There are pivotal moments in our life that teach us things we remember for a lifetime. I learned a very useful skill at the age of 15 while working as a waitress. I lied about my age to get the job and after a few days of work, it was clear that I had no idea what I was doing. No one complained, they just flagged me down a lot asking for things I didn’t think to bring them. A very seasoned line cook, who barked at the waitresses in the kitchen, took me aside one day and called me out on lying about my age. Instead of turning me in, he gave me a piece of sage advice that changed my life and vastly improved my waitressing job. He told me, “Never leave the dining room or kitchen empty handed. Carry a tray and bring everything you might need in the next 10 minutes with you. And smile big.” I was so struck by his kindness that I followed his advice every minute of every day, in and out of the restaurant. I crushed everything I put my mind to and had multitasking juice running through my blood all before I was 16 years old.
Guess what? I was burned out by the time I was 30 years old. Throughout my life and career, I had served everyone I encountered so well, anticipating their every need and found such purpose in it, that I had no idea what I liked, what I wanted or what I needed in my own life. I answered “It doesn’t matter” to most questions asked of me, including, ironically, waitresses. “Would you like ketchup with your fries?” Me: “It doesn’t matter.” I’m still working on breaking this habit. Sometimes I still feel, deep down, like I’ll be betraying a person who showed me kindness and helped me succeed. Sometimes we have to unlearn things and define our purpose for ourselves.
Click through for some simple ways to reframe the not-so-fun things you have to do or are stuck with, and also learn about today’s self-care exercise that will literally take you two minutes. Bonus: There’s a book giveaway involved to give you some incentive! –Caitlin
Image above by the talented Hawnuh Lee. Follow Hawnuh’s work on Instagram .
Check out last week’s Self-Care Lesson here.
Thankfully, when “it doesn’t matter” is on the tip of my tongue, my adult self begins to cough loudly to remind me that I love ketchup! And that no one is keeping score of my self-assigned failures or betrayals. I remind myself that you can’t find true purpose, and all the great benefits of purpose like confidence and happiness, without examining the why behind the things you do. As an act of self-care, make sure whatever you’re doing connects back to you first and foremost. Take a look at the beautiful pattern by Hawnuh Lee at the top of this post. Imagine that you are the small white dot in the center of the bloom. That large circle that surrounds “you” should be all the things you purposely do for you.
Adopting this frame of mind is hard. It’s going to feel really selfish. Your inner-critic will promptly remind you that you have a crappy job you don’t like and you’re stuck in more than one situation you don’t want to be in. While those things may be true, it’s important to break out of that mindset by articulating exactly why you are where you are. Only then will you recognize when you’re sabotaging yourself with self-doubt. Having a job you don’t like becomes, “I’m doing the best I can supporting myself until I transition into a better job opportunity.” That’s the purpose you need to connect with: you’re supporting yourself. It may not be perfect and exactly what you want, but you’re paying the rent and meeting basic needs.
Sometimes, success comes not from what you learn to do but what you learn to stop doing. As you putter around the house, putting things in their place, ask yourself what purpose is this serving? If you live with other people, chances are you’re doing something for them under the guise of doing it for yourself. “I’m putting away this toy because I need a clean, uncluttered space.” That may very well be true, but you deserve to use that time for yourself, too. Teach them to put it away themselves. You may have to do it with them until the habit sinks in, but that’s okay. During that period, you can change your purpose statement to something like, “I’m doing this with them so that I can claim this time as my own.” You can also use that time to think of all the things you want to do that have the sole purpose of paying attention to yourself.
Don’t waste the precious time you have, even if it is 5 minutes a day, thinking about how something sucks. Spend it doing something with purpose that supports where you want to go.
Today’s exercise is simple.
You’re going to write me an email with three things you’ve always wanted to find the time to do. Sign your email to me with your name. I am going to send your email back to you in two weeks so feel free to write the email to yourself. The three things should be activities that don’t have to do with anyone else but you. No “write more thank you notes” or “welcome the new neighbors.” DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING OFF THE LIST that comes to mind because you think you’ll never actually do it. This isn’t about getting these things done. It’s about identifying them so you remember to ask yourself what purpose the activities you choose to do every day are serving. This helps you become more aware of serving yourself, too. You’ll most likely walk away realizing you’ve done 12 things for others and only two things for yourself.
As an incentive, I’m going to give away a copy of Lena Corwin’s book, . It’s filled with projects by women who practice different creative methods like knitting, dyeing, etc. These women have given themselves time to identify the purpose of the things they take time to make (and master). To be entered in the giveaway, just leave an “I’m doing it!” or similar comment below.
So are you ready?, write down your three things and hit send. You won’t end up on any mailing list or get multiple emails from me. You’ll just get one email from yourself, reminding you of these things, so you take time to make sure you ask yourself the purposeful question.