You won’t see this as a news headline, but you should:
SOCIETY IS SICK WITH THE DISEASE OF BUSYNESS!
Being overbooked has somehow become a badge of honor. And I’m no saint.
When I was 22 I scribbled this well-meaning task at the top of my to-do list:
Walk into a nursing home. Ask the staff to nominate their loneliest visitor. Knock on an unsuspecting stranger’s door. Show up and listen.
My intention was to deliver some light and love to a wise soul who had been tucked away in a quiet room. To assure them they had not been forgotten.
But busy days weaved themselves together to form busy weeks. Those busy weeks compounded to create chaotic months. Before I knew it, I had stacked up a bunch of where-the-heck-did-they-go years.
Isn’t it ironic how the most important things in our lives tend to get scheduled with the scraps of what’s left over after the rest of world takes what it wants?
Fast forward five years.
At 27, I decided it was time to start living the story I wanted to look back on.
My calendar would now include more than conference calls, work deadlines, and other people’s needs.
I walked through the front doors of a nursing home in my neighborhood on a rare, uncomfortably cold Texas winter evening. The staff scanned their roster looking for a resident who was “visitor deprived.” Their nomination sat quietly in room 202.
I walked nervously through the long quiet halls. The sound of my shoes echoed off the dingy yellow tile and plain beige walls. As I passed each door, I took time to read every hand decorated name placard. I considered carefully that each represented a real person… and an entire life story stretched behind them that I knew nothing about.
By the time I was standing in front of the hand painted placard that read 202, my palms were sweating through my scruffy winter mittens. I had no idea who I was about to find. But I knew there was nowhere else on the entire globe my feet needed to be planted other than right in front of this stranger’s door. Why?
Because the memories you remember most are rarely born from within your comfort zone.
How To Be The Happiest Human in The Nursing Home
I knocked on the door intending to deliver a gift, but discovered one instead. On the other side sat 98-year-old Ella.
When I asked Ella about the best moments of her life, her response startled me.
Grabbing my hand, she squeezed it tight. Excitement washed over her as she replied through an enormous smile, “My life has been SO, SO FULL, Kendra!”
Gratitude poured out of her and bathed the room the way sunshine flows over a skyline at dawn. No crevice left untouched. Warmth everywhere. I was confused and equally fascinated. This was not what I expected.
How did she feel so full while being tucked away in this tiny room? While many of us struggle with feelings of emptiness, even when we’re surrounded by our big families, lavish lives, and latest iDevices?
Grinning, she laid her long life story out like a homemade movie – glowing brightly about all the fascinating ways she collected an incredible amount of breathtaking, beautiful memories.
She beamed about a powerful rebellious love that lasted for decades. We chuckled together when she tallied up the outlandish risks of her youth (and there were many).
She honestly had the ultimate luxury that all of us are after but none of us can buy – a life well lived.
Even while living in a small room with plain beige walls and having basically no visitors the past few months, nothing could take away the satisfaction a life well lived now gave her.
During the hour and a half we spent together, storytelling and laughing, Ella repeatedly and passionately urged me to make time for exciting life experiences. It was the number one piece of wisdom she wanted me to know, and she even asked me to promise myself that I would.
Driving home, I steered through tears. I considered how it took me 27 years to turn the doorknob of room 202. And yet, I make it to work every day… and I even make it to the dentist at least twice a year (when I’m behaving like a real adult).
What else had I been doing all those years that was more important than moments like this?
The Life You (Really) Want To Live Will Never Be Comfortable or Convenient
I don’t remember most of my early twenties. Probably because I never slowed down long enough to actually live them. I was asleep at the wheel. My life was on autopilot. Thankfully I was young, and mostly only foolish in that one specific way.
Everything changed when I started taking things off of my “someday” list and began putting them on a day of the week that actually exists: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
What I’ve found, and other people living with less regret have confirmed for me, is this: If something important isn’t on the calendar, it doesn’t happen.
Yes, we have to earn a paycheck, and go to the dentist, and shop for groceries, and do various forms of busywork. But not at the total expense of getting to the end of our lives and wondering where the heck it went!
Collecting experiences, adventures and face time with amazing people is at least – if not more – important than most of our other tasks and obligations.
So what do we do?
Plan personal time off the clock with the same level of intentionality that we use for our “professional” lives.
If we don’t, chance will lead us to choose comfort (doing nothing) every single time.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is the one hard thing we have to do to live a life we are excited and happy to look back on.
Hear me now but believe me later: until your personal priorities have dates in your day planner they will tumble to the bottom of your infinitely expanding to-do list.
The part of this story you almost didn’t read was how I wanted to bail on Ella that night.
As great as my intentions were, they were doing a pretty pitiful job of getting me out the door when the weather was inconvenient and I was exhausted. By my own failure to set boundaries in my workload, I clocked a grueling ten hours that day. Plus, a friend who was supposed to tag along for the adventure bailed.
My motivation meter was sittin’ heavy on zilch. Nada. Nothing. No gas in the tank.
But this was no longer on my “maybe I’ll get to it list” that evening like it had been for several years. It was on my calendar. I had committed.
I had finally learned to carve out time in my day so it would be about more than earning a paycheck… and running around.
And laying down my badge of busyness so I can live a life I will be proud to look back on, I realized, can start small. One day at a time.
So I walked down the halls of that nursing home a year and a half ago.
And do you want to know what I remember most about the evening I knocked on door 202?
If you said that it wasn’t the deadlines I miraculously hit or how I felt when I didn’t want to leave my warm house and venture into the cold, you’re smart and I like you.
What I do remember is slowing down long enough to create a memory worth remembering for the rest of my life: Ella.
I remember who I had to become to face the task of walking up to her door all by myself. I remember sweating through my mittens, not knowing what or who I would find on the other side. I remember crisscrossing my balmy fingers and cold toes hoping someone would be grateful I was there (instead of wondering if I was a wacko).
And I’ll never forget the way Ella hugged me goodbye. Long and hard. Like a friend she loved dearly and wasn’t sure when she would see again.
Although my task list had been impressively long that day, I completed the most important item: slow down to create a moment that I would remember.
And life has never been the same since.
How to Quit Living to Work… So You Can Work to Live
I’ve certainly remembered a lot more from my late twenties than my early twenties. Simply because I started making appointments to actually show up and live.
If we are more than our work and the demands of the world (and we are), why doesn’t more than that get scheduled on our calendar?
Imagine a list of 100 things you want to do or experience — little and large. How many of your goals, dreams and desires actually have dates on your day planner?
If we aren’t actively working toward slashing items off that list then why the heck are we working so darn hard anyway?
Now I live by one simple rule: schedule something exciting on the calendar every week – preferably something fresh and different that allows me to share a smile with others. Because most memories worth remembering don’t happen by accident.
We know our ideas to pay it forward will make us feel good. We know planning an unforgettable date night with our partner vs. just dusting off the Netflix queue will make us feel alive. We know putting our phones down to be present and enjoy a playful pillow fight with our little ones will make us smile. So why don’t we do those things?
Simple. We are too busy… trying to be “successful” or whatever.
Nobody Who Works Themselves to Death Wins
I promise, you are more than your job. You are more than your errands, and meetings, and your mortgage. You are more than other people’s priorities for you.
You are more than 24/7 busyness.
So make room on your calendar for more than just the things that keep you busy.
Take one thing off your “someday list” of personal priorities and put it on your calendar this week.
It doesn’t have to be large to make an impact. Small is the perfect place to start when you’re ready to start showing your calendar who is boss.
Block off time to make it home from work at a reasonable hour, and surprise your significant other with a slow dance and twirl in the living room.
Build a blanket fort with your kids. Flick off all the lights and navigate the house with only flashlights and curiosity.
If you’re single, ask a friend you trust to set you up on a blind date with the most creative, interesting, lighthearted single person they know.
Walk into a nursing home and help someone who can do nothing for you.
Game of Thrones isn’t going anywhere, I promise.
Become a Professional Experience Collector
Consider that your life is a credits and debits system. All the experiences, adventures, and memories you collect will put deposits into your happiness account. When you get to the end and it’s not as easy to venture into the world or try new things, you’ll need a lot of memories to draw credit against.
You don’t get brownie points in life for winning at working yourself to death.
Just because it’s normal to drift through your days without intentionality, doesn’t make it OK.
Every breath you take is killing you. Are you making decisions today that your future self will thank you for?
Remember, the happiest person in the nursing home wins. 😉
Don’t let this be another article you read and don’t take action on.
In the comments section below, share one exciting or important thing you’ve been intending to do… and then put a date on your calendar. If you need ideas, steal 100 of my best ones here.
Author Bio: Kendra Wright is a blogger, writer, speaker and location independent entrepreneur. Since creating the Year Of Fear Project in 2013, she has completed over 700 self-assigned comfort zone challenges. Kendra specializes in teaching others how to break through fear and uncertainty, productivity slumps, and create better work-life balance (without abandoning the inner hustle). Find more of her work and comfort zone challenges at HeyKendra.com.
Photo by: Matthew Wiebe