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Desperately seeking: a right-sized life

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
5 min read
Last weekend, I went skiing at Mount Baker.  It was a stellar weekend… marginal to awesome conditions, fresh air, good friends, and the world’s most patient boyfriend / ski buddy to pass the good time with.  I caught a cold, though, and it laid me out in a way I’m quite not used to.  I spent three days this week propped up in bed with my laptop working, because I couldn’t unplug to take a proper sick day.  I came back to work today to a crush of “action” emails, several meetings that generated additional action items, the company of co-workers, some of whose work isn’t like mine — whose work doesn’t involve a constant stream of firefighting that feels like treading water and never actually moving upstream.  I envy the co-workers who have work that gets completed, even if there’s another task to start in the morning.
Yesterday I received a total of 100+ emails at the three email accounts I administer for my day job, pertaining to the six or seven projects I manage on a nearly daily basis.  A few days ago, I moved 700 messages from the end of 2011 to a folder called “I Give Up” that I’ve been working backward through, but couldn’t handle having in my inbox.  Thanks to my Priority Inbox on Google, I have no idea how many emails I received at my main “personal” email address; but there were at least a few from friends and family that I’ll probably never have time to look at.  Then there’s my old blog email address, my old personal email address, my old owned-my-own-business email address that I still have to keep an eye on for another couple of years until I can close it up for good — and God help you if you actually try to contact me about something important via Facebook message, which is rather like a black hole.  God help you if you try to contact me by phone; I just don’t answer it.  If I can’t extract your return number and the reason for your call from my Google Voice transcription of your voice mail that I receive via text message, the voice mail will scroll right by, likely unlistened to.  I’d kill for three uninterrupted minutes of time to focus on a task — the average amount of time an American worker spends at his or her desk without an interruption — to me, three minutes of uninterrupted time would be a luxury.
I chose this — I chose a career in social media, which means public affairs and customer service and internal stakeholders and justifying our existence at every turn.  It means watching timelines roll by and keeping up with a rapidly changing industry and work that happens and then scrolls by and rarely leaves a lasting mark of any kind.  But I can’t help but notice that I’m happiest with this — my dream job, that I worked so hard to earn — during my two days a work of teleworking, where I’m tucked in at my kitchen table with nothing but the quiet (or noise) that I choose.
Days like that — when I work from my kitchen table — I clock out at 5pm and my life is right there next to me.  I may turn to my pile of unopened personal mail that’s sat, ignored, for weeks, and open a holiday card from a friend I haven’t seen all year, to gaze at photographs of a happy couple, and to read about the events of their year that I’ve missed.  Then, turn to my journal and start a list of the people like that in my life — the people that I don’t want to lose track of.  Who I would like to send a card like that to every year (or so) to count them as both witnesses of my life, and teacher / guides / mentors in it.  Some of the people on that list I talk to every day; others, we “keep tabs on each other” by Facebook.  But some of the people on that list, if I wish to catch up with them it means picking up the (dreaded) telephone, scheduling an in person visit, or picking up a pen and paper and writing a letter.  And I want a life where I can do those things.  Where the must do’s don’t always so far outnumber the want-to-do’s, that sometimes I get to feel the feeling of being “done” and free to enjoy a little “time off” without anything — personal or professional — hanging over my head.
I’d like to right-size my life.  I’ve spent years looking for a happy work situation; for a happy relationship; for a happy living situation.  I’m now blessed to have all of those things — but now, my life is more out of balance than it’s been in years.  I am neglecting my spiritual practices; I’ve neglected my health and fitness; I’m not traveling and enjoying free time the ways that I need to, to recharge my creativity; I’m playing less and working more; and I’m not spending the time that it’s important for me to spend with my friends and family.
And if I don’t do it now, I know what will happen.  I’ll get used to the comforts of my current existence, and trade off more than I should to preserve that comfort.  And then the time starts to flip by like the pages of a paper calendar and I’ll wake up in ten years and wonder where the time has gone and what I have to show for it — only at that point I’ll be 45, instead of 32, like I was three years ago when that happened last.
I want to live this life better than I am, and I know that I’m capable of it.  It’s about carving out time for myself, to read and inquire and think and ask questions and challenge my own assumptions, and to do self-assessments, and to listen to the wisdom of my colleagues, friends and family.  It’s about having the discipline to decide what I want my life to look like, accepting the trade-offs that may be necessary to build that life, and then shaping my work and play and habits into the carefully-organized puzzle pieces that add up to the life that I want to live.  It’s about drawing boundaries, and holding fast to them; it’s about learning how the hell to unplug and not be a slave to communication technology (even if it’s my job); and about making time to write and meditate and climb / ski / do yoga / dance / do acroyoga / move my body in whatever way I’m inspired to during a given week since I seem to no longer be a one trick pony and am inspired to do and try many different things now, on different days, in that regard.
For now, though, it’s not about big changes.  It’s about taking inventory, and seeing clearly what I want my life to be.  It’s about sticking to my commitment (started yesterday) to complete 40 days in a row of meditation (2 days down, 38 to go).  It’s about pacing myself at work so that I have something left over at the end of the day.  And it’s about sitting down twice a week to tell a story here about my latest effort to right-size my life, so watch for these long-winded posts on Mondays and Thursdays.
How have YOU right-sized YOUR life?

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.