That List Life
Recently, one of my besties, Reese, had a birthday. She and I met in college - back when we had boyfriends who were BFFs and wore Timberland boots year round - and have been tight ever since. And, 23 years later, after having put 44 years into this thing called life, Reese remains a force. In addition to being a ride-or-die wife, the mother to my two amazingly talented Godchildren, and a full-time Commission Corps Commander for the Feds, in 2017 alone she completed her Doctoral dissertation, received her PhD, was promoted to the rank of Captain, and traveled to Puerto Rico’s flood zone to provide assistance to those in need. Twice. So, when she advised that, for her birthday, she was taking the day off and spending several hours at the spa, I wasn’t surprised and I definitely wasn’t mad. But it’s what she did with the remainder of her special day that so intrigued me.
In response to the Stevie Wonder serenade I belted out for her over Marco Polo, Reese messaged back to tell me all that she’d accomplished with her afternoon, including: going to Godiva for her free birthday chocolate; visiting Victoria’s Secret for her free birthday lipstick; breezing by Bath and Body Works for her free birthday hand cream; seeking out Sephora her free bday goodie bag; and hitting up DSW, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, and Off Saks with various gift cards in tow. Now, a lot of people would say: That’s just waaay too much running around on any given day, much less my birthday. And, in truth, I probably would’ve been one of them people. But, my girl, who deserved a day of rest more than just about anyone, had decided to spend her day putting in work - not to earn check, but to honor herself. And every errand she ran, every mile she logged, was in service to that goal.
So Reese’s litany of birthday errands got me to thinking: To what lengths was I willing to go to get to my happy?
That question yielded the struggle answer. Because, if I’m honest, as much as I want to be happy, I haven’t been willing to go far or do much. In fact, as a stressed out 44-year old, my “self-celebrations” usually consist of peanut M&Ms and a decent night’s sleep. I mean, there are happyish moments. On Thursday evenings, I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that I get to work from home on Fridays. And, on Fridays evenings, I exhaaaaaale, knowing that there’s no work the following day (Yes, theme. I see you.). But, despite those baby reprieves, every Saturday morning brings with it the same tidal wave of anxiety that I spend the rest of the weekend trying to ignore or endure, all while juggling a massive “To Do” list that, at best, gives me fickle, fleeting feelings of satisfaction. The grocery store, the drug store, the dry cleaner, the gas station, the bank, and all the stores at which I bought all that shit that I now have to return… Add to that a few extra goals like washing my hair, washing my clothes, cleaning my house, going to the gym, brunching with a friend, calling my mom, seeing my nieces, reading a book, having sex with my man, and finding a new job (Hi, theme. Hiiiiiiiii.). By Sunday night, I’m lucky if I’ve managed to check off half those boxes, in between taking deep “cleansing” breaths and stifling “Dear God don’t let Monday get here” sobs. Did I mention that I don’t even have kids yet?
This can’t be life.
It is a hamster wheel, for real, for real. And, yet, I blindly volunteer myself as tribute to it every damn weekend. So here I am: lovingly giving Reese the side-eye for scheduling a birthday scavenger hunt, while I spend every weekend steadily subtracting years off my lifespan. And for what? To have an over-abundance of clean panties and a full take of gas?
So now I’m asking myself: How can I self-celebrate more? And what would such a celebration even look like? Regular mani-pedis, yearly girls’ trips, and Naked and Afraid marathons allow me to feel happier, but, as lucky as I am to engage in these activities, none of them feed, comfort, or quiet my soul. Nope. I had to go deeper. Where was my happy?
Right about now is the point in the story when a fairy Godmother is supposed to materialize, wave a wand, and tell me that the my happy was inside me all along, right? Right. But I already knew that. It’s just deep, deep, deep inside… deep, deeeeeeep down inside… Under layer after layer of “Not right now,” “Maybe later,” and the ever quiet but powerful, “I’m too scared.” And even without the fairy Godmother, I knew I couldn’t go deeper without digging through all of that crap.
My friend, Radiah - entrepreneur, author, and my blog advisor – works to help women identify what they want and what’s been stopping them from getting it. In other words, she lays bare what we’ve been resisting and why. Taking a page from her book (which was, after all, an Amazon best seller), I engaged in some serious self-reflection and honest self-talk, and soon realized that I’d been resisting damn near everything. By procrastinating. By making excuses. By being afraid. Reese had drafted a blueprint for her happy. She’d literally set out the breadcrumbs and gassed up the car. Me? I was doing the same thing day after day, week after week, and was shocked that happy hadn’t just rolled up on me like those guys from Publisher’s Clearing House. But, how does a professional procrastinator and list addict change?
By changing the list.
One night, desperate to do something, I logged onto Facebook and told all 746 of my closest friends that, for the next 30 days, I’d be committing myself to “Just Doing It.” At that point, I had no idea what “it” was, but, much like Shonda Rhymes’ Year of Yes, I knew “it” had to be done. And, so, for the next 30 days, I focused on changing both my mindset and my behavior, working to devote as much energy to pushing through the procrastination as I had to my weekly grocery store run. I started small -- picking up my mail, organizing my bills -- and it actually started working. Rather than hearing Evil Kermit on constant rotation (“I don’t want to go to the gym… Gyms are for bitches.”), I was learning to drown him out (“I don’t want to go to the gym… Gyms are for bitches but do it for 30 minutes anyway.”). And, the more I “Just Did It,” the more I began looking for other things to just do. Personal things. Meaningful things. Things that I’d always loved to do, but had let fall by the wayside. I started reading. I started an online workout group. Hell, I started this blog. And, as I continued to make room in my mind and my life for things that actually mattered, I started feeling better. I started feeling happy. I was blown away. Could it really have been this easy all along? Could it?? Well, of course not. Cuz we’re here, and y’all know that shit in Da Chronicles doesn’t get wrapped up quite that easily. So, NO. It wasn’t easy. At all. In fact, as much as I was loving the results of my 30-day challenge, I was also finding the process – simple as it was in theory – to be hard. Really HARD. So now I’m rolling my eyes at my damn self: “How can happy be hard?!” It’s hard because Kermit is veeeery convincing, and because, as frustrating as that hamster wheel is, there’s something reassuring in its routine. I don’t have to put any thought into it; I don’t have to put any of myself into it. In other words, I may have turned the completion of those tasks into a reflection on me, but, as the tasks themselves don’t actually reflect me, they can’t move me and they for damn sure can’t change me. So, in essence, I’m hiding in plain sight: putting in mad work, yet making no significant progress on anything significant. Think about it. My “To Dos” allow me to assess my needs, to set goals, and to strive to achieve them (which all sounds very responsible and adult, right?), but they do so in the most sanitized way possible. Such that, while my failure to finish those “To Dos” may mess with my mental, my lack of any real connection to those tasks means that even their successful completion can never truly resonate. So each week, I’m killing myself to achieve something that, by design, can’t fulfill me, all the while keeping myself too tired and too busy to go after anything that could. But I stay committed to the routine because… it’s routine.
Told you Kermit was crafty.
So what’s the moral to this story? Am I done with the lists? No. Am I free of anxiety? HELL no. Am I happy? Eh… I have my good days. What I am, however, is clear. Clear in the knowledge that a religious devotion to dropping off my dry cleaning every weekend won't get me to happy. As with any healthy relationship, our relationships with our spirit selves require work. We can dial it in (and end up estranged from happy; sleeping on the couch) or we can be intentional with our energy. In the immortal words of Black Sheep: The choice is yours. But it is just that. A choice. One that we have to make and keep making, over and over again. Because if there's one thing that this blog should have taught you, it's that leaving happy up to chance doesn't work, and leaving it in the hands of Evil Kermit is for damn sure not an option. So, y'all will now have to excuse me while I go finish up these playlists that I’ve been wanting to make – one, filled with the raunchy rap I'll need to get me through the 10K I’m now training for; the other, a slow-jam-mix-tape sorta vibe for those nights when I'm reminiscing on my Tims and Bae is my only “To Do.”