Why do something if it’s not important? I miss the days when my 9-year-old self would never dream of asking such a question.
There was nothing important about building sand castles on the beach. Or reading The Boxcar Children books. Cutting pictures out of magazines. Or telling my diary all eight times my mom took my brother and me to see E.T.
Of course, these things were important; I just didn’t know it yet. I only did them because they were fun.
My grown-up self, on the other hand, questions the importance of what I’m doing all the time.
Fortunately, the fun things I used to do just because – and still want to do now – are things my grown-up self attaches importance to. The problem is, attaching importance to something fun makes it feel like an obligation, and there’s nothing fun about that:
- I should read…to make myself a better writer.
- I should collage…to map my goals on a vision board.
- I should journal…to work through my anxiety.
It’s this approach to living that turned me off of to-do lists.
It turns something I love doing into something I’m not doing enough.
When I keep a list of daily to-do’s, if there’s something I consider both (a) fun and (b) something I should be doing but am not doing, it gets scheduled (e.g., reading, collaging, journaling). For some people, this might work; for me it just makes me anxious. Because once I turn something fun into a to-do, it’s not fun anymore; it turns something I love doing into something I’m not doing enough.
Now, none of this is to say I don’t do things that are completely frivolous; I just find a way of rationalizing the importance of frivolous things.
You know, like watching a 2-hour Friends marathon because the familiarity of characters I know and love – in episodes I’ve seen a dozen times – is reassuring in its predictability, relaxing me at the end of a stressful day.
Does this rationalization feel wrong? Absolutely. Partly because I suspect I’m addicted to Friends. But also because, deep down, I know it’s not really important at all.
Why do I have to attach importance to everything I do?
I suspect the culprit is one of my nasty mistaken beliefs:
If I’m not doing things that are important, I’m not important.
I don’t mean to discount the importance I play in the lives of people I love. I know I’m important to them. I also know I’m important to people I work for.
What’s missing for me is a larger importance, or purpose, if you will.
I want to be important to the world.
My anxiety says forget about it.
For years, I misunderstood the longing to be important as a need for fame and fortune. It still trips me up sometimes, but what I’m coming to realize is this:
Being important to the world means feeling like I’m making a difference to a community of people in the same way they make a difference to me.
People who make a difference to me:
- Take risks
- Tell the truth
- Stand up for themselves
- Stand up for other people
- Follow their dreams
- Make mistakes doing what they love and keep doing it anyway
I want to be one of these people.
If I tell the truth, I’ll be judged. If I take risks, I’ll fail. If I stand up for myself, I’ll be knocked down. If I stand up for other people, I’ll make myself a target. If I follow my dreams, I’ll look stupid. If I make mistakes doing what I love, and keep doing it anyway, I’m delusional.
No to-do list has ever been any match for all of that mess.
Fortunately, this is:
“If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” ~Lucy Larcom, 19th century poet
As much of a difference as other people have made in my life, there is one thing they have never been able to do, and never will – manage my anxiety. The only person who can do that is me. And in this context, I think that means taking the pressure off.
It’s time to stop assigning myself important activities I don’t want to do for fear that if I don’t do them, I won’t reach my fullest important potential.
So what if I never read Anna Karenina?
Instead of feeling bad about that, why not feel good about the fact that I do want to read all 78 Agatha Christie detective novels?
All I can do is choose.
We’re drawn to things for a reason – things that make a difference in our lives. Isn’t that important enough? And just because I’m not doing all of the things I want to do right now doesn’t mean I’m failing at life. It just means I only have so much time and energy to go around.
I can’t do everything.
All I can do is choose.
In doing so, maybe that’s my chance to become the kind of person who will always be important to the world – someone who chooses honestly.
What’s important to you? Are you doing it, or are you distracted by things you think should be important to you? How would you like to change and choose differently?