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!