Choices. Choices. Adulthood has many words we associate with it, but the one I see as both boon and bane is Responsibility.
We must provide for our loved ones’ emotional and physical well-being. This is a good responsibility to uphold. Caring for our loved ones should certainly be a priority. Somewhere along the way, though, this priority has been skewed so many adults feel they are being selfish if ALL of their choices and time are NOT about those loved ones. What about OUR individual, personal physical and emotional needs?!
“I should clean the oven more often,” “I should spend all of my down time with my family,” “I should do more community service.”
How many of us get caught up in “shoulds” rather than what our heart calls us to do?
The people who understand the difference most are often people who have faced awful events in their lives that have built resilience as a result of those same experiences. People who have faced true hardship know when things are tough, what real and honest priorities look like. But even people who survived hardship can forget. As hardship becomes a distant memory, it’s all to easy to return to social norms and common routines. Even if they are at the expense of being happy.
So, how do we know the difference?
There were days I came home from teaching so spent from making decisions and answering questions all day long that looking at a menu to select my own dinner became the hardest task ever. Urgency drove me to decide, be it a waiter waiting (im)patiently or the sigh of a friend. It sounds silly that something like choosing from a menu could be so taxing, but teachers make around 3000 decisions a day. There is such thing as decision fatigue.
And while my classroom days are over there are still times I feel stuck, just not usually over dinner. Now many of my decisions focus on my art and my work for Artist Strong: what should I work on right now, tomorrow, in 4 days, or never?!
The biggest lesson I’ve found is too many choices, or decisions, can get in a person’s way. The reason that silly menu would become so difficult for me after my 3,000 decisions from the day, was there were so many options to choose from for my meal. Art and life are no different.
There is a reason I encourage beginning artists not to buy every paint color imaginable.
Too many choices makes it hard to start…
We can spend hours looking at our many paints, selecting “just the right colors” or we can grab a few tubes of primary colors and paint. Do you want to think about what you want to do in life, or do you want to go out there and do it?
Recently I ran a course called The Art Detox. I spent months and months planning and prepping. My biggest lesson from that activity? I should have put it out there for people to use sooner. I’ve learned a thousand times more from actually running the course and seeing how students understood content, as well as navigated the course than from my postulations of what students might do. I waited and waited to perfect it, when there is no such thing as perfect.
The same goes for your art and my art: it’s by doing that we discover. Too many choices can become a crutch that allows fear to rule us and stop us from doing the creative work we are meant to be doing.
Fewer choices force us to learn more about the tools available…
Too many choices can get us caught up in dabbling in many ideas without ever committing to one. Sometimes this is an important part of a brainstorm process. Other times, it’s an avoidance behavior; you know yourself to answer which is which.
By having more time with fewer tools available to us, we can really study, observe, and experiment. We learn. It means working only with primary colors to see what other colors you can create. Fewer tools means fewer obvious choices. It means our brain has to work a bit harder and that’s when the really juicy ideas can pleasantly present themselves.
Is it better to make an informed choice? Would you rather have a doctor who you know other people have found reliable over a random doctor you know nothing about? I’m pretty sure you have a clear answer to that question. Create structure for yourself creatively that limits you. It will actually strengthen those thinking muscles of yours.
Shoulds and Being “Selfish”
Back to those pesky shoulds. We all have shoulds. We can’t escape the “shoulds” of our lives. But we can decide to be mindful of how we prioritize our time. Would you rather have an organized silverware drawer or a half an hour to work on that novel you’ve been thinking about? Would you rather get ahead on laundry, or sketch out that painting idea you got from looking at your garden in the backyard?
We bully ourselves with shoulds, telling ourselves that taking time for ourselves is selfish. And then our shoulds become our badge, our shield that explains why we have lived the majority of our lives choosing NOT to create. We don’t feel better for it, we just distract ourselves with shoulds.
Today, let’s do a reflection exercise to help us delineate between Musts, Shoulds and Wants.
First, write out a list of everything on your plate. List everything you feel you should be doing, that you are doing, that you are missing out on. Just let it flow. Include dream ideas of things you’ve always wanted to do in your life. Is there a creative goal you’ve had in mind but never quite addressed? Don’t worry about labeling your thoughts, just complete the “brain dump” by writing it all out on paper.
Finished? Great. Now, get out a yellow highlighter. Highlight any task that feels like a “should.” It’s something you know would be good to do, but leaves you feeling “meh.” Items could include: do the handwash more regularly, buy new dish towels, clean out your closet. They aren’t hugely urgent activities, but they are on your mind as responsibilities you should (that word again) meet.
Now go through your list again. Draw a box around any task you feel you Must Do. These are tasks like feed and clothe your children, take necessary medicines, make time for family. Your life depends in some way on your commitment to these tasks.
Here’s the fun part. Pick your favorite color and star each and every task listed that actually lights you up. When you think about doing the activity, it makes your heart sing!
Making New Commitments
Today, you are going to start committing to you. Get out a fresh piece of paper and create three columns: (1) High Priority, (2) Medium Priority, and (3) Low Priority. In column, right down all of your Musts. These are activities that are non-negotiable for you to focus on, thus they are your highest priority.
Next, go through your shoulds from the previous brainstorm. Decide how urgently these shoulds really need to be dealt with and place them in either the medium or low priority columns.
I saved the best for last. Look at your starred items. Look at the projects and activities that light up your heart and spirit. Choose one or two for your high priority column. Write them in and put a nice bright star next to them.
You decision to place that one activity in High Priority is just the beginning. It’s your acknowledgement that this is important to you and can fuel your spirit for all the Musts in your life. It’s the beginning of celebrating you and modeling a life well lived to loved ones. Today, you start choosing you AND your loved ones.
Mindful Decision Making
When I was making near 3,000 decisions a day, many of those decisions were forced. Time, students, other teachers, assorted contexts all played a role in forcing me to choose. I had to prioritize based on those very same factors and time was always a factor.
People can say things like “we have all the time in the world.” Do we? If we all lived with the same urgency that can fill a teacher’s classroom in our daily lives, what decisions would we really make?
We don’t just owe it to ourselves to create, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our loved ones. When we make time for our art, we make more spiritual and emotional room for our loved ones in our daily lives. We become an example to loved ones old and young, proving that we can makes choices that honor our creative dreams and still prioritize the other musts that need to be done.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Tell me about your current creative priority. Which project lights you up so much it’s now in your High Priority list?