I have some good news for you. There are some things you do all the time because you think you need to, but actually, you could just quit doing those things and nothing would change. You just have to figure out what they are. See, I think at some point as we transition from young adults into regular adults, our priority wires tend to get a little crossed. While we’re learning (sometimes hamfistedly) to live responsibly, we often start to confuse the things we really need to do with the things we could do.
As young adults, so many of the choices we make are legitimately important. Or, at least, making those choices is important. All the little tasks you have to do to make sure you get into the college you want; the due diligence you put yourself through to land a good job; all the meticulously dotted I’s and crossed T’s in emails to your first realtor. Our lives, at that stage, are like newly created email accounts. Everything that shows up in that account is important to you, and you take some kind of action on all of it, because it’s all related to something that matters to us. Practically all of the big stuff we do at that stage is in the service of some experience we want to have, some thing we want to learn, some lifestyle we want to live, or some person we want to be with. Most of us didn’t have to-do lists at that point in our lives, but if we did, almost everything on it would be important enough to do.
But, as we all know, not everything we try for comes around. As we get older, we’re left with the loose ends of things we once felt hopeful about, or felt were important, or felt they should be allowed to shape some part of our lives. Over time, we let those things train our behavior and expectations to some degree. We end up with “get-it-done spam” in the proverbial inbox of our lives; things that at one time were important for one reason or another, but no longer do much of anything for us anymore.
Much like the newsletters you’re still getting from the multi-level marketing scheme you almost got swept up in back in 2013, there are probably things you stress to do or get done that are no longer especially relevant to your current life, and if you knew what they were, you could just stop doing them. Alas, as adults, our lives can sometimes feel like a precarious web of intentions and habits that keep us moving foreword; we end up reluctant to just cut things out and see what happens.
Think about someone who’s car used to stall out when they accelerated too quickly, and even after getting a new car, go very gently on the accelerator. It’s kind of like that, except with way more meaningful and significantly less obvious things. What if you just didn’t check your email? What if you didn’t bother responding to a text message when you didn’t feel like it? What if you just disregarded the lawn for an extra week? What if you didn’t bother finishing that TV series after watching the first 9 seasons?
In all of these cases, and many more, the answer is probably nothing. Nothing happens. Nothing changes. Most likely none of those things need to be allowed to stress you out, or take your focus off of something you deem more important. There’s a good chance that the impulse that those things need to be done is leftover from a time when it actually was important, or parallel to something important. Of course, your lawn care or email inbox may be someone else’s cleaning out the fridge, or balancing a physical checkbook. So, understand that to get what I’m saying here you have to do some introspection and explore your own day to day choices a little bit. And, you have to be brave enough to trust that it’s going to be fine.
I’d like to contextualize this a little bit because the place I see it most frequently is when people are booking portrait sessions and weddings. They often stress about what to wear at a portrait session because when the kids were young it was a major battleground. Similarly, people stress about getting party favors right at weddings, or about whether to do a first look, often times not even asking themselves why those things are important enough to do in the first place.
This thing I’m describing here, we all do it. We’ve all got “get-it-done spam” sitting in our inbox and a lot of us would be a lot happier if we figured out what those things are and just waited to see what would happen if we didn’t do it. I’d encourage you to try. Don’t let a compulsion to do the dishes every night before bed keep giving you over-tired mornings. Don’t let an empty tradition from 80 years ago make your wedding plan a nightmare. Don’t let a preoccupation with everyone’s clothes matching make a portrait session miserable for you.
Some things just never need to be done, and the sooner you figure out which things those are, the sooner you can focus on the things that actually contribute to making you happy.