Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Playing in the Year of No

Stevepb via Pixabay
Every month, I sit down with myself and have a goal-setting session. Some goals I accomplish, in part or in whole, while others follow me from month to month. Some in the second category stick around not because I'm not accomplishing them, but because I need a reminder to continue to do them.

Such is the case with a goal I set in January: my year of no. Each month, I need to remind myself of not only my determination to say no to a thing or two, but also the importance of doing so.

Recently, this was underscored by some reading I'm doing. I'd heard one of the authors of Designing Your Life interviewed on NPR and, interested in this book as potential reading material for my freshmen, I picked up a copy. I've been reading it a little at a time, absorbing its messages and trying to implement the ideas, quickly becoming personally immersed in it.

One of the exercises asks the reader to rate fullness of life in four areas: health, love, play and work. The graphic is a bit like the gas indicator on a car, making it easy to rate each area incrementally. The objective, of course, is to see where we might need to make adjustments to design a life that's more satisfying -- and balanced. When I saw how low I rated play, I knew where I needed to start, but I didn't make a connection to my January goal.

Until the next time I opted to say no.

It was then that I made a connection to a meeting six years ago. I was preparing to retire, discussing options with my financial planner. When I talked about dropping things like a gym membership and a Netflix subscription, he laughed. Out loud.

Small potatoes? Of course. But, as I considered how to adjust to the financial changes that lay ahead, I saw only two ways of navigating them: spend less or earn more. Until I got to the point where the second was true, I needed to practice the first.

The same basic concept is at work with my say yes less or play more conundrum. I can't do everything I'm asked to do, nor even everything I want to do (although I spent the first five decades or so of my life trying to). If I want more time to say yes to the things I want to do (play), I need to say no to other things. Those things, like my gym membership and Netflix subscription, may be small potatoes, but they're potatoes (so to speak), nevertheless -- my gateway vegetable, if you will. Just as not spending money on the gym and Netflix meant more money to spend on other things, not spending time on mid list (or below) activities means more time to spend on the ones at the top of the list.

At first, admitting that I had to say no wasn't any easier than actually doing it. People don't like being turned down, and I don't like disappointing them, but, after spending most of my adult life determined to have it all and do it all, I was tired. It was time to face the fact that "all" wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

I'm getting better at saying no, and even discovering a sense of relief in successfully doing so. Though I still don't like disappointing people, it is, unfortunately, inevitable. I've come to realize that saying "yes" to what someone else wants me to do means saying "no" to something I want (or perhaps even need) to do, which is a part of the reason my "play tank" so often runs on empty. And it only took me five decades or so to figure this out.

Better late than never, I suppose.

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