One October (nearly 10 years ago), when life was feeling happy and we were in the midst of living up the family traditions, I signed up to bring a crock pot of chili to a local Halloween celebration my family was planning to attend. I have a great chili recipe, and I was happy to offer my services when the organizers sent out an email asking for extra help. But when the day of the party came, I was a tired, irritable mess.
Not wanting to back out on my promise, I spent the morning marching between the stove and sink, chopping onions and browning meat while scowling at my children and husband. I didn’t start with a big enough container to cook the double-batch I’d prepared, so I ended up spilling tons of beans and tomato juice onto my white bathrobe while trying to transfer everything to a larger pot. My display of frustration was nothing short of embarrassing. (The children still remember it vividly.)
I remember my husband saying, “Why don’t you just not make chili? I think the Halloween party will survive.”
But I’d made a commitment. I was going to follow through.
When we finally showed up at the event–with costumes, candy, and our contribution to the dinner–we realized that a miscommunication had resulted in pretty much everyone bringing a crock pot of chili. They didn’t even need mine. Everyone was laughing about how we were all going to eat chili the next night for dinner. But all I could think was, “What have I done?”
If I’d only known then how to renegotiate with myself, I could have saved my whole family a lot of angst. Who said I had to double the batch? Was there any rule that prevented me from heating up cans of pre-made chili? Could I have stopped at Wendy’s on the way and used their yummy chili instead?
I’m all for keeping commitments and doing what I say I’m going to do, but far too often–whether it’s in our personal lives, our professions, or our communities–we set up unrealistic expectations in our minds, make lists that are way too long, or get overly-optimistic about how much can be accomplished in one day. We set ourselves up for failure, and then we get upset with our families or the people in our lives who “get in the way.”
So today, let’s talk about how to renegotiate with ourselves–how to re-evaluate our lists and expectations so we don’t drive ourselves (and everyone around us) insane.
I’ll share some of my ideas, and then you share yours in the comments below, okay? (Even after all these years, I’m still working on perfecting this skill and could definitely use some help.)
(1) We need to recognize when our expectations are bordering on ridiculous.
In the early days of our Steps to Everyday Productivity program, I hosted a workshop at my home for a small group of people. I had worksheets and my big diagram ready to present…
but this is the additional list I hoped to accomplish during the two days prior to the event (since people were actually going to be IN MY HOUSE):
- Weekly menu planned, groceries purchased, fridge scoured, veggies chopped and stored, items in pantry put into air-tight containers
- Laundry totally done, folded, put away upstairs
- Office cleaned out and organized
- Carpets steam-cleaned with the machine we had up in the attic
- Car washed and vacuumed as a family
- Dying plants on the front porch replaced
- Guest bathroom redecorated
- House scoured top to bottom
- Planner organized
Even looking at that list makes me squirm. I was a busy mother with four young children, yet somehow I’d forgotten that I also needed to sleep and eat.
But I know that wasn’t a unique scenario. I meet entrepreneurs all the time with lists that are pages long, teachers with desks piled high with things to do, and working professionals who have dozens of project boards that are all overdue. It all feels important, but because it’s simply too much, the lists don’t get done, and then they think they’re failing. I also met a mom one time who had a very strict cleaning list that designated a specific time for each household task. She said, “I’m supposed to mop on Thursdays at 4, so whether the floor needs it or not, and whether I feel like doing it or not, I’m going to mop. And if I’m in a bad mood, I’m going to mop angry.” After we talked for awhile, she admitted that her list didn’t need to dictate her life. It’s simply not necessary.
Now that we’re getting close to the holidays, I’m willing to bet that ridiculous lists like this are cropping up all over the world, but when we realize we’re over-committing again, we need to stop it.
(2) Relationships have to come before lists.
In that chili-scenario, I put a crock pot of food before my family. I had all kinds of justifications as to why that was necessary, but really . . . was it?
Below are some ways I learned to put relationships first–even when I was trying to accomplish that mammoth “ridiculous” list from above.
Grace had a lingering fever throughout that week and needed to stay home from school for a few days. She needed time with me. The laundry folding could wait. (Now she’s on a humanitarian mission for our church, and we only have the chance to talk once a week. I miss all that time we had together.)
Alia and Ethan had lots of homework, and they wanted me to sit by them to review algebra principles and “the twelves” in multiplication. So much more important than cleaning out my office. (Now Alia is married and Ethan is out on his own–both going to school and doing their work independently. And I have plenty of time to clean my office.)
Then we had a chance to have my mom over for a night, and I had to jump at the opportunity. She was in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, and it turned out that that was the last night she ever came to my house. I didn’t steam-clean the carpets, but I spent a lot of time hugging my mom. (And I can’t even tell you how glad I am that I did!)
(3) We renegotiate our commitments to ourselves by simplifying, eliminating, delegating, or delaying.
When we put relationships (and sanity) first, our lists don’t disappear. But having these lists at the back of our minds causes lots of stress–stress that isn’t necessary. That’s why we renegotiate.
Going back to my first crazy list, here’s how I ended up renegotiating:
- Took my mom to the store with me and just bought enough to get us through the weekend. Took two minutes to wipe down the fridge and bought pre-cut veggies.
- Did as much laundry as I could, put the baskets upstairs, and let the children be in charge of all the folding.
- The office waited.
- Spot-cleaned the worst part of the carpet and decided to steam-clean the following month.
- Drove the car through the $6 car wash at the gas station and had the kids throw all the trash away. Got slushies while we were there.
- Trimmed the dying plants on the porch a bit, and then stopped worrying about them. My workshop attendees weren’t coming for a gardening lesson, and I honestly don’t even think they noticed.
- Cleaned the downstairs bathroom, but didn’t even try to redecorate. (I don’t even know how to decorate. Why did I add this to my list in the first place?)
- Cleaned the areas of the house where people would be. Involved the kids and turned on fun music. I also chose to BREATHE.
- Gave myself 25 minutes to clean out my planner. It was fine. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.
See how easy that was? And the workshop turned out great. No one even looked in my van. No one complained that my carpets hadn’t been steam-cleaned. I got a good night’s rest, and since I got all the “must-dos” done, I actually had a little more energy to devote to some of those “like-to-dos.”
The best part is that I learned my lesson. I’m not easy on myself all the time, but I am learning to give myself grace. And the reason I’m sharing this with you is because I want you to give yourself grace, as well. I’m not sure what your specific religious preference is, but all while I was growing up, my mom reminded me, “God is not a hard task-master.” I loved that. She consistently reminded me that I could take life at a pace that felt doable, and there would be lift and love from above to help me.
Every single day, we have the opportunity to renegotiate our plans. I’m not talking about “aiming low,” being mediocre” or giving-up-all-our-dreams-because-life-happens.
I’m talking about easing up on our expectations so we can organize our time well and live our lives the way they’re meant to be lived. From my perspective, that means the focus is on living purposefully, creating happy memories, and cherishing the people we love. Even today–I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped because it was a rainy morning, and Eric wanted to hold me for awhile, snuggle under a blanket, and look out the window together. Later he said, “If today were our last day, we wouldn’t be wishing we’d written more articles.” And though I still like writing articles, there’s still time. Maybe I could have made this fancier, but my hope is that we can all support each other in this process of “renegotiating,” and at the end of all, balance the DOING with a whole lot of joy.
LearnDoBecome Invitation: Take a good look at your current list. If any part of it feels ridiculous, sit down and renegotiate with yourself. What can you simplify? Eliminate? Delegate? Delay? Be smart with your decisions and decide to put relationships first. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas below!
Come Join Us in ARISE!!
Would you like to participate LIVE with me, Eric, and the ARISE community in a workshop designed to finish the year strong and create a wonderful foundation for 2022?
Tuesday, October 12th at 10am Pacific, we’re holding a fun class inside the ARISE membership, and now we have a 7-day FREE Trial, so you can pop into the group, join the session (or watch the replay) for free, check out the entire ARISE members’ area, and then decide if ARISE is right for you!
Emily Stewart says
Oh April I love this post! What a relief it is to read it, such an important reminder! I love your chilli story, what a horrible moment that must have been! I’ve been there, in other ways, and the regret hurts…it’s like I often get asked to do one thing, but end up feeling like I want to deliver three things instead. No one asked for three! So some strong talk with myself about what others are ACTUALLY expecting is the first step.
I’m thinking this year what I want to do is have a visioning/planning session with my family and see what’s most important to us all. Then we can decide who’s going to make each thing happen. And if there’s anything none of us want to/are willing to facilitate, then we’ll just have to acknowledge it can’t actually be a priority and admit maybe it’s not going to happen this year. Wish me luck!
I love this article to remind me that doing enough rather than doing it all, and most of all doing what actually matters, is the way to go. Thank you xxx
Emily Garland says
Great post. 😁 I love the idea of “renegotiating” – such a positive outlook when things are crazy.
My list for the rest of autumn includes redoing a piece of furniture we’ve been living with, to be more useful. I still want to get it done, but it might be partway instead of complete before the holidays hit; that’s alright, it will still be better than it is now.
Thanks for all the encouragement!
PJ DowsingBuie says
Thank you April. This is something that I really struggle with…somewhere I heard that you word is you bond. Plus my mother’s message is “if you want it done right you have to do it yourself.” So if I’ve said I was going to do a “thing” then I must do it, right? I’m a caregiver for my 97 year old mother while I do have additional help and a husband. I fell as though I have to manage everything and everybody in the household. Trying to find time for self care, as well as, spend time with mom who wants to brush up on her cell phone and computer skills. Plus spend special time with my husband. I definitely need to learn how to renegotiate with myself.
Thank you for the reminder that I need to move away from the perfectionist side of myself and become comfortable with doing enough.
Every now and then, someone writes something that I can relate to completely. The story about the chili sounds just like me. One of my sisters called me an overachiever several years ago. I wondered what she was talking about. I have never thought about myself in that way at all. I brushed it off at the time, but it haunted me later on. Maybe it’s true. I played bunco with a group of women for about 15 years. I was completely happy to go to their home and have a casserole or the pizza delivery man show up with some dinner. But, for some reason, and I think I know why, I used to make these elaborate dinners. It was never about showing off or playing the one upmanship game, because that’s not me. The reality is that I love to entertain. I have always loved cooking for other people. I began cooking dinner for my entire family of seven when I was in the fifth grade. I loved every minute of it. I wasn’t competing with anyone. I was just trying to be helpful. I was born with a servant’s heart. However, I suffered a car accident in 2005 which left me with some brain damage and I continue to have deficits. It’s really hard for me to accept the fact that I cannot do anything or accomplish many things like I used to. I must re-negotiate with myself and accept the reality that is mine. Many times over the years I would not make two more appetizers like I had planned for a dinner party. Or, I wouldn’t finish an extra dessert that I wanted to serve. No one knew the difference because they didn’t look at my spreadsheet on the side of the refrigerator. I know myself well enough to know that I cannot accomplish anything without a list. We all make choices every day. Some are good and some are not. Thank you for inspiring me. I have it huge task in front of me this evening that I must accomplish because of procrastination. This is my biggest struggle. I’m famous for waiting until the last minute. And, the notion that people work better under pressure is hogwash. At least it is for me. Thank you for some timely inspiration. God bless you and Eric.
I like the personal story; it feels very easy to relate to. As if you are a big sister sharing advice. It creates a mental image that is memorable. Nice job. 🙂
Luke 10:41 & 42 AMP But the Lord replied to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered and anxious about so many things;
but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part [that which is to her advantage], which will not be taken away from her.”
Yep. I am an over doer. I can totally relate to everything you said. My new mantra is “simplify, simplify, simplify.”
Darla Grieco says
Thanks for sharing, April! Excellent reminder as I stumble into my 4th quarter “expectation” list (which should probably be deemed a 4th quarter desires list negotiable based on reality).
I agree that we still need to be intentional and set appropriate boundaries to address what needs done, not accepting mediocrity, but for me, keeping the first things first–God and family.
Suzanne Scow says
This was wonderful in so many ways! Thank you so much for sharing. “God is not a hard task-master.” I LOVE that! You are a light, April, and have influenced my life for good for so many years now. Thank you for being you!
Kersti Rose says
Boy, does this hit home!
My husband is a home-brewer, and every year (except last) we have an Oktoberfest [party in our backyard. This year, in deference to COVID, we scaled it way back, but still things sneaked onto the list, until I realized no-one was coming into our house more than just the half-bath right inside the back door, or the kitchen, and that those would be brief. So I did not have to clear upstairs, or the front office, or … What a relief! I baked an apple strudel instead, and had a lot more time to spend with our guests.
Next up: why have I decided that several house issues which have annoyed me for quite literally years must be done before my in-laws come for Thanksgiving? Especially because several require permits and those are very difficult at the moment at least here in Oakland. Maybe we can have a nice time without all of those annoyances being resolved. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Thank you for opening this possibility in my mind!
April Perry says
Oh, I LOVE all these experiences that are being shared here in the comments! It is so helpful to know we are not alone—and to encourage one another to simplify our expectations. Love the energy and the great things you are doing with the time you are saving! ❤️
Jeanette Cates says
I used to pressure myself for potlucks – then discovered that when I took spaghetti (yes, sauce from a jar!) two things happened – the kids ate it all first and other cooks enjoyed the spotlight for their cook-all-day dishes. So it was easy for me and everyone felt good!
I’m retired now and I can assure you that the thousands of to-do lists I made don’t matter now. As I uncover them in decluttering, I look at the hundreds of things that didn’t get done and think – we’re here and we’re happy in spite of not having done it all. Your examples are right on target – people are ALWAYS more important than any to-do item you list. Enjoy today – and please keep sharing your message.
April Perry says
So smart, Jeanette! Spaghetti is an amazing idea–and I love that it makes the children AND the adults happy. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
Gina Macy says
Thanks for sharing the dear photo of your mom! I’m in the Fall of my life and the moments with my mom as she enters the twilight of her Winter are so precious.
Gina Macy says
I just listened to Chelsi Jo’s amazingly helpful podcast, and feel so affirmed by her seasons metaphors.
Also, I LOVE the Chili story and photo.
April Perry says
I am so glad you still have time with your mother and that you are cherishing the moments, Macy!!
Michelle Gurrola says
Oh how I can relate to making life more complicated when it doesn’t have to be! I have the same expectations…like having my brother-in-law’s family over for a visit…but I have to wash the baseboards in my kitchen, trim a large bush in the front yard, replace a broken lamp post…but our family is actually coming to visit US, not my stuff. My house will be clean enough. Boy, the chili, we’ve all been there…like if we know how to do better, then we have to! But we don’t. Those we love DO come before other things. Wonderful and inspiring post April!
April Perry says
Sending lots of love, Michelle!!
Thank you for posting this! You are so relatable and it gives me hope that I can be better… at juggling being a mom to very active travel sport kids, a wife and a high school teacher..sometimes the juggle is unbearable and I feel less than a “jack of all trades, master of none” …. looking forward to the live session today!
April, thank you. I don’t follow your blog all the time, so it was a Holy Spirit moment that lead me this blog post today…but I needed it!! It’s been one crazy week (or season of weeks) and I could use a good dose of your Mom right now reminding me of living at a doable place, putting relationships FIRST & having compassion with myself. Thank you for being real about your struggles (I’ve been there too, white chili bathrobe!) & also your victories (letting your husband hold you!)… I’m grateful for your example in this community.
You’re so cute–thank you, Natalia! I am proud of you for showing up for your family and being so conscientious. And as we all learn to prioritize wisely and give ourselves (and each other) compassion, I think our lives will keep getting happier and happier. 🙂 So glad you are here!!