With a little extra downtime (understatement of the year) lately, I have been reading book after book. I have always been a bookworm, but the pages have been slowly turning over the past few years as other parts of my life have been speeding forward. One book that has been on my shelf eyeing me, is Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.
Not really knowing too much about the book other than the fact that it was a best seller, the name just called out to me as I have been trying for the last several years to be more present in my own life.
The prospect of making tremendous sacrifices in my professional and social life to instill presence is likely the reason why I have always hesitated to actually pick up the book and begin reading. With the recent stay-at-home orders and temporary closure of my dental office due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t think of a more clear sign from up above that I needed to not only read this book, but use it strategize a new plan going forward.
For any of you out there who feel that this is the perfect opportunity to rein in the chaos of your life and seek more intention moving forward, here are a few of the tips I took away from the book that I plan to put into practice in my own life:
Learn To Say No, So I Can Say Yes
This was something I knew going in: I have a really hard time saying no! I’m not quite sure if it is a female thing, or a Type A personality thing, but I just feel rude saying no. So I really try not to.
But of course what this means is that my schedule is continuously overfull, making less time to do the things that are most important to me, like spend time with my family and take care of myself. I have made a pact with myself that any time someone requests something of me, I am going to really give it a thought before jumping in and saying yes.
This will give me more of the ability to say YES to the little things my family asks of me: go on a bike ride, watch a show, go swimming. To be honest, when I am working with a typically overfull schedule, little things like those can leave me with stabs of anxiety as I watch time tick away. So in conclusion, I’m trying to give more No’s so I can have more Yes’s with those that matter.
But I made time to read Present Over Perfect because I knew it would be helpful especially as we begin to put our lives back together post quarantine.
Take Down Some Chairs
In this book Present Over Perfect, author Shauna Niequist writes about a lesson she learned about a mentor long ago. He was talking with a young pastor about the growth of a church and how something that started out so small could grow into something so large. In the particular scenario they were discussing, the young church pastor claimed that he did nothing to make the church grow so large, it simply happened on its own. The more experienced (and wise) mentor mentioned that the young man had done something – he set out more chairs.
This analogy explains in a simplistic way how we can let our own lives spin out of control with commitments to others.
While we may think we have no choice and we have to do this, and we have to do that, ultimately we are the ones that set out the chairs. We are the ones that say “yes” and invite commitment after commitment into our lives. And at the end of the day, we are the ones that can chose to take down the chairs, allowing more room to breathe within our own lives.
Get Comfortable With Stillness, One Minute At A Time
Have you ever tried to sit still? Like really sit down and do nothing at all for a period of time? If you have, I commend you! When I first thought of this concept while reading this book, my initial feeling was that it wasn’t hard to do. Certainly, I do it all the time!
Well, after much thought, and keeping an eye on my daily routine, I realize I absolutely do not allow stillness into my life. Even now, with no work to attend, nowhere to go outside my house, I struggle to be still.
It seems I have always got to have a task to attend to, whether physical or mental. If ever I find myself with nothing to do my mind either races through the options of what I could be doing. I walk around the house looking for a new task to start, I turn on the TV, or I scroll my phone. After realizing this, I have begun attempting to sit down in a chair every once in a while and just observe the scene around me, or close my eyes and listen to my breathing.
For me, sitting still is no easy task.
The moment things get quiet and still, my mind immediately starts thinking of what I should do once I am done! To help keep me focused on the stillness, I try to think through all five of my senses and focus on what each one is presenting to me at the moment. Over time, I have worked up to being able to be still for several minutes at a time (which is quite an accomplishment for me!), and I plan to build on that as time goes!
If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that we as a country are not used to staying put an being still. And maybe, just maybe, we could all benefit from a little more stillness in our everyday lives!
While I know that life post quarantine is going to throw a lot of curveballs my way, I hope to be able to cling to these insights I have learned from reading Present Over Perfect. The quote shown above and below is my new favorite. If I were the tattooing type, it is definitely something I would have written on my arm so I could see it daily:
“Love is never found in the hustle.”