I’ve been thinking lately about what it takes to be successful. Not the “my dad gave me a small million dollar loan” kind of successful, but the kind that leaves you feeling like you’ve done enough without stripping you or your energy, or worse yet, your sanity. For me this has always meant finding balance – balance between work and school, health and family, creativity and necessity, and everything in between. I’m a “simple living” person at heart, but I’ve found it difficult to practice in the face of everything I need to do to get to a place where I can practice that and not be, you know, homeless. A few years ago when I started considering how to truly and fundamentally transform my life, I took to audiobooks. Your Money or Your Life, Atomic Habits, 4 hour work week, the usual.

My biggest take away, aside from the need to form habits and routines, was finding this balance. It’s what got me back into school, finding a new job, and medicated. But even now I find that there isn’t enough time or energy to be the perfect person who can do everything well and healthily. These are some of the takeaways I’ve been trying to work on:

  1. Set Priorities
  2. Create a Schedule
  3. Learn to Say No
  4. Make Time for Self Care
  5. Be Flexible

Each one of these has helped me balance my wants, needs, and aspirations, but I have a long way to go before they’re second nature. As I’m stuck at home while my car is getting worked on, I figured I should spend some time ruminating on this topic in hopes of internalizing these takeaways a little bit deeper.

1. Set Priorities

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been good at my own priorities. It did take my 30 years to get properly medicated, after all, which certainly helped get me in the right headspace. So when I think about this takeaway, I think about how the dominos fall into place. A bad diet might be easier if you’re prioritizing your energy levels or comfort, for a night. But a good diet and exercise, admittedly, would do more for me in the long run. But, like. Priorities.

While I’m currently in the “giving myself grace” period, I know that my physical health is a priority that I’ve allowed to fall to the side. So while I can’t pretend I’m in a place to start hitting the gym every day, I’ve been tasking myself with small improvements, and thinking out how priorities can benefit each other – like how foregoing the starbucks oatmilk shaken espresso in favor of a homemade mix is going to save me money and calories in the long run.

So, this quarter, the priority may continue to be school and trying to carve out time for creative, but I definitely feel myself filling the health bucket a little higher than I have in the past. I’ve taken some steps lately like scheduling appointments that I’ve been putting off, and I’ve realized that sometimes, I’ll use priorities as excuses to not get things done. Like I could put something off for months, or I could get it done in an hour and not think about it for another year. And that brings me to…

2. Create a Schedule

I’m going to be honest, I’m great at making a schedule. It’s the keeping to it that I’m not so great at. I really love the concept of time blocking – putting those to-do lists, like my appointments above, on a calendar rather than leaving them up to my notoriously weak willpower. One thing I’ve noticed none of these books ever seem to cover when discussing time blocking is that I can ignore a schedule like nobody’s business.

So with that in mind, let’s take some time to develop a schedule and make it more obnoxious.

Haha just kidding. I’ll put that on the calendar. Eventually. But for now I at least have a few pre-determined schedules already in place. For one, work. I work in the office two days a week, and from home the other three. Because of this I tend to schedule school on the weekends, except for projects that are due by Thursday. For these I usually look over everything on Mondays and complete the Thursday work on, well, Thursday. I am after all a working adult.

The created-but-often-ignored schedule I’m trying to prioritize (see what I’m doing here?) is the content/ creative aspirations. It can be hard fitting these in to busy schedules and around work, school, and not avoiding the few times a month I socialize for my sanity. I feel like that is what keeps so many people from doing it. I fall victim to this especially often when it comes to the podcast. If it were more established and less of a passion project, it’d be easier to prioritize it, which becomes in itself a ouroboros. Kind of like how I just made this about the first point again.

3. Learn to Say No

This one has become increasingly easy with age as I stop caring and let go of all that useless trauma I’d been saving up to get myself something nice. Now, sure, I’ll never not be the person who says Yes when people ask me for help or to take on XYZ at work – I like being helpful, enough that I’d say it’s a priority. But what I have gotten better at is sticking up for myself and learning to work within my own boundaries. I used to beat myself up to do things for everyone; I’ve since learned how to set expectations, not only for myself but for others. I’ll give a handful of requests a “right away,” and a few “by end of day.” But lately I’ve adopted the all powerful “as soon as I can,” which would have been a total faux pas to people pleaser 20-something me.

I also think learning to stick up for yourself can be more powerful than a simple no. While, yes, in a perfect world “no” should suffice, I think there is empathy for oneself and the other person to be able to explain yourself. “I want to help, but I am too busy” or “I won’t do that, because I don’t enjoy it” are not much more complicated than a simple “no.” I think a lot of self-help recently has boiled down to “It’s ok to be selfish and mean,” but I think it’s important to empathize with others and expect them to empathize with you.

This was a total side track tangent, I admit. But I just couldn’t say no.

4. Make Time For Self Care

I just made a self-help reference and I swear that wasn’t planned, but I’ve got another bone to pick with the industry. Self Care is important. But Self Care that isn’t balanced with needs and priorities isn’t very carrying. Racking up $30k in debt to “treat yourself” isn’t caring for yourself. Ignoring your responsibilities until they blow up in your face isn’t caring for yourself. I make both of these points as someone who routinely does both. I am, after all, screaming into a void.

So often we let ourselves believe that getting the large soda is a treat, but then it keeps us up all night. I think we need to explore (as individuals, but also as a society) what it truly means when we say “self care.” Acts like reading, walking in nature, and meditation will have long term benefits that many of the things we say “well I deserve it” will not.

So as I stumble through my quarter of self-grace, I’m also trying to be real with myself about what self care means in the long term. I guess I’m learning to say no to those urges I’ve developed over time, too.

5. Be Flexible

Speaking of the whole giving myself grace thing… I swear I’m not doing these segues on purpose… This takeaway is one that I’m really trying to take to heart lately. For me, the biggest flexibility I can offer myself is putting perfectionism aside and giving myself room to fail. It could also mean learning to find time to move that schedule around, or learning to cope when things go wrong rather than giving up on goals.

In my last post I mentioned my goals this quarter:

  • Embrace imperfection, and forgive mistakes.
  • Commune with nature every day.
  • Consistency is key.

And I think the first and third are both tied to flexibility. It’s not just about rolling with the punches, but also about being able to bend without breaking. For years I’ve allowed myself to get derailed because of perfectionism, set backs, or willpower. But I’ve learned over time that one bad day doesn’t have to spoil every day after it, and it doesn’t take away from all the progress that came before. Dust yourself off, and try again.

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