Recently, I heard someone much smarter than me – though I can’t remember who – say something to the effect of, “If your life were a lifeboat, what non-essentials would you chuck over the side to keep you afloat?”
The answer is probably different for everyone, but for me, the answer is simple: anything that causes me undue stress. Toxic relationships. A two-and-a-half hour commute to a high-stress job. Red wine and pizza. Noisy nightclubs.
I’ve done a pretty good job over the last year of tipping those things into the ocean and watching them sink away from me. And my load has gotten lighter. I can float again.
Those things took up valuable real estate in my life, and once they were gone, I could make more room for the things that make my heart feel a little lighter. Things like my family and friends. Things like yoga. Reading and writing. Alone time. Homemade meals and puppydog cuddles.
But I still get stressed. I still have things in my life that take more out of me than they give. And if it weren’t for a deep sense of obligation toward them, I would have given those things an ocean burial long ago.
Why do I keep these obligations in my life? Why do I feel anchored to them even as they’re sinking me? Why do I sacrifice the things I love for the things I (deep down) hate?
Guilt, mostly. I invited these things into my life. I put the time into them. I want to be the good guy and stick it out. So when I think of letting them go, I feel guilty. And I would rather feel pissed off and frustrated and stressed out than feel guilty.
But I’m starting to think that life’s too short to feel any of those things. I shouldn’t have to feel angry about doing things that bring me no joy, and I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about evicting those things from my headspace – for making more room in my sinking life boat.
So I’m going to start doing something that is practically unheard of for me: I’m going to start saying no to things I don’t want to do, without apology or explanation. I’m going to reclaim some power over the things that are in my life. I’m going to fill my lifeboat with things that lift me up rather than weigh me down.
Because my life is my lifeboat in this vast ocean we’ve all found ourselves in, and it’s the only one I’ll ever get.