A few years back, I achieved something magnificent…a Pinterest win! Truth be told, I’ve had exactly two Pinterest wins in my life. This is not a ratio to be proud of given the magnitude of attempts at being crafty and chic. But, I’ll take the wins.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy balance among the things that bring me joy, I never dreamed that one of the critical elements of that equation would be twinkle lights.
I dove head first into this project during a period that I lovingly refer to as my “lost year.” I was struggling with long hours, messy boundaries, an ethically-challenged boss, and an undercurrent of dread that I had made a terrible choice that resulted in all of the aforementioned problems.
So, I did what I do when I need a bit of solace. I went to Target. More on that later.
When you have a strong work ethic and deep sense of responsibility to the people and causes you prioritize, you show up. You’re one of those folks that elicit sighs of relief from others because they know that when you’re on the team, things will get done. I love being that kind of person. The problem solver. The connection maker. The cheerleader. I love it all.
The problem for me has never been hard work. It’s boundaries and a fierce (albeit not practical) desire to avoid conflict. So, when challenges begin to stack up and deadlines loom, I would dig in and give it my all until the thing was done. Cue the cycle of exhaustion, frustration, and resentment.
Something had to change. And, that change came in the form of twinkle lights.
I made quick work of stringing the lights behind my little house in the woods. Everything else was the same, but there was something about those lights. Being in that space had an amazing effect on my clouded mind, my racing heart, and my tense muscles.
Sitting in the glow of the lights, feeling the breeze on my skin, and listening to the fairy-like melodies of the wood thrush became the release I hadn’t known I was looking for.
Making the Right Change
Over time, I came to realize that my work ethic wasn’t the problem so much as my complete lack of healthy boundaries. I had learned to prioritize the requests, urgency, and satisfaction of others, often without much thought for the ramifications it would have on myself. And, if I didn’t make some meaningful changes, burnout was going to be my next destination.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but the twinkle light oasis was where that change began. It became a counter-balance to my work that helped to restore much-needed balance.
It’s a no-work zone which forces me, in the most delightful of ways, to shift my mind to other things. To let go of the tasks of the day, the worries of tomorrow, and the inbox that I know is perpetually filling up. And, to focus instead on the other parts of my life that bring fulfillment and happiness: my person, my pups, the quiet of the woods, crosswords, a good book, a glass of wine, and on and on.
Balancing Tension in Real-Life
The twinkle light practice has become a habit that I use to maintain harmony among the priorities in my life. I use it as both a free-standing habit (the no-work zone philosophy) and a reward when I bundle other habits together with it. Here’s a real-life example.
Last week, I had about ten things to balance across the course of a day. There were several errands to run, some writing and design work to do, client meetings, and a walk at the park that I had promised to my dogs. It felt like a lot for a day, but that was how it was shaking out. So, I used my go-to process for mapping out a busy day and added on the twinkle light habit for good measure. It went something like this.
1. First up, I looked at the block of time available to me. There was enough so I didn’t need to worry about subtracting anything from my list for the day.
2. Next, I looked at my “to dos” and bundled similar tasks together, knowing I could complete some things faster if they were paired up with others.
3. Third was prioritization. I spent a whopping five minutes deciding the order in which things were going to happen. What made the most practical sense (gas prices aren’t for the faint of heart these days) and what made the most intuitive sense given my particular strengths (writing only happens in the morning for me).
4. And, then I added the reward. I built the release into the day, too. It wasn’t an “if I get these done, then I can do this awesome thing.” Instead, it was one of the pieces that was actually built into the day. It was at the end, which made it fun to look forward to, but it was as much an appointment as anything else on my schedule. As James Clear puts it, a “vote” for the person I want to be.
Tension and twinkle lights is what works for me. Right now. No saying what might work tomorrow or ten years from now. But, for today, tension helps me stay on track while twinkle lights restore my energy.
One girl’s twinkle lights might be another person’s source of aggravation, so pay attention to the simple things that restore your unique spirit. When you find your version of “twinkle lights,” build it into your day. Let it be the source of rest and joy that balances the good work you do each and every day. Not an afterthought, but a deliberate choice you make for yourself. A thoughtful action that supports the whole person that you long to be.