I don’t know about you, but 2016 dawned for me with a “To Do” list about a million miles long.
I saw juice cleanses, diets, people griping about getting back into the gym, heart-wrenching status updates about returning kids to wherever they came from (school/college, military service, etc.), pithy sayings about going back to “adulting,” and so on.
In my case, I had a stack of mail that included, in no particular order, a jury duty summons, a thick packet of 2015 tax prep, three expiring magazine subscriptions, and a bunch of bills.
And that was the easy stuff. Way bigger, more exciting and yet more daunting things loom — including doing a ton of leg work to launch my new content marketing, writing and editing biz, It’s the TruStory.
Had I made any New Year’s resolutions, I’m sure they would’ve been swept up and tossed in the recycle bin for next year like so many empty bottles of bubbly. We’ve got too much “real” work to do, so the lofty goals schemed up maybe just a few days ago are probably already on the back burner.
And so the lengthy To Do list sucks, and makes me feel like I’d much rather be crafting a mile-long “Fuckit list.”
But then again, I really do want to and need to get that To Do list rockin’, and so it occurred to me that as important as writing down the dos, I should give some thought to the don’ts.
You know: the shit that stands in the way of forward motion. The emotions and thoughts and feelings that make you feel like you just mainlined a quart of Botox and now you can’t walk, talk or crack a smile. And then you realize that self-inflicted paralysis isn’t pretty; in fact, if you look carefully, just like Botox, you realize the active ingredient is toxic.
That kinda poison takes many forms: fear, laziness, lame excuses, apathy, disinterest, panic, dread.
Like so many other things in life, it’s much easier to identify the stuff you DON’T want versus what you truly do.
Which is why I propose the following 20 things to stick on your To Don’t list in order to make it up and over the other side to the To Dos:
1. Don’t worry. When you get into the joy of worry, you’ll conjure your own personal existential crisis… and unless you’re Satre or Britney Spears, you honestly don’t need that to advance your career/get you a permanent show in Vegas. Also, McFerrin’s Law says the corollary — “be happy” — and that of course is the perfect thing to pop on your To Do list.
2. Don’t be afraid. Fear is just False Evidence Appearing Real; so do yourself a favor and don’t buy into the idea that launching big things and moving forward is somehow going to be a scary, bad thing.
3. Don’t wait. Stop stalling — unicorns know that today is the first day of the rest of your life and charge ahead, horn first. Asses sit back and wait for a sign… and end up hauling other people’s shit because they waited too long to do their own thing.
4. Don’t stop. Sometimes it’s just plain old atrophy that slows us down and allows us to binge watch Grey’s Anatomy, all 11 seasons currently on Netflix, for the third time through. Keep moving and resist allowing the clicker and other time-suck tools to grind you to a halt.
5. Don’t look. Peering into the abyss can be paralyzing… and you know how we feel about paralysis. Shut your eyes, hold your nose and do whatever it takes to just dive in.
6. Don’t wait for someone else to show up. I have a fantasy that I’m the girl at the Schrafft’s counter, plucked from obscurity to a life of fame and fortune by some highfalutin’ son of a gun. (Please note that in my fantasy I’m Marilyn Monroe, too.) I don’t even know where I get this Depression Era dream from — but all I can say is when it inevitably doesn’t happen, life becomes truly depressing and that is a surefire way to get stuck.
7. Don’t shirk responsibility. I know, I know — sometimes it’s hard running that gerbil wheel 24/7. But when it’s on you, you gotta own it, even if there’s no carrot at the end of the stick beyond a sense of accomplishment. (And isn’t that enticement enough?)
8. Don’t give up. For this one, I’ll just share my all-time favorite quote by Calvin Coolidge: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” And now I’m giving it up to a small-government conservative, which just shows to go ya that the contradictions of life are never final. (Howard Thurman)
9. Don’t let the past remind you of what you are not now. CSN – ’nuff said.
10. Don’t depend on luck. Luck is a fickle filly, and a fully random bitch. She’s helpful, but if you rub a rabbit’s foot or seek a four-leaf clover, you could be doing that forever as everyone else passes you by.
11. Don’t take your eyes off the prize. For me, sometimes just putting a check mark next to a To Do is reward enough, but then again, there are much bigger treasures out there beyond lessening your list load. Focus on what you want, act as if you’ve already gotten it and that can be potent motivation to keep going.
12. Don’t dwell on your failures. Go on LinkedIn’s Pulse or Lifehack, for example, and you’ll see a zillion posts about how successful people chug failure like castor oil; sure it tastes like ass, but you know it’s loaded with good stuff that lubes you up from the inside out and allows you to leave the old, nasty and ineffective crap behind and power through to success.
13. Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Naysayers love nothing better than to poke holes in your projects and bring you down to the low levels they skulk to — don’t do it, my bitches! This is also the name of a book by cartoonist Sandra Boynton that reminds me both of Thanksgiving and the fact that turkeys are worse than monkeys on your back… especially when you’re an elephant.
14. Don’t forget: rejection is protection. The scariest things on ye olde To Do list are always the ones that may have a big, phat NO waiting to smack you in the face on the other end. But when you realize that not getting the thing you think you want may be your ticket to getting what you need (thank you, Rolling Stones!) Now, think about it: isn’t rejection the same thing as protection? And who doesn’t want that kind of safeguarding?
15. Don’t take anything for granted. Whatever’s on your list — doing laundry, going grocery shopping, sitting down to write, whatever — hold a space to be grateful that you have the wherewithal and the means to get what needs doing done.
16. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Is everything on your To Do list a one-person job? And even if it is, we all could use some help and support — emotional, spiritual and especially in terms of accountability. Ask for help and maybe even consider dumping a To Do or two onto someone else’s list.
17. Don’t take on other people’s shit. I’m super guilty of this — I spend copious amounts of time blowing off doing my things when I take on other people’s stuff and make their To Dos mine. Sometimes without that other person even asking!
18. Don’t let your pride stop you. You know how pride works; it goeth before the fall and all that jazz. If you think that something is beneath you and not worth your while and yet it still sits on your To Do list, maybe it’s time to suck it up and remember that if it wasn’t something you felt you wanted or needed to do, it wouldn’t be there. Or would it? Check those intentions and decide if your resistance is coming from a place fear or truly preserving your self-esteem.
19. Don’t blow off the tough stuff. It’s so damn easy to call it a life and curl up in a fetal position like a big ol’ baby. The hard stuff is usually what moves down the list and can easily be left to fester as the last thing you want to do. But sometimes steeling yourself and getting it done is much easier than you thought. Mind over matter is all it takes.
20. Don’t get distracted. Focus on the goal(s) at hand, and ignore anything on the periphery. All that sidetrack is about is taking you off track, so stay the course, even if it means setting a timer and physically not allowing yourself to move from your chair until you finish what you’ve started. Just make sure you have a big ass drink or at least a nice chunk o’ chocolate to on the other end to reward your being so damn focused.
So if you see me furiously crossing things off a long-ass list, just know that I’ve cut to the quick and have just one more thing on my To Don’t list… STOP WRITING A TO DON’T LIST! And now onward, my bitches — we have work TO DO!
Photo of To Do Tattoo: Rob & Stephanie Levy