What do you value?
Today I'm talking about how to identify the things that are most important to us and crowd out everything else.
Speaking in regards to my “Operation: Make Jasmin Happier” project—and with the backdrop my time-management optimization journey (ironic that I’ve been procrastinating writing this and then stared at this first half of a sentence for longer than I care to admit)—I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I value, what I don’t, and what I have been acting like I value (and therefore prioritizing) when, at the end of the day, it doesn’t serve me.
I want to ask you a question upfront, reader. What do you value? I really want to know. Please tell me in the comments, if you feel like it. (And I hope you feel like it.)
Sometimes I ask myself the same life-audit-type-of-question in a couple of different ways, so I’m sure I’ve posed this question in one way or another a bunch of times. But for some reason, phrasing it this way—what do I value?—is helping me today. It ties directly to how I manage my time, since if I don’t value something, why am I spending energy on it in the first place?
Of course, sometimes we have to. We have to make money, we have family obligations that we carry through because we care enough to maintain those relationships, and life just sometimes presents annoyances that require we move things around, even when that’s inconvenient. So, to be clear, I’m not speaking about those times (though I could see value in diving into “how to handle curveballs” in another piece).
The reason I initially freaked out enough to start this whole undertaking in the first place was that I was unable to handle my overflowing schedule and I didn’t know what to take off my plate, because all of the things on there were there for a reason; I wanted them there.
I’m beginning to realize that even though I for-sure-absolutely need to still remove some of my precious projects in favor of more sanity and downtime, I’m also slowly realizing that part of my issue has been my relationship to all of the projects, not just the projects themselves.
It’s been how I handle the hustle—not the hustle itself—that’s at least partly to blame for my existential dis-ease.
I’ve been given some terrific advice lately by a variety of folks who are on a similar path of lifelong learning as me. Though I’m paraphrasing, these particular nuggets of wisdom are the ones currently helping me the most:
Time is negotiable. This one was surprisingly difficult for me to wrap my head around. I was recently given three writing assignments (egad!) for the same magazine issue, with a very quick turnaround … and I handed in my final of the three pieces yesterday (this is something to celebrate, as I believe strongly in celebrating the little wins and accomplishments, so I’m putting a tiny bottle of champagne in the fridge right now!). All of this was coinciding with a big holiday issue brainstorm for the magazine. These pitch sessions occur quarterly and I simply love them; there is nothing I enjoy more than a giant, collaborative, creative brain dump. But it became clear to me as I was putting together my articles (on top of my two other jobs) that I would have no time at all to prepare for the upcoming brainstorm. Though in the past, this would have prompted me to spiral in anxiety, squish in time to prepare for the brainstorm anyway (at the sacrifice of personal chores and downtime), and make sure to tell everyone about how busy I was and how I really didn’t have time to do the brainstorm but I was doing it anyway, instead, I asked the person organizing it if we could maybe move the date. I succinctly (and that’s important) explained why, and though he understood, he kindly said no to my request. In the past, this “no” would have also propelled me to yet another layer of anxiety, but this time, I negotiated a couple of extra weeks to put together my brainstorm document and send it in separately from the others. I was astounded by how easy it all was, and I can’t believe this brand of boundary-setting isn’t something I’ve prioritized in the past.
Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. In the example I just gave, if I had said yes to it, I would have therefore been saying no to taking my dogs out (which means my wife would have had to handle it, thereby pushing my stressors onto her), getting work done for my full-time job (I’m not micro-managed there but I have a lot of work integrity and compromising my job duties for a side project isn’t an option for me), starting another soul-fulfilling creative project, or just having downtime (I am currently binging on Showtime’s The Affair and though I don’t exactly recommend it, I’m enjoying it nonetheless).
You can change your modus operandi of how you respond to regular interruptions (such as email, Slack pings, and texts). This point is being absolutely drilled into my head during my morning audiobook listening sessions. I just finished How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life by Caroline Webb and am now listening to Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Recognizing the science pointing to the dire importance of uninterrupted deep work sessions (I’m in one as I write this, thanks to CaveDay) and the complete disfunction of succumbing to a culture that prioritizes being reactive instead of proactive—and then making the pivots necessary to get out of that hellish cycle—is changing everything for me. Though I have a ways to go with optimizing my self-discipline and creativity, I am a billion times more productive than I was when OMJH (“Operation Make Jasmin Happier”) began.
So what do I value?
Last week, I mapped out all of the professional projects I am involved with. And though I would like to put together the same sort of list for my personal (non-professional) hobbies and focuses, this kind of self-audit really got me thinking about what I value and how I can use time-management tools to crowd out those things I don’t want to spend time or energy on.
In no particular order, here is a list of some of the things I value:
a healthy mindset (this isn’t possible if I’m spreading myself too thin or not getting enough sleep)
creative expression (both making it myself and helping others tell their stories creatively)
social justice (most pressingly, animal liberation, LGBTQ rights, antiracism, and fat liberation)
physical and mental health (as you probably know by now, I do a Supernatural workout every weekday followed by a virtual reality-style meditation, and I see a therapist who challenges me in the right ways)
making money and planning for my future
living my values (including changing up the ways I’m not, which is precisely what’s driving my family’s current focus on maybe moving into a net-zero home)
fostering strong relationships
lifelong learning and curiosity (the flip side of this means ending toxic relationships and habits)
building a better world for future generations (I get annoyed when I hear middle-aged people looking to the younger generation and saying it’s up to them … when it should be up to all of us to create the world we want to live in and we want to leave behind when we die)
celebration (life is hard … why not acknowledge the small victories? This is something I learned in my early days of working for a farmed animal protection organization. Successes are hard to come by in that kind of work. We should seriously make a little party every time there is a small success.)
I’m sure there’s more, but at the moment, this list feels right.
You’ll notice nowhere on that list did I say “being stressed out,” “answering emails,” or “placating toxic people.”
Though I’m still working this out (and I’m sure I always will be), I want to continue to challenge myself to make sure my focuses, energy, to-do lists, and day-to-day experiences all revolve around those bullet points. And though it’s not possible 100 percent of the time, I need to create systems of self-accountability (such as weekly and yearly goal-setting in my planner, having a good therapist and good friends that are supportive but don’t enable me, and regular boundary-setting when those little pestering notifications start eating up my time) so that I can indeed walk the walk.
I don’t know if it’s the past year of this pandemic or what—or maybe it has something to do with being in my fabulous forties—but I am more aware than ever about how precious and short life is.
I know that I used to think everything I was doing and living was somehow a preamble, and that my “real life” would start … next. After I made that move. After I took that job. After I met that lover. After I …
That kind of thinking is bullshit though, you know?
There’s a slogan that I’m about to mess up that goes something like: Life is what happens when you’re not paying attention. Or maybe it’s: Life is what happens when you’re waiting for it to happen.
Either way, I want very much to pay attention. I want my connections to be healthy and authentic, my days to productive and stimulating (except for when I’m taking a break, in which case I want them to be relaxing and refueling), and my life to be lived intentionally, creatively, and with deep purpose.
That is not something I could ever accomplish if I was too busy spiraling with anxiety because of an upcoming deadline, or leaning into the ongoing repercussions of early childhood trauma, or continuing to waste my energy on spending time with those who suck my energy dry.
One of the tips widely circulated for how to go vegan is to crowd the meat off your plate by introducing more and more ethical, wholesome foods that can help you both thrive and remain true to your value system (I’m emboldened by the fact that every time we eat, we’re voting with our dollars). I like this way of thinking about it, and I can easily relate it to my … life plate.
If we keep adding things that will help us thrive, and if we keep an eye on our plate to make sure everything on it is a true reflection of the kind of fuel we need to show up authentically, then the crap will eventually just … go away. It will be pushed off the plate entirely.
To me, this way of looking at it is actually easier than having to make the choice to remove that toxic project, person, or habit from our lives. We’re reframing it as focusing on the abundance, not the deprivation.
I can get behind that. Can you?
One Thing I’m Jazzed About
It’s April, which means the Newark LGBTQ Virtual Gala entitled “Can You Imagine?” is right around the corner on April 22 (Earth Day!). Have you gotten your ticket yet? I’m on the board of this incredible organization and have the distinct honor of chairing the host committee. Please join me for this fun, festive event.
A Random Thing I Want to Share
My friend Gretchen Primack happens to be a world-renowned poet. Her most recent book, Kind, was just re-published with more poems and art. I am moved and inspired by how eloquently she writes about hard-hitting issues (such as animal rights and prison abolition) in bite-sized poems that are so powerful, they could change your entire outlook in less than five minutes. That’s the kind of art I want to devour. Gretchen was “kind” enough to share two poems with you today. Take a deep breath and then take these in.
Holstein (by Gretchen Primack)
I was also a child.
And also had one.
And another a year after.
And could not touch
Had I been born
into a kind world,
my life would have been
mine, not a stranger’s,
as long as my body wanted life.
Had I lived in a kind world,
child, this milk would have been
yours. No one would have filled
your lungs with loss.
Put your head where your kind
was born to be
but is never allowed: at my flank.
The great spill of me. Smell me
from your bent neck. Child.
Covid I (by Gretchen Primack)
This year spring and summer decided
to go on without us,
to roll in the fields while we rolled
in poison—the glory! The relaxed
breaths of it! They pressed
against each other, not a reed fit
between, they made us wait
while the birds built and snakes sunned
and crocs snapped
at their frogs. The air milded
and cleared far from our sickbeds
because of our sickbeds.
O human, see, you are important—
Biology, hubris, apocalypse;
cages, carbon, energy—just
not the way you think. Just not
the way you wish.