When I was say 37 years old the other day I was rummaging through some keepsakes and found a teeny tiny fairy journal that I had written in at age 11. In addition to a memorandum of well executed and indicting arguments as to why my little sister was to blame for standing in front of the TV and provoking me to react by yelling at her and disturbing my mom’s peace and therefore should have been the one to get in trouble, oh the injustice, I also had a TO DO list. My to do list was urgent and concise:
- Save money.
- Lose weight.
- Write book.
Yes, I was eleven years old at the time of writing this list which maybe should have read something along the lines of play with hamster, colour in colouring book, swing on swing set. Nope. I had things to do. I had things to get done. Hard core serious things in my teeny tiny mind in my teeny tiny book.
So how did I fare? Are you dying to know?
Well I went on a hamburger diet around this time and I lost 6 pounds, which given that I was just an average size kid of maybe 96 pounds and got down to 90, was significant.
I started a novel. I mapped out characters, a plot. The setting. It was about a girl who lives in a normal family in a nice house in the country, who gets a dog for her birthday and the dog is half husky and half wolf and gets lost in the woods nearby trying to protect the family and the young heroine goes off into the woods to find her dog, with some basic provisions, followed by her friend group who are determined to catch up with her, and there are some basic Disneyesque survival shenanigans, culminating in near emotional defeat broken by a cougar attack, and a valiant rescue by the dog, named Shagoni, who flies through the air and bites the cougar in the neck and saves our young heroine, just as her friends catch up to the scene –and the cougar takes off and the dog needs some medical attention, but then our heroine has to decide if it should really live in captivity with her or if she should let it go be wild. I never really firmed up the ending, whether her love for the dog was greater and she nobly set him free. Or whether she visited it regularly sort of like Grizzly Adams and Ben. I outgrew the novel about 40 pages in.
The next attempt was about a group of teenagers on the run (by bicycle) from Calgary to B.C. to help a friend who was in danger from a sketchy person her step father was involved with. After a number of tense survival on the run scenes wherein the young heroine gets pretty buff from biking all day and looks impressively beautiful to her cute crush (see To Do List Item Two), I ran out of steam for the mystery and again outgrew the plot.
I started another after my first University degree with a more sophisticated plot about a security guard at an old age facility who contemplates the meaning of life through a colourful cast of characters. Yes, I worked for a brief stint doing this, maybe 2 weeks, during which I met Emily. Emily looked always sad and confused. She was a wanderer, and my job was to keep the wanderers from wandering out onto a busy highway while the door lock system was being fixed. I also remember Henry. Every time Henry lapped the room he smiled like you were his long lost friend and yelled “Hallo!”. And I developed a theory (I was 20) that somehow the essence of a person’s life was distilled down into these threads of memory that were sort of like life themes for them. I hoped to be Henry and not an Emily.
And then I was accepted into law school, by the end of which I had new things to write about, and I started a novel that I did finish. After writing off and on while raising children and managing a career for 15 years.
Weight loss went pretty much the same way. There was the hamburger diet. There were other diets. How many times have I lost ten pounds and then found it again on a new TO DO list? The number, Dear Reader, is not one that I wish to calculate on a Monday.
I saved up 200 bucks in babysitting money after writing this eleven year old list and bought my own home stereo, which was a big deal at the time for a kid with a single student mom. I was very proud of myself.
But when I picked up my eleven year old TO DO list at 37, in the tiny journal in a tiny suitcase of school notes and old birthday cards, it had not changed. The very same things were on my list.
Feel free to laugh until you cry.
I laughed and laughed and laughed.
And then I cried.
I mean because initially I was struck with the futility of all of my efforts.
How at 37 was I still struggling with creativity, money and weight?
UGH. UGH to the power of one hundred.
What was the POINT even?
Of all of the effort, the striving, the not giving up, the believing, the relentless mind boggling giving of fucks. So many many fucks, reinventing themselves in spite of my wishes to not give them, or my temporary bouts of not giving them. One day I would just wake up and there they would be all over again, asking me to get out the list and write on it in again in hopes that I could satisfy my fucks satisfactorily, meaningfully, permanently, once and for all.
What does that even mean?
On one hand it means I did not solve money, weight and creativity by age 37.
I had not achieved a body I was in love with that simply maintained its loveliness with little concern or effort from me. Sniffle sniffle.
I had not written, published and established myself as a wildly successful novelist (I mean even if I had, ‘write book’ would still be on the list as there would be more books to write, duh).
I had not achieved a level of financial freedom that made me feel safe, abundant, able to do the things I wanted to and live the life I aspired to with no worry. I couldn’t even manage to save money faster than my kids could spend it, LOL.
What had I done?
I mean these are the kind of experiences that spark mid life crises, you know?
Where is mommy? Well gather ‘round children. Turns out that mommy is in ITLEE, eating pizza, praying to wine, and loving the beach.
I did not go to ITLEE. I may have tried to get there via my stationary bike over the weeks to come. But that was the extent of it.
So had I really failed to accomplish the very things that had always deeply mattered to me?
Of course not. That is not the moral of this story.
In truth I had done so very much.
I had stuck with a novel to the point of near completion while raising little kids and building a career that was meaningful to me after years of education that did not land me the security or meaning I sought. I got up day after day, and worked and loved my kids, and fought to fit in creativity. I learned about my craft and my inner process and world, so that I could help others. And I did.
I have written in so many meaningful ways, as a way of life, from legal memos that had top lawyers reading my clever and impactful work out loud until the courtroom or the office was in full laughter, to the weekly musing I write for you, sharing emotional insights, and relationship support, and life hacks, which you take the time to tell me on the regular has helped you change your lives and worlds.
To the written insights I provide to clients after a session.
To lyrics for the songs I have been writing since the age of 8.
I healed deep seated body images that began when I was a very small calorie counting child, and created of life of fitness that I have carried on since young adulthood with all of its mental and emotional health benefits modelled to my family.
I worked through toxic beliefs and fears about money and security and the meaning of life, and got very much in touch with my emotional reasons for changing those beliefs and valuing myself so that I didn’t spend my life underpaid and burned out.
I have done things I never thought I could or would.
I have had moments of being super crazy proud of myself. And those keep on coming.
But that doesn’t mean the fear and confusion go away permanently.
It doesn’t mean I’m done.
At 54, my list, dun dun dun, is the same.
I mean there are sub points, and mantras, and visions and the like.
Save money is not just about money.
It’s about Leveling Up. It’s about contributing all that I have to give, 54 years of collected fucks, to all of you in bigger better ways, and you know changing the world.
It’s about taking care of loved ones.
Losing ten pounds (damn those children for leaving me with a house full of holiday food) –is about staying strong and loving myself even more, finding ease instead of struggle, forgiving myself.
Creativity is about giving myself permission to tell the story I REALLY want to tell, the way I want to tell it, and it’s about creating enough space in my life to feel expansive, and creative, even when shit has hit the fan. It’s about dancing while I walk the dog, and singing karaoke at the top of my lungs, and finding new songs on Spotify that I can listen to when there’s just no time.
There is a lot of talk out there in mindfulness and wellness circles about being versus doing.
Being in the moment.
Most of us are not going to move to an Ashram and give up the doing.
And I don’t even truly believe that we get to ‘the good place’ any faster that route.
But what we can do, is TO DO with more love.
Marry doing with loving.
Swap out the reductive lens for the expansive one.
Because in truth, everything we do, we do for emotional reasons.
When you’re trying to figure it all out, anew, or again for the thousandth crack at the drawing board, remember this “why”: WE WANT LESS SUFFERING AND MORE JOY.
That is the purpose of every TO DO.
This week I wrote a lovely message to a client who was suffering extreme fear over giving up a career path to pursue a more meaningful path.
I told her there are two kinds of teachers. The one who is going to get mad at you if you haven’t got your homework finished or you make a mistake. And the one who will take the time to help you figure it out, to understand where you’re struggling, to encourage, motivate, help.
Which teacher are you going to be, as you move through your life, you know like starting today?
One who creates fear, resistance, avoidance, risk adversity?
Or one who gets you through the tough spots, lends a hand, buoys your spirit, holds your metaphorical hand.
If I’ve learned anything in the pursuit of dreams, goals and aspirations it’s to become the kind teacher.
When I was eleven years old, I knew that I wanted to feel good about myself, to be able to take care of myself, that I had something important to say, and a beautiful way to say it.
And I hope when I make it to those wandering years I still do.
I’ll be delighted to see you there.
P.S. If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling sometimes a few sessions of support can make all the difference. Reach out and we’ll find the solution that is right for them.
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