(Not really.) (But kinda.)
Last month over in Ali Edwards' One Little Word workshop, the prompt was all about letting go . . . of something. Or multiple somethings. These are the kinds of prompts that I generally roll my eyes at a little bit. (Okay. Maybe it's really the craft part of the prompt that I'm rolling my eyes at. Hard to tell.) But . . . they're also the kind of prompts that get me thinking.
Such easy words to say or type. So hard to put in practice!
Over the last decade+ I've had a enough life-changes thrown my way (a cancer diagnosis, empty-nesting, Tom's work changes, my mom's death, my own "retirement," the pandemic) that I've had a lot of practice with . . . letting things go. In fact, I've successfully let go of many, many (many) things. Ideas. Notions. Habits. Activities. Commitments. Plans.
But. There is one thing (and it's a big thing, actually) that is still hanging on. And it is time for me to Let. It. Go.
What is that thing, you ask?
Why . . . It's Arbitrary Rules!
And what is an Arbitrary Rule, you ask?
Well. They are rules I made up for myself. Completely made up. No one made me adopt them. (Well. Maybe my mom.) There are no "stakes" involved for these rule. And yet, for whatever reason, my arbitrary rules are Strong and Powerful. I follow my arbitrary rules To. The. Letter. I stick to my rules, damnit!
Can you give us an example, you ask?
Sure! Here's my favorite, all-time paralyzing arbitrary rule: "You can't have fun until your work is done." (Variations on this theme include "No dessert until you eat your vegetables" and "No TV until your homework is finished.")
And, yes. Those are totally things my mom said when I was a kid. I'm not saying she was wrong. There are times when you need to buckle down and get the hard stuff done before you do the fun stuff! And there are times when you can use the fun stuff as a reward for getting through the hard stuff. But . . . carrying that arbitrary rule forward and making it a lifestyle choice? Not so good.
I mean, my mom? She was trying to instill a strong work ethic in my growing heart and soul. She was helping me learn to set priorities, and make sure I became a responsible adult who would understand the importance of getting the unpleasant-but-necessary stuff of life . . . done. And it worked. I did become a responsible citizen of the world, able to meet deadlines and make unpleasant choices and take care of the urgent tasks of life.
But there is a way to take that rule . . . too far. To give it power it does not deserve. To turn a good rule-of-thumb-for-living into a hard-and-fast arbitrary rule. The issue? It's when you substitute the word "should" for the word "work."
Here's how that arbitrary rule plays out in my life all too often: Let's say . . . I want to play around and paint in my sketchbook (fun stuff!). But I also should clean my bathrooms (work). According to my arbitrary rule, I can't play around with my sketchbook until I've cleaned my bathroom. But I really don't want to clean my bathroom, and there is no urgent need for me to clean my bathroom . . . but . . . arbitrary rule: I must do the work before I can do the fun stuff. So I pick up my phone and scroll through Instagram instead. I don't clean my bathroom. But I also don't pick up my sketchbook.
Is this stupid-thinking?
Do I know it?
But my all-powerful arbitrary rule tells me . . . I can't do the "fun stuff" until I do the "work." Even when the work is really just a should. (This rule bites me in the butt so often I can't even believe it.)
And that's not the only arbitrary rule I have. There are so many others:
Make sure you know what you're doing before you begin.
Don't start a project if you won't be able to finish it.
Don't make a mess on the dining room table.
Always finish what you start.
Clear your plate.
Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Sure. These rules make sense in some contexts. And I know my mom didn't mean any harm in knocking them into my head. (Trust me. She lived with plenty of her own arbitrary rules . . . ) But there you go! Deep-seated, completely arbitrary rules that have the power to paralyze me. And it's time for them to go!
In the spirit of Ali Edwards' One Little Word prompt, I'm working on letting go of my arbitrary rules.
Step one . . . is naming them and figuring out what they are (which was much harder than you might think).
Step two . . . is giving myself permission to ban them from my life! (I started by making visible reminder cards I can stick on my bulletin boards.)
I'll keep you posted! But early signs are good. Figuring out what holds you back is a powerful force. (How do you think I got those overalls stitched up? I definitely had to "eat dessert first" on more than one occasion.) (And that felt great!)
How about you? Got any arbitrary rules you'd like to get rid of???