And like they say on Project Runway, “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out”. So I choose to be “in” with my family for the long haul. They deserve it.
If you want to learn more about living a slower life, check out some of my favorite life-changing books and resources that have greatly influenced my path…
Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
Friends, I literally wrote in every margin, dogeared every page and practically underlined and highlighted this entire book. I felt like Shauna was telling my life’s story! (And she’s going to be on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday this month, y’all!) This book helps you see the extremely high cost of giving yourself to your work and the world, including the toll it takes on your health, your joy and your family. For all you Type A, working moms like me who are trying to make your mark on the world, get this book today!
Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
I just discovered this book by a blogger I have known about for years and I couldn’t put it down. I read it this week in about 2 days and had quite possibly the biggest Ah-ha moments of my life. It helped me answer some BIG life questions that I have been asking myself for a while. It’s a must read for all you Provers and Hustlers like me, who have tied your worth to your work. I was sad when this one was over, and I am sure I will soon be reading it all over again.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I learned of this amazing book when taking Hilary Rushford’s course, Elegant Excellence (great course by the way!), and I am about to start reading it for the third time (Thanks Hilary!) This book is about the “disciplined pursuit of less”. Greg shares how he worked right through the birth of his son because his boss and the world expected him to, and how he hurt his wife, and ultimately lost the respect of the client he was trying to impress. For all of us who regret putting work first and missing out on the most important parts of life, this book is a must read. And it will help you understand that when you do one thing and do it GREAT, then you can make more money, in less time, with more joy than trying to be all things to all people. Read this book…and then read it again!
Here’s wishing you lots of slow, intentional living and joy!