February 21, 2023
By a show of hands, who rang in 2023 with a New Years resolution? Did you shout it from the rooftop? Tell your husband? Tuck it in your heart as a silent promise to yourself? Maybe you didn’t have a resolution this year, maybe you never do, but I’m willing to bet there is some area of your life that could use a mini-makeover or a complete overhaul. Something that would bring joy, reduce stress or maybe a smile to your face. For me, the big things are tied to the little ones. The little stresses tend to be alarm bells that the bigger issue at hand needs attention. So why is it then so dang hard to follow through? To keep the pace? To take a wrecking ball to the parts of our lives that desperately need to be demolished?
In my own life I have learned that my anxiety tends to rev up from 0 to 60 when I look at the whole picture. The big, giant, scary problem seems too big, too giant, too scary and frankly I’d rather live with the monster in the closet than try and take it on. At a birds eye view, the dumpster fire looks more like a forest fire and I’m exhausted thinking about it let alone thinking about what to do about it. Often in life, the whole picture is what scares us away from even beginning the steps to find a solution. From a packed and disorganized garage to a desperate need for a better work/life balance, to credit card debt to planning a kitchen remodel, ironically the steps are the same.
First, we need to have two views of our problem. The goal of our end result, this is our zoom out, birds eye view. And our up close, one step at a time view. I had a wonderful mentor that would often tell me, Jen, you can eat the elephant but only one bite at a time. A totally gross analogy that drives home the message that yes, we can take on something as big as an elephant but the best way to get the job done is one step at a time.
I’m a big idea person. I love to dream big, swing from the fences and believe anything and everything is possible. Vision boards are my jam. But I would get lost in the details. The weeds were up to my eyes and I would often lose momentum because I felt like my big idea was slipping away. It was too far off and the chasm between where I was currently standing and where I wanted to be felt like a continent away. And if I did make progress, I often felt like it wasn’t good enough. Or I didn’t do it fast enough. I had no metric for measuring any kind of success. So instead of celebrating my successes, I would often fall into the trap of feeling like I had to overcompensate. It was a vicious and fragile way to live because I never felt like I could turn my brain off. The goals would turn into obsessions that left me feeling exhausted and defeated. The exact opposite of why I had envisioned the goals in the first place.
We are not meant to run on a hamster wheel or become flattened by our big or small dreams and desires. The goals in our hearts are meant to be realized. Of course sometimes we need to change course along the way, but I do believe we are supposed to start. Wherever we are, we are supposed to start.
Back to my packed garage…after every Christmas our garage becomes a crazy mess. Decorations are everywhere, boxes are everywhere, not to mention all the other stuff that finds its last leg of life in the garage. The kids had been home, so anything that doesn’t have a home also ends up in the garage. Add to that the soccer season is still going on (Sectional playoffs, I’m coming for you!) and softball is upon us. Needless to say, there are muddy cleats and shin guards on top of said boxes, well…you get the idea. It’s a mess. Can I tell you how badly I want to just push it all to the curb with a sign that says please take this away right now?! But ultimately I love our Christmas decorations and my middle daughter probably needs those cleats and shin guards tonight at practice.
My very patient husband reminds me that the only way to fix the problem quickly is to go slowly. One corner of the garage at a time, making sure everything is in a box, wrapped up and ready for next year. It doesn’t matter how many swear words I want to muster, the process is the process. Eating the elephant one bite at a time. One box of Christmas lights at a time.
So what about the big things? The scary, hairy things that can be really hard to talk about, even with the people we love. The parts of our life that cause panic attacks at 2am or tears streaming down our cheeks when a gorgeous Adele song comes on. The parts of our life we desperately want to change but have become paralyzed by fear. I will share this quote with you,
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think
Thank you, Winnie the Pooh and A.A. Milne for these wise and poignant words. Sometimes the first step in any big decision is to trust ourselves. Trust the little voice inside that is prompting us to live differently, try something new, or give up something that might be holding us back. The next step is to zoom in on our bird’s eye view. Yes, we have the big picture, the end result in mind, that is our finish line (although it is subject to change, as we will discover along the way), but this is the step where we put boots on the ground and take stock of where we currently are. Upon analysis, we can then begin to write the map of where we want to go. Do you know someone who has done what you aspire to do? Can you buy them coffee and pick their brain? Read a book (knowledge for pennies on the dollar!), do some internet research. What groundwork can be done right now to save time later.
With our new found knowledge, we can start to create bench markers for success. From opening a new business, to trying a new recipe every month to organizing our house, what are appropriate, doable markers that we can put in our calendar? Markers that stretch us a little bit, but also are attainable in the time we have allowed. It doesn’t serve anyone to not allow enough time in the hope of forcing a project along, usually that just ends in feelings of defeat.
Instead, how can we set ourselves up for success? By looking at our time. I like to look at one month at a time and start writing when I’m going to work on these projects. And then I go week to week because ultimately life happens, babies get sick, washing machines die, and we have to rework our plan. But that is why by looking at an entire month at a time, we are able to see the other pockets of time we can use or swap to find time to do the things on our heart.
Once we have created bench markers and carved out pieces of time in our schedule, next we look for all the ways to take away the excuses. I think the biggest one is, I don’t have any extra time. There are tons of places throughout our days where we can lean on multipliers to give us more time. Pair a high thinking activity with something you can do on autopilot. A few ideas are making a phone call while folding laundry or listening to a podcast when washing dishes or exercising. Make a big batch dinner and freeze part of it for another night. Teach your kids to put away their own laundry-it won’t be perfect, but it’s done! A few other ideas we have picked up over the years: throw away junk mail as soon as you get it, don’t let it linger and pile up causing more time later sorting through the mail, sometimes making a five minute call will be shorter than going back and forth over email, and Target pick up is a godsend! Then celebrate the wins along the way. Whatever mini-goals you have set up as your bench markers, celebrate them. Paint your nails, read a chapter of a fun book, flip through a magazine, sip a cup of hot tea, take a walk at the beach, just do something. Positive reinforcements are SO good for the soul.
In some instances we need to lower our expectations. In this season, maybe the house isn’t as clean as we’d like or we aren’t as organized. Maybe dinner is more of an assembly line from the Costco pre-made section instead of from scratch. I give you my full blessing that it is OK! It’s temporary, a means to an end, there is a bigger picture in mind. Ultimately part of learning how to chase after those big dreams is to weigh the areas in our lives differently. Laundry should not be as important as writing out a business proposal or meeting with a prospective client. This one was hard for me for a long time. I would get so frustrated and visibly irritated over not being able to control all the things I thought I should. Having a third baby was the beginning of the breaking me wide open process and humbling me with the great realization that it is actually a better way to live than to try and control all the things. I’m six years in and it is still hard at times, but the reward to worth it. Sacrificing in one area of life to make great strides in others is worth it. And usually in the passing of time is when we start to see the fruits of our labor.
What happens when you start on the path and a mile down the road you discover this is not working? It’s not what you thought it was going to be. You actually hate it. I hereby give you permission to change course. No questions asked. No judgment or guilt. If this passion project left you passionless, then I give you full permission to choose from the menu of tweaking to a complete overhaul.
There are certain things in life we must obviously follow through on, but there are also times when we start a project/job/remodel and somewhere along the way realize this path is not the right one. Sometimes we keep barreling forward, bearing the brunt and wearing the physical frustration that comes with being on the wrong road, but feeling obligated to continue. So here is your permission, your free pass, maybe the blessings you needed to change course and run towards something that brings the satisfaction you were seeking all along.
Now what if the goal, the dream, the life involves more than just you? The people you are on the journey of life with. A spouse, children, close sibling, a parent. What happens when your dreams collide with expectations, family obligations, and commitments? My best advice is to start by making a list before speaking with your loved ones. Write out your concerns, goals, mini-goals and then ask them what they think and be open to hearing their thoughts. Sometimes we are surprised that our goals could very well be in line with how the other person might be feeling too. Sometimes compromises needed to be made, sometimes talking through the logistics can make the dream feel more tangible. Ultimately when we approach the discussion with love and kindness, it gives us the best chance to allow all parties to speak and be heard. Of course, this goes both ways. We also must be willing to hear the other side and be understanding of whatever concerns our loved ones might raise as well as be mindful of the dreams they have as well.
2022 felt monumental for me. I started a brand new job, turned 40 and said good-bye to my father after his six year battle with cancer. The little and big things change us. The hopes and scars and dreams and lessons and hurts and fears and love all shape us. Our life is constantly being molded both by outside forces and by our own inner voices. I have been challenged and shattered, and yet I have also seen beauty and love in the completely unexpected.
My goals have been transformed and reimaged. The fragility of life has been made all that more apparent and the greatest gift my Dad ever gave me was the insight, while he was still on this earth, that life is meant to be lived. We were not born to sit on the sidelines, but rather we were meant to lean into it. Breathe life into our dreams and fearlessly take steps to realize those big goals. He preached that all things are possible and his unwavering faith shaped his life. As a poor boy growing up in India to a self-made man living in America, he only saw a world filled with possibilities. Looking back it is very obvious that God had a stepping stone path for my Dad’s life that is filled with all the good twists and turns of an adventure novel. A road map that we are meant to put our faith in God and then leap.
As 2023 turns over a new page in our calendars, my prayer is that perhaps this year those whispers on your heart might bring a smile to your face. That hope may overcome fear. And maybe even usher in the beginnings of a beautiful new journey.