It’s not always the what and when and where

It’s Christmas break, and I’m doing that thing I always seem to do when I have time away from work: making unrealistic lists of stuff to do with the kids, stuff to enjoy, stuff to catch up on, stuff to start, stuff to finish.

And then jumping into my to-be-read pile with my stocking candy within arm’s reach.

Which is allowed. I know. It’s Christmas break! But I know my modus operandi: I will feel like I am accomplishing something as I complete books and sudoku puzzles and boxes of chocolate. And then I will feel useless as the break nears its end with my lists essentially untouched.

This juxtaposition between all I want to do and my sheer lack of doing has haunted me for years. I dutifully record deadlines and then turn my attention elsewhere. As the days tick by my paralysis only increases, until I finally cram as much activity as possible into the last few hours before the routine resumes. In high school it was English essays and cleaning my room that I put off; these days it’s writing and administrative tasks, and cleaning my room is a virtuous excuse.

I’m a fan of Laura Vanderkam, someone who has done lots of writing about time, how we use it, and how we think about it. I nod enthusiastically as I listen to her audiobook Off the Clock, where she expounds on the idea of doing the things that matter to you first, instead of hoping to fit it in after other responsibilities are taken care of. This is advice I’ve heard repeatedly: “First things first,” “schedule your priorities,” “make time for your dreams,” even “seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

I know it works. I’ve seen it work. For me. And yet the phrases that seem to have more power in my mind are ones like “I’d better take advantage of the weather,” or “the kids need some focused attention,” or “once I get these things out of the way I’ll be able to concentrate.” Or the even more pernicious “I just need a little break” which turns into an hour (or more) of mindless screen time.

When the universe sends you a sign to get moving through the game you are playing to avoid moving…

Why do I revel in various forms of self sabotage far more often than enjoying actual progress on my goals?

Creating reasons for my lack of results is easy. I’m busy, I can’t, not yet.

Looking for motivation and direction in books like Laura’s is useful. But it’s still easy, much easier than admitting I might be hiding from myself.

Rumi famously wrote, “Maybe you are searching in the branches, for what only appears in the roots.”

Putting me first? How dare I.

Investing in my talents? Losing gamble.

That’s what’s at the root. My own self doubt, my own fear of failure, fear of success, fear of change. It’s plain easier to stay comfortable.

But I’m at a point, today, where staying comfortable is getting very uncomfortable. I still have ten days. I’m pulling my lists back out. I’m looking at them again, thinking about the roots and the branches.

With my stocking candy within arm’s reach.

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