My 31st birthday was on Saturday.
30 was a good year, all and all. It was full of family, friends, fitness, travel, good times and because we live this thing called life, a few not so good times. I’ve learned lessons, unlearned habits, created new ones. I’ve faced fears, and admittedly played it safe when I probably should have risked it.
That’s one goal for year 31 – take more risks.
One lesson I learned this year is that we get to decide what stays and what goes. We get to choose where we focus our energy and who gets to be a part of our circle. We get to decide what gets a “yes” and what – and who – gets a “no.”
That’s some pretty powerful stuff.
This year, I served as the Vice President of Membership of the Junior League of Charlottesville. It’s a big role. I’m on the board, field a number of emails, handle the occasional member conflict, and headed research into a sweeping change to our membership requirements. It’s a role that can largely take over one’s life, if they aren’t careful. As we worked through the upcoming membership slate recently, I fielded the same question from each person who expressed interest in my VP role:
“How do you balance it with everything else on your plate?”
I told them all the same thing: I protect my time.
It’s easy – and in my case, it’s even a knee jerk reaction – to say “yes” to everything. Will you sit on this committee? Will you field these emails? Can you attend this social? This training? This meeting?
It happens in the office. You say “yes” to every project that comes to the table. It happens at home, saying “yes” to every invitation, every request to help a friend move or babysit or bake a few dozen cupcakes for the local elementary school’s bake sale.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Before you know it, your days are packed from sun up to past sun down, and there is no time for you and the things that bring you joy.
With this in mind – and with experience in saying “yes” to everything in my previous two League leadership roles – I started off my reign as Membership VP with the intention of protecting my time. I was careful to limit my meetings to two a week. If something was better served as a conference call, I had a conference call instead of driving across town. I didn’t go to every social or training or volunteer opportunity. I didn’t reply to emails the second they landed in my inbox. I advised my council to respond within 48 hours – why not take that advice myself?
When I realized it was working, I started implementing the “protect my time” mantra throughout other areas of my life. I said “yes” to a lot of projects at work, but with realistic expectations of a completion date in place instead of “as soon as possible.” I said “yes” to friends and dates and family, but not at the expense of my own sanity and the things I love to do, like barre, reading, lifting, or writing.
I also chose what I kept and what I let go.
Sometimes, it was as simple as choosing not to finish a book I didn’t like. Other times, it was bigger. I chose to drop a writing project that I no longer felt inspired by. I chose to spend my money on travel instead of hoarding it in a savings account or using it to pay down student loans. That was one of the best choices I made in year 30.
Perhaps the toughest decisions involved people. I let people go over the last year. Not openly. Not dramatically. I just – let them go. I unfollowed them on social media. I stopped trying to help them, save them. I reminded myself I can’t fix everyone. I can’t give without ever receiving. I cut the metaphorical cord.
I’m better for it.
I’m better for remembering I get to choose who I spend time with and what I do with that time. I’m better for saying “no” to a Friday night dinner invitation if it’s been a long week and I desperately want to have a quiet evening at home on my couch with Netflix and my dog. I’m better for choosing not to engage in political debates or share in the “he said, she said” gossip. I’m better for turning down the guy who desperately wanted me to be his girlfriend because I knew we were far too different to work. He was crushed and I felt terrible, but it was the right choice.
It’s hard to say no, to let people down. Even when you’re doing so for your own well-being.
Moving into 31, I’m continuing to make the choice of how to spend my days and who to spend them with. I’m a better person – not to mention a more well-rested person – because I choose the things and the people that bring me joy.
I choose to be happy.
Protect your time. Remember that you get to choose how you spend it and who you spend it with.
And once you remember that and make the choice, recognize how much better your life becomes.