Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recently, a colleague of mine said, "I've noticed you're saying 'no,' a lot."

The striking thing was, she meant it as a compliment.

You've had those moments when you're just not sure what you want to do with yourself, right? Is this job right for me? When should I start / expand a family? Where should we go on vacation? How did that annoying piece of decor manage to come with us when we moved? Should I start / change an exercise routine? What is that random object on my desk?

Some people [yogis] call it "monkey mind," others [shrinks] call it "ADD."

I call it, "not having a pre-occupation of the moment." When one has a pre-occupation of the moment, there is a default thought that one can turn to when bored, annoyed, or otherwise under-stimulated. For instance, if your pre-occupation of the moment was "bread pudding," every time you had a down moment, you would be thinking about bread pudding. I.e.: Where can I get bread pudding? Is bread pudding easy to make? How can I find the best recipe for bread pudding? I wonder if I could eat bread pudding for an entire meal... etc.

Pre-occupations-of-the-moment are a godsend. They provide a soothing effect, because there are answers to the questions they raise, many of which can be determined with a simple google search, or series of delightful conversations with people knowledgeable on the subject.

I love having pre-occupations-of-the-moment, and often try to have several going at once.

Even still, there are occasions on which I find myself wondering about what I am doing with my life.

And, when one is wondering that, not google nor any length of series of delightful conversations with knowledgeables will be able to supply a satisfying answer. Perhaps this is why larger questions of career and life are often referred to as one's "occupation" (minus the pre-).

What many of us experience in this state is a rampant, trying-out of opportunities. Someone suggests a consulting job or a business referral or an introduction to another person in a similar field, and we say, "Yes."

We try things, frantically measuring them against the voice in our monkey ADD minds to see if anything's registering on the "what to do with my life" scale. Sometimes something sort of does but sort of doesn't, and it's hard to assess what of it worked, and what didn't. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed trying to take up opportunities simply because they were presented, that we forget what we were taking things up for to begin with, and fall into what someone else thinks might be a good idea for us.

As you can see, there are many pitfalls to having too large an occupation, and not enough pre-occupations.

So, I began saying, "No."

Recently, I said no to a proposed speaking engagement [I get stagefright, and only something spectacularly aligned with my goals warrants facing it], no to continuing a networking group with people I respect and admire [my time and energy was better spent on marketing that was more in tune with the way I enjoy promoting my business], and no to the idea that I will live in New York City forever [I love New York, but it's a big world out there!].

Does this "saying no" instantaneously provide clarity on every aspect in question in terms of what to do with myself?


But, it does establish clear boundaries in my head - and boundaries, I have found, are the baseboards of creativity. As soon as our limits are clearly defined, we begin to see more clearly the resources we have to work with. Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a project, then sat down, created a budget for it, and instantly saw how doable it was? Even budgetary constraints can be a blessing, when it comes to creativity, because rather than have infinite options to and from which our minds can bounce and deliberate, we can see a limited list of choices to be made, and easily determine which of those viable options will be most pleasing.

So, I'm going to keep saying no, until it's perfectly clear exactly all the directions I would not like to go, and finally I box myself into exactly where I would like to go. And, if I'm boxed in, I'll already be contained therein, and the answer to the question about what I'm doing, I suspect, will be right before my eyes.


Cathleen said...

Aha -- so, by narrowing down all my options, I'm not being negative, but systematically positive! I like it. Go OCD! said...

This is great Sarah. A lot of great stuff to think about.

melea said...

Thanks for taking our conversation one step further. This has had me buzzing--thinking--all day.

The World Is Music said...

Good blog. You've really got me thinking about what's important to me, and why I shouldn't try to please everyone...