A few years ago Erwin and I used to go running and share our weekly intentions for each of our roles (personal, career, family, significant other, friend…). If you have read Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this exercise will sound familiar. It is a great way for us to reflect on the past and to “begin with the end in mind” for the week ahead.
On our runs, Erwin’s intentions sounded something like this:
- Personal: I’d like to workout a bit more; maybe do some weight lifting and biking.
- Career: I have a bunch of video tapes I need to up-rise to send to the History channel for viewing.
- Friend: I think I’ll call Mike and see if he wants to go to a concert next month.
While mine sounded something like this:
- Personal: I want to workout six times this week: two weight training sessions, and 25 miles of running overall. I also want to eat healthy foods, lots of salads, veggies, fruits, and enjoy exactly one dessert a week.
- Career: I need to call all of my store buyers and let them know about the new collection. I also need to plan the fall jewelry line. And I need to answer every comment that comes in on the blog in email. And I want to post six times a week on the blog. And I want to comment on seven new blogs a day. And I… (the list goes on)
- Friend: I want to hang out with friends three times this week. I think I’ll call Sarah, Amy, and Alison and see what they want to do.
Inevitably, there were weeks where Erwin’s intentions didn’t get fulfilled. Perhaps he was busier with work one week and the workouts weren’t as regular as he intended. Or he didn’t complete all the work he set out to do. But each week, he would be back on that Intention Run unperturbed about falling short of his intentions. While I on the other hand liked strict, tangible goals. I’m not “just” going to run this week, I’m going to run “25 miles.” I’m not “just” going to post on the blog, I’m going to “blog six times and answer every comment and comment on seven new blogs.” And granted, there were weeks where I really did accomplish all or most of what I set out to do. But if I fell short of the finish line, I felt remorse.
To tell the truth, I always felt a little sad for him. I thought he wasn’t getting as much out of life as he could if he just made more concrete goals, seeing steady improvement in doing more of everything. How he could not be bothered when he didn’t get to workout as much as he wanted? It baffled my mind.
Meanwhile, I on the other hand always felt a little pressure during the week. I had these lofty intentions (goals in disguise) that propelled me towards a constant state of busyness. And when I didn’t reach the goals, I felt a little flat, let down, disappointed.
It’s recently occurred to me that though I don’t set myself up for the same kinds of failures anymore (I don’t do the strict quantity driven intentions), I still finding myself thinking of all the things that I “should” do. It’s as if my ego found a new way to compel (aka: guilt) me to do more, it has just disguised itself better. But at the end of the day, when I look at Erwin’s approach to life and my own: he is inevitably satisfied and content – regardless of any outcomes in the world of intentions. While I on the other hand I feel short-term satisfaction from reaching goals, only to up the ante and start the process all over again. And when I’ve not met my goals, I feel frustrated or stressed.
So recently I’ve been meditating on the simple truth that all we have to do on this Earth is 1) be born and 2) die (and pay taxes as Ben Franklin would say). That’s it. The rest in the middle is up to us. We aren’t asked to get stressed out for 85 years. I personally would like to do good in the middle. But “how much good” is irrelevant.Â So I’m learning to accept that I will not comment on as many blogs as I’d like, answer as many emails, or workout my ideal amount. I will inevitably eat dessert more than once a week. And that reality does not need to upset me; I need to let myself off this self-imposed hook and just be free to do what I can and forget the rest.