I didn’t know I was doing this when I first began my reinvention in 2012, but the question kept simmering under the surface: What do I want more of, and what do I want less of as I move forward?
You see, it wasn’t as if my life was awful, unbearable; but I knew it needed a tune-up, a fractional twist of a tuning peg. No major overhaul, no body work, just a little tap here, a little buff there, something to knock out the dents, smooth out the surface.
And so it was that as I walked up the trail by my house, and down it again, day after day, the words turned around and around:
What do I want more of? What do I want less?
What is flat? What is sharp?
What cuts when it should smooth, sinks when it should rise?
What do I want more of?
What do I want less?
The answer didn’t come easily. Not for a while. I “lived the question” for four full years,
What next . . . what next . . . what next . . . ?
. . . what more . . . what more . . . what more . . . ?
Up and down that hill.
And pretty soon, “gradually, without noticing,” the answers came.
Nameless. Essential. One.
I knew I wanted more connection–the parts I loved most about my job involved working with other people, students, colleagues, creatives–so I asked myself, how? How do I grow the parts of my work that I loved best, when what I loved best was slowly slipping out of my grasp?
You see, this is how it works in big institutions: The better you get at something, the further you are removed from it. Teachers become administrators; creatives become CEOs. And pretty soon, the very thing that drew you to a life–challenge, creativity, connection–is transformed, systematized, packaged into an object, a process, a thing to be managed. And you know that someone has to do these things, but you wish it didn’t have to be you. Not forever.
And this is the fear, the real nightmare–will I be doing this for the rest of my life? The. Rest. Of. My. Life.?
Now the tuning pegs are twisted.
Either to the point of breaking–high anxiety, stress, struggle.
Or unwound, completely slack–dull, bass, impossible to play.
No refinement. No music possible.
I want less of that.
Less going through the motions.
I didn’t want have-tos and need-tos, shoulda woulda couldas.
I didn’t want other people’s agenda’s and other people’s game-plan.
It turns out, I wanted less of other and more of mine, less of future and more of now.
But even so, these were high-level concepts, a gut feeling. I didn’t know how to make it real. Not, that is, until I asked myself a different version of the more/less question:
What adds to my life? What beauty, what joy, what purpose?
What detracts from my life? What burden, what detritus, what lassitude?
And this is what I found
Purposeful work, deep thinking, adds meaning to my life. Creativity adds beauty to my life. People–friends, family, interesting strangers–give me energy and spending time in their company gives me pleasure. And so it is, that I went about making some changes.
First, I re-jiggered my life in such a way that I have selected the best parts of my work–teaching, mentoring–and rejected the parts I don’t like–administration, publication.
Next, I took a position that offers me periodic bursts of intense work (2 days a week of teaching over a 15-week period) interspersed with periods of down (creative) time (non-teaching days, and winter and summer breaks).
Third, I created communities of high-energy people around myself: I started a women’s group, rejoined my book club, and have committed to attending at least three conferences a year.
Fourth, I committed to constant learning. In addition to reading many (65) books each year, I also take courses online and at conferences. And I write. This, for instance.
And finally, I got my body under control (I feed myself well, I exercise), so I no longer experience great mood shifts and stress.
That’s the “add” part.
I have also “subtracted.”
I don’t go to meetings anymore. Even today, I should be at one. I had accepted the invitation months ago. But I’m not going. I’m writing this blog post, instead. A decided improvement, don’t you think?
I don’t “network.”
I don’t hang out with people who complain or are boring.
I have culled my reading list of all those pretentious books that make the fancy lists.
I don’t watch the news.
Or read the feeds.
I don’t wear a watch.
And I’m rarely late.
I’ve given up jeans. Especially the fashionable ones, with a rise that doesn’t make it much past my knees.
To be fair, kale never quite made it into my universe, so, strictly speaking, I haven’t exactly “given it up.” But still,
And I have not looked back once.
I have missed nothing from all these subtractions.
What about you? What have you added, what have you removed? What do you want more of, what less?
Fire away, in the comments below.
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