I have chosen three intentions to honor in 2017: creativity, lightheartedness and simplicity. They are all interrelated, and when I am living well within one, I am generally living well within the other two as well. The opposite of honoring these three things in my life looks like this: taking myself and my activities very seriously, stressing about our family schedule and how to make all of the pieces and overlaps work, not finding the humor in some of the ridiculous situations our family schedule causes, feeling disconnected from myself and others, and the ubiquitous “overwhelm.” However, as much as I am drawn to its premise like a moth to a light in the darkness, simplicity does not come naturally to me. Much like the moth, I flitter around it, admiring it, wanting it, but can’t quite find my way into it. Because, hey, life is complicated, is it not? And maybe that assumption is exactly the problem; maybe life is only complicated because I allow and expect it to be, and because everyone around me is confirming that their lives are also complicated.
Part of finding simplicity in my life involves a paring down process. Paring down all the new ideas I’d like to try out, paring down the long list of intentions that I’d like to honor in my life at every moment, paring down the “shoulds” that come from outside myself that impact me, and paring down the commitments that I make to myself and others. In paring down, I create space in my life for those things that really matter. It also sometimes means temporarily neglecting one part of my life to fully show up for another, and giving myself permission to do so.
Someone told me when my kids were young and I was struggling with balancing their needs, with the needs of my marriage, with the needs of my career and with (usually not) finding anytime for myself and my own needs and friendships, that “you can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.” I think it’s tempting look around and see how people are really succeeding in one area of their lives, and use that one success as a yardstick for how we should be doing in all areas of our own lives. Part of simplicity for me is recognizing that by honoring and committing to a few intentions, other areas necessarily fall by the wayside, at least temporarily.
As a coach, I’ve done a lot of work with my clients and for myself around honoring our unique values. I define values as those things that without which our lives feel incomplete; things that are essential to who we uniquely are and our being happy in the world. I had a list of 25 values that were essential to me, and each of those 25 words had a string of related words behind them that comprised that value. I fooled myself into believing that I should be able to honor each of those values on a weekly, if not daily basis. And it was too much, and too confusing: if asked, I couldn’t have even listed off half of the 25 off the top of my head, so there was no way that I was remembering to honor them all. I told myself that I was a complex and curious person, with a lot of varied interests and talents, and I’d already spent painful hours narrowing down my list to 25, and that was the best I could do. And then my own coach one day challenged me to narrow down my list of 25 to three! I (literally) gasped, and immediately stated that that would be impossible (after all I was a complicated person with a lot of varied interests and talents). And she asked if would commit to doing it none-the-less, and also suggested that I could consider the viewpoint that having a list of three values might provide freedom rather than constriction. I tentatively agreed, while laughing that I’d never get the list down anywhere near to only three values. And so, I started the process again, I whittled and added back and looked up definitions of words and grouped like themed words together. It was like a new scrabble vocabulary game. I bartered with myself trading out certain values while promising myself I would keep others. To narrow it down I had to get to the point of taking a hard look at those values that were essential to my being, those without which I would feel empty and lost. And I got to a list of four words, which felt like a huge victory, rather than a defeat for not getting to three! My top four values, the ones that I hope to honor every day of my life, are connection, authenticity, wisdom and groundedness. There is complexity within each of those words, and words that underly each of them (for example curiosity plays a part in each ), but having a simple four-word guidepost is much more liberating (and authentic for me) than a half-forgotten list of 25. And from there it’s easy to incorporate my list of intentions for each year, to layer those over my unchanging core values.
On a regular basis we fool ourselves into believing that important things have to be complicated. We can mistakenly tell ourselves that for our children to feel well-loved we have to do and buy numerous things, when maybe all it takes is a five-minute conversation with them, fully present, fully listening without an agenda. We fool ourselves into thinking that our values lists have to be long to fully honor our uniqueness in the world. We think we have to fully consider every option rather than just going with the one that felt right all along. There are so many ways that we make things more complicated than they need to be, when choosing simplicity would be both easier and more impactful. There is simplicity and beauty in living a value driven life, and from my own experience, especially when there are only a few values and intentions to track to.