Learning Life Lessons The Hard Way: A “To-Do” List is Nothing Without a “To-Be” List [Plus: we bought a house!]

Authors: TheGreatFitnessExperiment


So we bought a house! And I LOVE IT!! (Pics to come!) After an excruciating day of looking at dozens of progressively crappier houses (true story: one house said it “needed a little TLC” but when we got there the ceiling was caved in and there was a massive crack in the foundation… it didn’t need TLC, it needed demolition), I had a very Carly Rae Jeppson moment. As soon as I saw the last house I busted out with so I just met you, and this is crazy but here’s my number, I’ll buy you baby! My husband was a little alarmed at my immediate love for the house and insisted we think about it over night – which meant I woke up every hour terrified that someone else had swooped in at midnight and stolen “my house.” But all was fine in the morning and the house is now in the process of becoming ours (after the 30 years on our mortgage runs out, natch). With a huge sigh of relief, I took out my pen and marked “buy house” off my to-do list. Best moment of my day.

Unfortunately just as I was musing over my love for list making, I came across a Facebook post from a friend who was (justifiably) upset about something I’d done. Worst moment of my day. Call it the Amanda Bynes syndrome: Nothing like the glaring light of social media to make you see yourself differently! Especially at 11:30 at night. When I first saw my friend’s status update on Facebook, my heart froze in my chest. Immediately I knew it was about me and I knew it wasn’t good. Fear, anger, sadness, and defensiveness all shot through me like electricity as tears sprung to my eyes.

But as the feelings settled I was left with just one: disappointment, in myself. People say negative things about me on a fairly regular basis but most of the time I can dismiss them without too much pain by realizing that the person doesn’t really know me and their comments are more a function of who they are than who I am. Except in this case, my friend knew me very well. And she was right about me.  As much as I wanted to rage, “but that’s not me! I’m not like that!” the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not only was she right about me in this instance but it wasn’t the only time I’d done something like this. The worst part was that it had all kind of happened by accident – I’d become someone I didn’t like and I didn’t even see it happening until I’d hurt someone close to me.

Any realization that comes in the darkest hours of the night is tough but this one was particularly so. These past couple of weeks (er, months) have been really trying. When I look back at this time in my life – that is, if I haven’t blocked it out – I think I’ll be amazed at how I juggled a huge move, my job, my kids and a cat that farts gas so noxious she wilts foliage, without killing anyone or being committed. (We should have named her Agent Orange. Why did no one warn me about cats and their SBDs?!) But right now all I feel is tiiiired. My instinct in times like this is to hang on to everything like a pitbull, not allowing anything to drop and just telling myself I’m going to gut it out until every last thing on my to-do list is done. (Did I mention the moving truck is coming tomorrow? I have “pack whole house” on my to-do list for tomorrow. Sigh.)

Do you have a to-do list? A little about mine: it’s low-tech on a lined notepad with two columns. On the left hand side I write down everything that I need to do. On the right hand side I jot notes about things I don’t want to forget like blog post ideas, birthday present ideas, lessons I’m planning and little pictures and diagrams that help me clarify my thoughts. This notepad comes with me everywhere and I’ve very attached to it. I’m also kind of proud of it – every lifestyle guru says that is one of the primary tools of success and while I don’t follow much advice from gurus at least I’ve got this one down. Even writing something down on my list feels like a small accomplishment.

My dark-of-the-night epiphany after mulling over my friend’s Facebook post: I need a to-be list. There’s nothing wrong with having a to-do list – I’ve lost 10 IQ points with each baby so heaven knows my list is a necessity – but there’s also no point in having a to-do list if it isn’t leading you anywhere. Looking over my to-do list, I realized that while every single thing on there felt So! Important! to me, very few of them would have any impact on me in a year and even less so in five years. (Okay, except the whole moving business. That’s going to basically affect my kids for the rest of their born days. Not that I’m sitting up nights thinking about that. Yes I am.) And you know what wasn’t on my to-do list? Things like watching Jelly Bean try to eat a popsicle without ever touching the cold part or making a fort out of boxes with my boys or having a quiet moment with my husband. Sure I was adding and crossing off hundreds of tasks but what was I really doing other than running faster in my hamster wheel? As my friend had showed me, I was doing a lot but I wasn’t becoming much. Call it the Ernest Hemmingway syndrome: Nothing like the glaring light of pen and paper to make you see yourself differently.

So I sat down and wrote out a list of what I want to be, in no particular order. (I had to limit it to 10 because I’ll make lists all night if you let me.)

1. Kind & Compassionate

2. Honest

3. A loving wife

4. An attentive mother

5. A wise teacher and a wiser student

6. An inspiring writer

7. A daughter of God

8. Healthy

9. A genuine friend

10. In the Cirque du Soleil

Comparing my lists side by side I realized that almost nothing on the to-do list was getting me any closer to the items on my to-be list. Not only that but quite a few of my to-do’s were making me into someone I didn’t want to be. Let’s be honest (ha!) and look at my list. Other than #7, which is a gimme, I’m a long ways off from being who I want to be. As I sat mired in my own blindness (and distracted by a strange poop smell that turned out to be a two-day old yogurt cup that had gotten wedged behind the door – gah) I started to realize what is not on my to-be list: Skinny. Beautiful. Cut abs. Perfect thighs. And yet how much time do I devote to thinking about those things? Um, an embarrassing amount.

First task was to add a different #10, because let’s face face it, that ship has sailed. Because sewing vintage dresses, playing the piano, doing crossword puzzles, reading and cooking all make me happy (even if I’m bad at them, which I am), my new #10 is “well rounded.” I started looking down my to-do list and anything that didn’t get me closer to my to-be list got crossed off. I was surprised at how much got scratched out. (Although I later added “laundry” back on. Sigh.)

The next day, instead of doing more work, I took my kids, bought two bouquets of flowers and went to apologize to my friends for what I’d done (#2 and #9). And then I took my kids to the Farmer’s Market (#4 and #8) where I had visions of letting them wallow in all the fresh organic produce I could buy until we got there and I realized we still live in Minnesota, not California and therefore the only things the farmers are currently selling are jerky, honey, homemade soap and bread priced at $6 a loaf. So we got a loaf of bread and had expensive toast for lunch, saying a prayer thanking God (#7) for Chilean grapes, Alaskan salmon and the biodiesel that’s keeping Minnesota farmers in business since nothing else grows here but corn and soybeans.

I make a lot of mistakes. A lot. But never say I don’t learn from them (#5)!

Any other list-makers out there? What’s on your “to-be list”? Anyone else ever bought a house after seeing it once??


*I know I didn’t come up with the concept of to-do versus to-be lists but heaven help me I can’t remember now where I got that from. If you know, feel free to link it in the comments!


Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying EverythingLearning Life Lessons The Hard Way: A “To-Do” List is Nothing Without a “To-Be” List [Plus: we bought a house!] for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!

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