Slow down and breathe

beachcomber-1s

With age 29 coming up for me in a few months, I have a some thoughts. For several years, I made lists on each birthday of the things I wanted to do and experience in the coming year. Often most of them didn’t happen—many times I carried them over to the next year, and the next. It’s not because I didn’t care enough to go after these things, it’s just that priorities tended to shift as life went on, with all of its unexpected twists and turns.

I’ve spent my 20’s primarily having and raising babies, as well as building a business from scratch, and often simply hoping to get all of the bills paid and put food on the table. All of these factors made things like international travel feel like a pipe dream. It is okay though. This doesn’t depress me because I know there will be time and resource for all of that in coming years.

My current everyday existence may appear less glamorous and exciting, but it is its own awesome adventure. This whole life-with-littles thing, it’s a get to. I get to be the one watching my beautiful children grow, day by day. I get to teach and love them, comfort and guide them; I’m witnessing their “firsts” and helping set the foundation their entire lives will be built on. And then I will get to see them spread their own wings and make their own amazing lives, and I’ll look back on these precious, fleeting days and I know I won’t wish that I’d gotten to travel more, or that I’d spent more hours hustling to build my career. I’ll just be glad for all the time I spent fully present with them—holding, listening, teaching, loving. This is something I aim to keep in mind constantly—may I always put this above all else, above “busy” and above work and above the to-do list. May I not allow “getting things done” to ever keep me from taking the time to pour into my kids with patience and grace. 

Europe will still be there in 10 years. So I’m not making a birthday list of things to check off during this final year of my 20’s. There will be no “30 Before 30”.
Instead, there’s this: whatever is happening in the current moment, whatever I am doing at any given time, may I be fully IN that. If I’m drinking a cup of coffee, may I notice and savor the flavor, the aroma, and the smooth feel of the mug in my hands. If I’m feeding Eaden, may I hold her tiny hand and look into her eyes rather than my phone. If I’m reading aloud to my boys, may I cuddle closer and put all other things out of my mind, enjoying the story along with them. If I’m in a conversation with someone (child, or adult) may I look them in the eye and focus solely on what they’re saying. May I notice things, pay attention to the details, and live in gratitude for all of it.

How often are we so busy that we even resort to attempting multiple tasks at once? We’re so pulled in multiple directions that we’re becoming incapable of focusing on just one thing, and in turn we aren’t giving our best to anything at all. In Teaching From Rest, Sarah Mackenzie writes,

“There just isn’t a way to steep yourself in this moment if you multitask your way through it. With the exception of automatic behaviors such as walking and talking, our brains can only attend to one thing at a time. What we usually think of as multitasking is actually task switching, and it is both an inefficient and ineffective way to work.”
and further—
“By definition, to be efficient is to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. But relationships don’t flourish or grow that way. Relationships need time, spent lavishly.”

We all too often prioritize efficiency over relationships, even though we know that people are always more important. Doing things differently requires intentionally going against the grain of our overly fast-paced culture, and unlearning the deep-seeded mindset we have learned from it. I recently came across a blog post on A Cup of Jo on “single-tasking” or “mono-tasking”. It was a great post, and yet I find it a little bit crazy that an entire new buzzword has been created for the concept of focusing on one thing at a time. Our cultural tendency to glorify “busy” has reached such an extreme that we now see simply doing one task at once as a novel idea. How often, when you ask (or are asked) how someone is doing, is the answer almost automatically some version of “Oh I’ve been crazy busy!”? I feel like this is almost always the case. It’s basically expected. Most of us live in a constant state of stress and rushing. We have paid steeply for our frenzied pace of life, in the form of chronic stress, anxiety, severe health problems, disconnected relationships, and a shocking inability to focus well or work well on anything.

For me, this is all the more evidence for the need to step off the crazy train and intentionally create slowness in my life and that of my family. Not only despite it being countercultural, but because it is. I want my children to know the art of just doing nothing, and the magical creativity that comes from boredom. I want our home to be a place to breathe—one of peace and unhurried life. I want to be able to honestly say that the pace of my life is not too much, because I’m living it at human speed and am leaving enough margin to actually breathe.

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my constant reminder.

Some further reading on this that I’ve enjoyed:

Discovering the Joy of Single Tasking
Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)
Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace
Faster Than the Speed of Life

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Kids, work, time & priorities

Our Isaac will be three weeks old tomorrow- my how that time has flown. It has been such a blur, such a change from our previous routine. I have found myself wondering if life will ever feel normal again- if I will ever manage to find a routine now that there are two little people to care for. For now, our days are centered around the most basic needs for food and sleep and lots of cuddling, and as any mom who has breastfed knows, nursing a newborn is basically a full-time job. Of course, it feels much different when there is also a three-year-old who wants grapes and a sandwich and to go to the park and a drink of water and help going potty… etc, etc. So the days really feel full and exhausting, but also full of so much love and joy.

We have spent much more time at home and indoors than usual, and I am itching to get out more but between the baby being so little still and me needing to not overdo it, we are proceeding slowly with that. I’m trying to simply enjoy the downtime and let myself just be in it rather than getting too antsy. These days have done so much to remind me how very precious my little family is. I feel so very blessed that it’s rather overwhelming. I think that at times I have forgotten just how important the job of mothering really is. Our society doesn’t acknowledge that very often, and in fact tends to look down on those moms who choose family over career. It has taken a few weeks of maternity leave for me to realize how influenced I’ve been by those views. As a mom who works from home, I have been far too distracted by work at times when my family should have come first. It’s pretty much always a time management issue- rather than saving work for designated times (when my husband is home, or after Seth goes to bed), I have often allowed it to distract me from being present during the day for my son. I think I have been subconsciously aiming to feel that I’d accomplished something tangible during the day- to feel like “more” than just a stay-at-home-mom. I hate that I’ve fallen into that mindset. I hate that my three-year-old knows and uses the phrase “I’m too busy.”

Seriously- screw society’s messed-up priorities. Americans are notoriously overworked, overstressed, and place far too little importance on family. There is no virtue in being too busy to enjoy life or to give your best to those you love. I really believe that there is no job more important than that of motherhood. The way we interact with our children in the first several years of their lives- the things we say and teach and the experiences we give them, will shape the rest of their lives and influence who they grow up to be. Stepping away from work for a while and taking time to really see my kids (wow- I now have “kids”- plural…), and to evaluate my own heart and attitudes, has shown me that my days have not often been a true reflection of my heart’s priorities. I’m not saying that my business isn’t important or that I need to pay less attention to it. Running my business from home is what allows me to be at home with my kids. I just need to be careful about when I pay attention to it, learn to be as efficient as possible during that time, and acknowledge that being a mom is a job too, and the more important one.
I love this quote from author Anna Quindlen, which comes up over and over in my Pinterest feed:

A disclaimer: it is absolutely not my intention to alienate anyone here. There is far too much judgement among mothers, and as far as I’m concerned, a good mom is one who makes the best choices for her family. Moms who work outside the home, or who are 100% full-time moms, or who work at home as I do… are all doing what is best for their families. None are less than the others; none are wrong. Just as is it awful that society looks down on those who choose full-time motherhood, it is just as awful for anyone to judge a mom who chooses to- or has no choice but to- go to work.
What I’m talking about here is that the time we spend on actively mothering needs to be focused on our kiddos, fully present with them. For me, that time is the majority of most of my days, but for others it may be each evening and weekend. What is important is that our kids get all of us in that time.

I’m making it a goal to place more separation between my roles as business owner and mom, to be more present for my kids, less distracted when I’m with them. Because they are only little for a while. It goes by way too fast, and later they will not need me so intensely (and at times may not even want me around at all). This time is just too precious to miss.

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What Really Matters

So after my post yesterday about priorities and what mine aren’t, I wanted to say a few things about what they are.

For starters, this:

My silly, sweet, passionate little boy, who is literally growing right before my eyes. It’s said over and over again- kids grow up too quickly. It seems even faster if you’re preoccupied by less important things and don’t pay enough attention. He and his daddy are my first priorities. My family is everything to me.

I am blessed to be passionate about my career- I really really love what I do. But it is just part of who I am.
I recently saw a video on Framed, interviewing photographer Benjamin Reed. He spoke of the mentality in our culture that we live to work, and how monumental the idea of working to live was to him. When you love what you do, I think it is especially important to work for a balance, and intentionally keep yourself from working all the time. Especially when you have a family. Because, contrary to the lifestyles of so many Americans, there is so much more to life than the work we do. I believe that we are defined only partially by what we do, and just as much (if not more) by the relationships in our lives.

So, some things that really matter to me:

-Obviously, my family. Spending time with them. Doing things together. Creating memories. Documenting their lives. (Because the busier I get with work, the fewer pictures I seem to take outside of that.)

-Teaching my son about the world. Spending time in nature with him, letting him help me garden, sharing my values with him, giving him rich experiences that with shape his worldview and happy memories to look back on.

-Creating a living space for my family that is peaceful, clean and beautiful in a perfectly imperfect way- a real extension of who we are as a family.

-Doing work that I love, and building my business around that. This means learning to say “no” to work that isn’t right for my business. Refining my artistic vision based on me- not anyone else. Spending time on activities and ideas that will actually help my business to grow and thrive.

-Building and strengthening relationships. Not being too busy to see and talk to my precious friends.

-Maintaining my sense of self apart from both my career and my family. When I became a mother, I changed forever, but promised myself I would never forget or leave behind myself. It is so important to spend time doing the things you enjoy and that make you, you. For me, that is reading, journaling, blogging, working on creative projects, and taking care of my mind and body through yoga, meditation, exercise, and nourishing foods.

My hope is that by rearranging my priorities and holding myself accountable for the how I spend my time, I will have more of it to devote the things above.

{The three images above were taken with my Asahi Pentax Spotmatic and Kodak Portra 400nc and 160nc.}

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So tell me, lovelies– what really matters to you?

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What Doesn’t Really Matter

Lately I have been prioritizing, examining how I spend my time, and thinking about what matters and what really doesn’t. I have to admit- I have been spending an inordinate amount of time and energy on the things that really don’t matter, and not enough on the things that do.

The number one wasteful activity is- you probably guessed it- the Internet.

Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, forums, Pinterest… all these things I do to connect, learn, and be inspired. Please don’t get me wrong- I love to be inspired, to network, and to learn. But somewhere along the way I overdid it. I began to feel- somewhat subconsciously- that I needed all of these online activities in order to succeed- that if I didn’t keep up with people on social networking sites, or if I didn’t follow certain blogs, I would fail. What rubbish.
Here is the truth: there is a such thing as “inspiration overload”. For me, the side effects include comparing myself to others and loss of self-confidence, and ultimately I am un-inspired completely.
Another truth: social networks can be valuable tools for business and personal growth when used correctly, but for the most part other avenues are going to pay off more for me. The fact is, the Facebook world and Twitter-verse will not miss me if I cut back on the time I spend there. My family definitely will.

The purpose of all this is not to announce that I closing accounts or giving up the Internet or anything like that. For some, a haitus is a perfect way to re-think priorities and detox from the tech world. At this time that is not where I’m at. Rather, I am trimming down my rss reader to the blogs that really encourage and inspire me in an active way. I’m tracking my online time and making an effort to really separate it from other parts of my life. No answering business emails and checking Twitter while I’m at the park with Seth or out on a date with my husband.

I’m examining which activities are an active engagement in my life and business- adding to then in some way and moving me forward, and which are simply sucking time and leaving me frustrated and discontent.

Here are a few things that, it turns out, don’t really matter:

-Subscribing to every cool wedding blog, and every awesome photographer’s blog, and every amazing design blog. Ooh-ing and ahh-ing over lovely imagery is fun, but I have found that it does nothing for my work. I want my art to be my own, and when I allow myself to be bombarded with everyone elses, it not only steals precious time, but it dilutes my own vision and misconstrues how I see my own work. My solution is bookmarking these sites instead, and visiting them when I want a quick dose of pretty or to search a specific topic.

-What so-and-so Tweeted yesterday, or an hour ago. Sure, it may have been interesting- possibly even useful- but I will not really miss out on anything if I never see it. The Internet moves far too fast and has far too much to ever keep up with it all. I am limiting my time spent looking back in social network history and “catching up”.

-Following. Following links, which lead to other links. Following people. etc. etc. I’m using RescueTime to set up a timer system to track and limit my random Internet browsing time each day. Because the nature of the beast is to sweep you away and suddenly you’ve spend hours online when you were just going to “check something”. Been there, done that.

Then there are the things that don’t matter quite as much I sometimes think they do:

-Email. It is rarely as urgent as I make it it out to be. Checking it a hundred times a day is rather obsessive. It wastes time, distracts me, and causes me to randomly interject work into times where something else should be the focus.

-Views and comments on my site, blogs, Facebook page, etc. It’s good to check these, but once again, obsessing over them is unnecessary and unproductive.

-Being the perfect housekeeper, and devoting time to projects that are unproductive or do not move me toward where I want to be. Stephanie Beaty wrote about this on The Creative Mama today and shared a few wonderful links.

Here is one final truth- the most important one, really: I am going somewhere (you are too!). I have a vision, goals, dreams, passions, and determination. If something is holding me back from those mentally, or stealing time from them or from my family (which is, always, my top priority), then it needs to be cut from my life. It has no place in my world. In the end, the difference between getting to where I want to be and being who I want to be- or not- could come down to how I spent my time.

Check back soon for the better half of this topic: what really matters.

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Tell me, friends: what doesn’t really matter in your life, that you would like to cut back on to make room for more important things?

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