Less (but Better)
The pressure to “do it all” can be immense. And it’s not just all of the social pressure and “shoulds” floating around that world. (Although, that is incredibly real, and can create an enormous psychological burden.) Even things that sound like so-much-fun can wind up feeling like too much when it comes time to actually make everything happen.
Which leads to flaking.
Which leads to shame.
And that’s no fun.
If you’ve spread yourself a little too thin, I can relate.
A few years ago, my life looked incredibly full and rich from the outside. On the inside, it felt like I was drowning. I felt as though I could never catch my breath, and was always running from one thing to the next. There was no breathing room, no white space in my calendar, and no time to digest everything I was taking in.
It all felt so exciting. Everything felt like something I should be doing. And even though much of it was aimed at my own personal development, growth, and enjoyment, it ended up feeling kind of like hell.
Because I was doing everything half-assed.
I was only doing the bare minimum. Only doing things to get them done. Only showing up when I “had” to – or coming up with excuses for why I would skip out on things I’d previously looked forward to.
On top of that, I often made myself sick or exhausted – needing to miss even more commitments just to stay functional.
It made me sad. It made me feel like I was failing. It certainly wasn’t self-care (even though things on my plate were technically supposed to be self-care).
I don’t tell you this to make you feel bad.
I tell you this to point the way to something better. Less, but better.
Shortly after this, I developed a real affinity for the idea of committing to less and doing it thoroughly. I wanted to do things well. I wanted to be the person others could count on.
That was the kind of life I wanted.
One that was respectful of my limitations. One that honored the way I like to work. A life that allowed me to bring my best self, allowing me to be even more effective. Most of all, one that was the right amount of each core area of my life. One that was sacred.
So, I set about peeling back the layers.
It was like turning my purse upside down on the dining room table and sifting through it.
I began with a true accounting of every single thing I’d already committed to. Until that point, it had been difficult to gauge my capacity (and therefor what was appropriate for me to take on), because I didn’t have a clear picture of what was already on my plate.
I examined why I’d said yes to each of the things on the list. I looked underneath each one to see how much joy and satisfaction it brought me – or if it was something that had looked good on the surface. Or worse: if I had hoped it would make me look good on the surface.
There were a lot of things I immediately wanted to cross off the list, but I sat with it for a little while.
With that, somewhat intimidating list in hand, I then flipped the question:
What was missing from that list?
What had been on my wishlist for my life for ages that hadn’t made its way into my real life? What felt like it was missing? Where wasn’t I getting fulfillment because I was crowding it out?
It felt scary to put more things on my life list. But I wanted to get as clear a picture as possible. Of what I was hoping for, of what I was expecting from myself, and of why things had gone so off the rails.
Then, I opened a blank sheet of paper.
I needed to define what was truly sacred in my life.
Apart from any “shoulds” or external pressure, I needed to decide what felt truly meaningful. I wanted to look at a simplified version of my life. If I had to narrow my life down to only a few key elements, what would I choose? What *wouldn’t* I choose again, if I could get a do-over.
What emerged was surprising in some ways and not in others. Were I to only choose 5 things, for my whole life, I chose to focus on: my family (biological and chosen) and home; my healing work; climate justice activism; spiritual and creative work; adventure and travel.
The wording has changed a bit on these over the years, but they remain fairly steady. And if something is not contributing to one of those five areas of my life, it’s likely not happening. Even if it does fall into one of those buckets, I examine very closely: how is this moving this area of my life forward? What are my true priorities for this area of life?
I also implemented a system where I could only focus on three things at a time. Three major things per year. Three things per month, per week, per day. If I manage to do more than those three things, it’s gravy. But everything else aims to support my “three things”.
Sometimes, its a small thing, like going hiking. Other times, its a larger project, like traveling abroad or building a new course.
With these in mind, I never have the feeling of, “I don’t know what to do!” – because I do. Having my three things lists gives me clarity and a sense of purpose as I approach each one. It allows each thing I do to carry intentionality and a sense of sacredness.
It also means that I have had the brainspace to bring to life what I’ve really wanted to create this year. Some projects fell by the wayside – not out of flakiness, but out of intentional re-shaping. Looking back, I’ve accomplished pretty much everything I set out to, though.
Accomplishing what I set out to was not an accident.
This is how Sacred Focus was born. This simple set of exercises has evolved into a methodology for de-overwhelming your life and infusing your life with an experience of the sacred. Some of these initial questions remain the centerpiece of the work we do inside Sacred Focus. This is, I believe, how we find our way home to ourselves. It is how we learn to belong to our own lives again.
While I still struggle with this, I usually struggle when I take on things beyond what I’ve already established as my priorities. I falter when I overfill my plate with things that don’t truly align with my heart. That’s when I get into trouble.
But what I know is that, even though life is ever-shifting, I have the power to do what I say I will.
Do you want to learn to do less, but better?