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Doing what you have to do, versus doing what you want to do…

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in all the tasks we have to do…and forget to give ourselves time to enjoy.

There is an art to finding balance in how we live our lives.

From a statement like that, we could go off in all manner of directions; around diet and ‘moderation in all things’; around exercise and the benefits of variety; around relationships, careers and more. Rather than exploring any or all such topics in depth, let’s just look at one angle, the work-life balance. And by ‘work’ I don’t just mean ‘career’ or ‘your job’, I mean the broader work-life balance, the balance between always doing what you have to do, versus doing what you want to do. In our modern high-speed lives we always have so much to do.

Some of this is real - that leak in the conservatory roof must get fixed, because every time it rains water is pouring in and it’s making a mess, filling buckets, staining the floor, so this is an urgent task that must be attended to, it’s no use saying “I’ll do that next month”. But many of the things we find ourselves striving to get done are not so essential, or at least not so urgent; often they are self-imposed rules we feel we should live by, or goals we feel we must achieve to fit in, to meet certain social or societal standards, to keep up with the Jones’s. We don’t want our lawn to look unkempt compared to our neighbours; we must attend that parent–teacher association meeting at our child’s school; we must wear certain clothes, look a certain way, earn a certain amount, drive a certain type of car.

Constant overwhelm

It’s not to say there is anything wrong with helping out at the parent–teacher association, or driving a BMW, or having an immaculately manicured lawn, there isn’t, these are all good things. But the problem is, we often find our lives become completely swamped in all these things, between parenting, working full time, trying to stay fit and healthy, keeping up family contacts and obligations, maintaining the home and more, so often we feel utterly overwhelmed with it all. I speak to people almost daily who joke (but they are only half-joking) something like “I go to work for a rest!” Often we find the weekend is busier than the working week.

I feel this myself sometimes…I pour my energy into my working week, it has structure and purpose, I have objectives for the week, and I work hard to get those things done. Working from home I have to be fairly strict about my working time; I have to avoid distractions, family, the kids, things that need fixing, conversations, play, repairs…all the things that come up during a typical week. I have to have the discipline to say “Not now, I’ll put it on my list and deal with it at the weekend” and by the time the weekend comes, I have more to do on a Saturday or Sunday that during the week - so much for rest!

No time for fun at the weekend

This has become our norm as a society. And I don’t know about you, but I am fairly hard on myself for the things that don’t get done. I still don’t find time to meditate every day, I don’t exercise for an hour every day as I would like to, I never read enough, I don’t do enough ‘weekend fun things’ with my kids as I’d like to, the repairs and DIY around the home stack up for weeks and months til I get them done…and so it goes on.

It’s my guess, that you can relate to some of this. Right? You kinda feel like you’re a workaholic, but it’s not just ‘work’ meaning your ‘day job’, it’s the constant and never ending lists of things to do, to be a better person, a better parent, husband, wife, father, mother, worker, to earn more money, to be slimmer, to be fitter, to have a more beautiful home, to be doing all you can to support your kids, to wear the right clothes, drive the right car, and never mind finding time to actually care about anyone or anything beyond your own home…you have to call your mother, pop round and see granny, check on that old boy who lives up the street, see if he needs his dog walked, how about charity work, take part in a community project, support a cause, give some time….time! You think I have time!!!

I think this is how many of us are living our lives. And the trouble is that weeks, and months, and years go buy, and we never take time for ourselves, we never do those things we would like to do. That’s not to say we are unhappy pursuing our careers, or unhappy to work hard at being a good parent or spouse - these are all admirable traits and we do them well and feel pride and pleasure as a result. But we still never indulge in what we really WANT to do purely for our own enjoyment.

For instance, I love my work (Mother Nature’s Diet rocks!!) and I love my three kids, I love working and being busy, but I also love my time out in Nature, walking, and particularly being in the mountains. I just LOVE being in the mountains…walking, hiking, rock climbing, it’s my nirvana, makes me come alive, it’s my happy place. The trouble is, I don’t do it anything like enough. I live in Wiltshire, not famous for it’s snow-capped peaks, so in order to find mountains of any real size, I have to take days off and travel. I can drive to the Lake District or up to Scotland, or I can fly down to France, Switzerland or Spain, but this all take planning, and some expense.

When time and money become factors, all-too-often we put these activities off, justifying our decisions with sensible practicalities “We can’t afford that right now” and “I don’t have time, work is too busy” and so on. Sometimes, those justifications are the right decision, but often I talk to people and we find that they have been missing out on the things they want to do, because of all those practical reasons, for years and years. This leaves them miserable, feeling hard-done-by, building resentment against their spouse, kids, employer or business.

Success and resentment

All the time I meet people who are, by the standards of our society, highly ‘successful’. They have a nice house, smart car, nice clothes, lovely spouse, good kids, all that. They stay slim and healthy, the kids get good grades, they ‘do their bit’ donating a few quid to a good cause every month, they support the kids school, they have money, savings, financial security. On paper, they are the epitome of our social standards in the 21st century, they seem to be everything the media and advertisers have us all striving for.

Yet under that veneer of success, they are miserable…or at least they are exhausted and feeling unfulfilled. They never have time for themselves, never have time for holidays, they never get to travel to those places they have always dreamed off, they never indulge in their hobbies, they never pursue those things that interest them (like me never learning to speak French or play the piano!), they never get to watch those movies they want to see and they never have time to relax and just waste a little time doing nothing. I could easily be describing myself here!

What’s the point of this newsletter today? If the above paragraphs describe you…stop it! Just stop putting everyone and everything else first and take some time for you!

Bucket list

For me personally, it’s not the little things, the everyday stuff, the fact I never find time to meditate and I don’t relax and watch a DVD as often as I’d like. I feel OK about that stuff, because that stuff isn’t massively important to me…it would be nice, but it’s not essential to my happiness. For me, it’s the big things. I mean, I have a ‘bucket list‘, you know, a long list of all the places I’d like to go and things I’d like to do, experiences I’d like to try, skills I’d like to learn - if you don’t have a bucket list, you need to start writing one, NOW! And when a birthday rolls around, and I look back over another year of my life and I haven’t ticked any of those things on my bucket list (first world problems, heh?) that really bugs me.

Because I wrote my bucket list back in my mid-30s (and of course I am always adding to it) and if I now look at it a decade later, and I’ve only ticked six or seven things off, I start to realise that I am never going to do it all unless I live til I am 348! I don’t want to be old and weak, in my 90s looking back thinking about all the mountains I never climbed, all the countries I never visited, all the sports I never tried. That sucks.

So the message in this post (finally!) is this. While all that stuff that fills your life is important, and I am not belittling any of it, your manicured lawn is a source of pride I am sure! But while all that is important, you must make time every year to do some things that are just for you. What about the kids, what about your spouse, what about work, what about the business? Screw them all, you need just a few days every year that are entirely for you.

Take that life drawing class. Visit that yoga retreat. Go work on that conservation project. Visit that orphanage. Take the cruise. Learn to paint. Go to dance classes. Skydive. Take up karate. Just do some of the things on your list - every year. Get over the idea that your spouse/kids/boss/customers will resent you for it. No they won’t, they’ll love the happier, healthier, more balanced you that comes back, and you’ll be encouraging them to all do the same - to live life, and not be a slave to everyone else around you.

However old you are, whether you are 21, 35, 44, 56 or 92, write that bucket list, and resolve to do three things off your list every year.

Every birthday, look at your list and pick three things:

  1. Go somewhere (it may take a day, it may take a month…)
  2. Try something (perhaps a new sport, or new art. Experience something)
  3. Learn something (study, stimulate your mind, get skills)

Just do it.
Wash the car next weekend.
Manicure the lawn next month.

Life is too short, make the most of it - be indulgent, your life needs the benefit of balance.


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Age MacKenzie #

    Great article Karl. I have a bike list a mile long as you can well imagine. I accord with your ‘wants’ below to the extent whereby I have cut and pasted them onto a computer page for future consideration and shaping into almost like a personal vision/mission statement. I am them going to draw out some goals and objectives that amount to ‘tickable’ to do lists year on year which align my vision with my bike/bucket lists. I do have one question for you about which I will message you privately. Cheers for the article.

    July 14, 2021
  2. Barrie D Evans #

    Cheers Karl, great article

    July 23, 2021
  3. Amazing
    And topic ❤❤❤❤

    September 18, 2021

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