I have more time these days to…. I started to say, to do what I want to do, but everyone does what they want to do twenty-four hours a day, if you count wanting to go on living, wanting to eat, stay warm, take care of loved ones—in short, most everyday activities.
So, rephrasing…these days I have more time and money to choose activities beyond caring for the immediate needs of myself and loved ones—and I feel very lucky about that.
I’m surprised, though, to find that even people with “free time” can put themselves under a lot of self-inflicted pressure, feeling we should do more, better, or different with our new-found time. I’d hoped that all that rushing around would be behind me when I had more time.
Now that I think about it, the world’s most influential people stay pretty busy—although they don’t act rushed. I guess they’ve mastered the art of living in the present moment (think Bill Clinton?), focusing on their most important agenda items, and taking satisfaction in what they can do.
My husband tells me “involvement” is the key for him. Whether he’s fixing a drain or paying a bill or working on job-related projects, he’s contented, so long as he feels “involved.” I know he makes seemingly boring tasks more interesting for himself by holding to high standards of excellence, focusing, and paying attention to detail. And of course he never gets his long list done either. But he’s pretty good at attending to his “big rocks” first, accomplishing them as well as he can in the time he has. (The “big rocks” theory says you can squeeze more rocks and pebbles and gravel and sand into a jar only when you put the big rocks in first.)
I used to put all my little pebbles in first—hoping to address them quickly so I could get on to all my big rocks—but then I would run out of energy and motivation, and never get around to my most important, if less urgent, goals. Now I’m learning to take care of my big rocks earlier, and to fit all the others in where I may. To my surprise, even a few minutes a day on my big rocks elates and energizes me, and I’m more, not less, likely to get to—and enjoy—my little rocks.
And which are my big rocks? That’s hard to figure out, too. My big rocks are those activities and goals which give me the greatest sense of meaning, usefulness, happiness, and contentment. Each person’s set of big rocks is quite different from any other persons’. I’ve also learned to identify what it is I value most, compared with the values of others’, by looking back on what I’ve chosen to do with my time in the past. (I’ve noticed, for instance, that I camped, backpacked, and hiked whenever I could manage it, even when I didn’t have much time and money, so I’ve recognized that being active in nature is very important to me…. These days, I garden.)
Another way to identify big rocks is to think about what I would do if I had unlimited money. International spiritual and activist treks always drew me, though other goals won out; nevertheless, here I sit at last, traveling the world through the internet, and writing my spiritual/activist blog.
It also helps me to think about all the famous people I admire–athletes, leaders, stars, writers, artists; all the things they're so good at are quite different from each others'–so they had to choose, too, and make hard trade-offs during their own twenty-four hour days.
Finding time for what’s most important to me also requires listening attentively to my intuition. Of course, I still keep good old reason-and-logic handy in my big bag of decision-making tricks, but nowadays they share equal space with my gut-feelings. In any case, I’m aware that I often use “reason” just to build a case for established preferences—so why not just pay attention to them to begin with? I also sometimes intuitively pick up a long-neglected activity because, “If I don’t do this now, it won’t ever get done.”
I’m more courageous now about letting go and trusting God to guide me toward what’s most important on each day—having lived enough of my life to know that, while life often feels chaotic while I’m living it, staying close to my own unique self, my sense of integrity, has been richly rewarding.
What’s most important to us—our own personal set of “big rocks”—is unique to each of us. While having good relationships is always valuable, many feel equally drawn to money-making, career, public service, art, travel, education, health, adventure, politics—the list goes on. No one can choose everything, at least not all at the same time; so we have to pick and choose among many competing options every day, every season, every decade. Configuring one’s own personal—and changing—sets of big rocks, weighing and prioritizing, balancing and selecting from among the infinite range of options, is a difficult thing to do.
Sometimes, when my big-rock choices are frustrating me, backfiring on me, or offering little short-term satisfaction, it helps to remember that every single choice, no matter how worthy and legitimate, is fraught with its own unique set of challenges, heartaches, and trade-offs. The hardest thing for me at such times is to turn my back on all those other delectable, competing “want to’s,” “have to’s,” “oughts,” and “shoulds.” It helps, at such moments to focus on the present and future joys and rewards of the goals I’ve chosen. Each tempting new rock and pebble may be very legitimately appealing and persuasive, but first things first; lifetimes hold a lot of hours.
During my crazy early days, when I blindly and not-so-patiently began weaving the first few strands of my own life’s tapestry, I certainly couldn’t see any underlying unique patterns or themes, any beauty, grace, or inspiration in it. I did cling fiercely, however, to a mole-like faith, that as long as I tried my best, led with my heart, and moved toward my passions, I would be all right. (And, to everyone’s surprise, I’m not dead yet.)
I know, in retrospect, that considering who I was, and considering what I knew back then, my life’s tapestry couldn’t have been woven any other way.
I used to envy a dear friend in faraway Idaho who sent me letters filled with such fascinating activities—travel, adventure, hobbies, classes, friendships, causes, achievement, nature, exercise, creativity—so many things I longed to do. I admired her so much (and still do) but felt like such a boring creature in comparison. What I wasn’t honoring at the time, as I provided day-care to babies, was my own choice to dedicate my own particular twenty-four hours a day (the same number everyone gets) to giving those babies (and my own) a good start. Looking back, I wish I had valued my own very reasonable “big rock” of that time as much as I did my friend’s equally well-chosen, wonderful ones. I wish I had appreciated and enjoyed the good work I was choosing, instead of putting negative energy into yearning for the other things I wanted to be doing simultaneously. Many of my temptations later turned into my big rocks of other years, each in their own time. And I know I’ll never regret any of the time I spent being home with my little girl.
My sister Sally, a devout Mormon mother of nine, once wrote a skit about time pressures and priorities, for her church’s women’s group. I thought her creativity so wonderful (she was wonderful) that I saved it, to re-read whenever I feel overwhelmed, envious, or unsure about my present priorities:
Skit for Relief Society Birthday Dinner
April 4, 1986
By Sally Jean Cole Andreason
Doll #1: “Sister W. always looks so great. The women in the church just seem to do well at everything. I don’t think I can live up to that. It would be so much simpler to stay home and play my dear piano.”
Doll #2: “Whew! Doing my aerobic exercises makes me feel great—and doesn’t hurt my looks, either! I wish I felt as enthusiastic about genealogy.”
Doll #3: “What a joy getting those names into the temple brings me! Talking to people who can talk back, like my teenager, is a lot harder. I could use some good ideas.”
Doll #4: “I love being able to talk with and be a friend to my daughter. But I wish I had the nerve to be a better missionary to her friend’s family.”
Doll #5: “She said ‘yes’! My friend at work said ‘yes’ to talking with the missionaries! If I start today, I might have the house in shape enough for them to give the discussions next Saturday. There goes the week!”
Doll #6: “I love to make my home a beautiful place for my family. I do wonder, sometimes, though, if I could transfer my homemaking skills to the job market if I needed to.”
Doll #7: “It surely feels good when I’ve worked hard on the job and really contributed. My boss knows he can count on me. I’d like to do something to help at my children’s school too. I just haven’t the time to be a room mother or a PTA officer.”
Doll #8: “I can really make a difference in our town. The school, the Little League, are really worth my efforts. But sometimes I wish I would make the time to learn to play the piano as beautifully as Sister K. Her talent must greatly add to her and her family’s enjoyment of life.”
Doll #1: “Really?!”
Doll #9: “The church and our Relief Society lessons take us as we are, and help us to grow. We all excel in different ways. We learn to appreciate and share our own talents and knowledge, and learn from our sisters’ examples and abilities too. One step at a time, everything in its season, each individual is unique. I’ve heard that a good woman is one who is trying. In the sisterhood of the Relief Society, we can help each other. The Relief Society is for every woman.”
There’s a gentle joke among Latter Day Saint women, that they sometimes try to take on too much—waking up an hour early to exercise, and then staying up an extra hour to pray, and then setting the alarm just one more hour earlier for inspirational reading, and then staying up just one more hour later to quilt/write/draw/whatever—‘til eventually they’re going to bed when it’s time to get up. (That was our Sally.) Sound familiar to any of you ambitious types? Sally packed a lot of joy and love and good work into her life, which I’m sure was exactly just long enough for whatever she and God most wanted and needed to do together.
God is bounteous, and provides richly for each of his beloved creatures whatever we need to live the life he expects of us. If we offer him our wholehearted best in doing whatever he gives us the inspiration, strength, and wisdom to do now, if we focus on our tasks and activities positively and passionately, one-by-one, I’m sure our lives will suit him, and us, just fine.
Please write your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org