Picture this: you wake up when your body’s ready to do so, to the sounds of birds tweeting and not a lot else. You stretch out every muscle while lying comfortably in your bed, as your mind slowly warms up and eases you into thinking about the day ahead. And as you search for the list – all the many things to do, places to be, people to see, achievements to … well, achieve – you realise that there is absolutely nothing on it that has to happen today. No specific appointments to keep or tasks to be done, not a single, solitary ‘must’.
While you are reeling from that little surprise, you test out a few ‘Should’ or ‘Ought To Do’s’. Aaah, there’s a stack of them, right? But what if you decided that while you ‘could’ attend to that particular list, you could also allow yourself to simply wait and see what the day brings? To choose what feels good in that moment. What if you removed all need to march to the beat of the list and instead, danced to the beckoning of your soul?
Stop right now! Examine the feeling that last sentence evoked in you. Poke it, prod it and check how it makes you feel. Liberated? Weary? Energised? If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a continuum of feelings ranging from deliciously tantalised to vaguely apprehensive.
It’s the latter I’m interested in exploring, because for as long as I can remember and especially over the past year, since we began working on The Ripenists, my weekend rest and renewal days have been filled with lists of things I choose to do and possibilities to add to it, should the ‘Choose To’s’ get done ahead of the allocated time (although given the quantity, the possibilities are really only teasers; motivators to get me through the Choose To list because, you know, there are always other lovely things I could do once I’ve completed my Most Important Tasks).
The lists are optimistic at best, sadistic at worst. Who in their right mind would set themselves up with an expectation of accomplishing more than they could possibly achieve, when given a choice between that and being kind to themselves?
I’d like to blame my corporate life. Or my parents. Or books. Or an obsession with personal growth, productivity and general improvement in my early 30’s. Because one, another or all surely shaped my way of operating in the world, giving me years and years of setting goals and making plans whether for the distant future or the day ahead.
But that doesn’t really cut the mustard, at midlife, does it? Not when we are capable of making our own choices to support our wellbeing or eschew that which doesn’t serve us well. Which brings me back to the vague apprehension when the day ahead doesn’t have a list’s worth of ‘Must Do’s’ upon it.
How do we measure the success of a day if things aren’t ticked off our real or imaginary lists? How do we feel a sense of achievement if we let all the balls we are juggling, just land – wherever they may – without us orchestrating their placement?
The simple answer would be to find other measures of success. More holistic ones. Measures that are about quality time, replenishing our spirit, feeding our soul, unleashing our creativity or whatever it takes to make our day seem less of a continuation of our work week and more the celebration of a play day, giving us a ‘schools out for the summer’ kind of feeling. Remember them?
The harder answer goes to a more fundamental question: how did we let our lives become so full that, without the weekends to allow us to catch up, the list hangs over us, casting its shadow over our joy, even (or especially) when we choose to ignore it?
I suspect the best approach for those of us on the vaguely apprehensive end of the continuum, is to gently ease into enjoying time away from the perpetual ‘things to do’ mindset. Baby steps: just an hour or two of unplanned, whatever-takes-my-fancy-right-now activity (or non-activity) until our comfort with it becomes so deliciously compelling we rush headlong towards it. Even if that means putting it at the top of our lists! 🙂
Ripenist Reveal: What does the thought of a day, or weekend, without plans or To Do’s invoke in you?