What Serves Us

What Serves Us

I suddenly went from almost never reading to reading 45 books in a year. This blog post is about how to achieve that kind of result…I think.

I went from doing a job that I hated to a job that I loved.
I went from letting emails pile for months to answering on a 24 hour cycle.
I went from never keeping receipts to doing taxes monthly.
I went from being judgmental and difficult to easy going.

A week ago my husband said something to me that surprised me. He told me that one of the things he loves most about me is my willingness to change. I had never seen myself that way before, but since he saw it, I thought it was time to try. I asked for examples, and what I listed above is some of what he said.

Sometimes we are stubborn, difficult animals. We cling to who we are because that’s all we know. We don’t want to be surprised by the one thing we can control: ourselves.

I’ve always had a misplaced and singular view that I am right. About what, you might ask? Anything? Everything?
Anyone else ever feel that way?

…I felt certain about how we should feel, how we should act, what kind of life is the best life, what kind of life is the worst.

I didn’t listen to opinions very easily. I was not going to let myself be molded by someone else.

At some point in the last half a decade, I became savvy to the idea that there is always more to learn. I became obsessed with curiosity. I wanted to be better than the person I was. And I realized something important: In order to be a better person, I had to see myself from another vantage point.

I started to look at my life from a bird’s perspective…and since I’m a visual person, I mean that very literally. I pretended I was looking down at my life from above and I noted what I saw. What did my routines look like? How was I treating the people around me? Where did I spend most of my time, and for how long? Did I look good or unhealthy? What areas of my life were causing stress, and alternately, joy?

I am a big fan of the idea that having fewer amazing parts of your life is better than having many mediocre ones. I don’t keep a lot of close friends, I don’t have a lot of hobbies. Simply put, I don’t make time for what doesn’t serve me.

How, then, do I know what serves me?

  1. Give yourself an honesty pep-talk. Being honest with yourself is extremely difficult. It means that you have to acknowledge years of expectations (your own and others) and be willing to throw them away. It means you have to be willing to take chances where before you would never. Honesty is a difficult thing. It is much easier to keep living a lie than to shift into a space of truth. The moment you admit the truth, it becomes real.
  2. Write a list of ONLY 3 priorities. Hint: It is okay for money to be one of them. How much money, however, is up for debate. Your lifestyle and what you’re used to may not factor in anymore. If you had to limit yourself to only 3 priorities in your life – the ones that give you the most joy – what are they? Mine are: Creativity, Conversation, Home.
  3. Imagine yourself on your deathbed. Really – imagine that you are an old man or woman and you’ve made it to the other side of this life, the finish line. You’re happy and relatively healthy and you’re looking back at what you’ve done. What does it look like? What did your life shape up to be? What events defined it? What choices moved it forward? When you examine your best life (note, not said in the offhanded way that I’ve been seeing a lot of) can you map out the decisions that need to take place to get you there?

Once you’ve figured out what serves you, it’s time to change. I mean really change.

I’m very fortunate because commitment has always been high on my short strengths list. When my husband and I decided at 16 that we wanted to get married, we were dead serious (we’ve been together 15 years this year). When I decided I wanted to quit my job and become a photographer, I did it fast and I did it wholeheartedly (that was 8 years ago). When I switched from an entirely meat-eating diet to vegan overnight, it was not so much a choice as a compulsion (that was 6 years ago). I can commit.

But when I break down why I’m able to commit, it has less to do with natural abilities and more to do with vision. I can commit to something because I can see the future.

Not like a psychic. More like an old soul.

It is very easy for me to see a choice and then see how the consequences of each choice will impact my life. If this doesn’t come easy for you, I recommend getting trained up in the ways of visionary know-how. This is not to say I always get it right (who does?) but that I work at it a lot.

How do we become more proficient in seeing our future?

We dream. We dream often, we dream big, we dream small, we manifest.

That might sound crazy but it is the truth. If we take time to think about the questions I asked above, about our priorities and our wishes and our lives, we start to understand exactly the type of life we want to live. That knowledge becomes available to us in ways that it wasn’t before. It becomes a part of who we are and will be. Dreaming shapes our future so that when we get there, we’re ready.

Here is something predictable about humans: the more we sit with something, the more comfortable we become. Unless it’s clowns.

If we let an idea settle in our minds, it becomes less and less intimidating to carry out. If we keep the same friends for a long time, we become comfortable. If we do the same job for years, we find ourselves in a routine.

The natural conclusion, then, is this: If you let yourself dream of your perfect life often enough, then taking the steps to actually achieve it are more likely to happen. It has already happened in your mind plenty of times like practice runs.

I set out about 1.5 hours ago to write a blog about how to read more books in a year. After I started digging to figure out how one does that, I realized that this isn’t a post about how to read more books in a year. That is a side effect, yes, but it is so much deeper. The person who can make a change like that, which indicates a true commitment and reversal of bad habits, is not JUST someone who begins reading a lot of books. It is someone who takes a huge tug on the reigns of their life.

How did I start reading 45 books a year?

I forced myself to look honestly at what I wanted in my life.
I wrote down my priorities.
I shaped my life.

All to make time for reading.

(The background of this is that I want to be a writer, and I believed I needed to be a reader to be a good writer, so I made a change that would lead to my successful future).

So you see, it was never about reading. It was about what I value in my life, where I want my life to go, and how I want to get there.


All three of those priorities point me in the direction I need to go. For every idea I have, I ask myself this simple question: Does this idea serve one or more of my three priorities? If yes, I move forward. If not, I let it go.

What serves you?
I’d really like to hear your feelings on this topic.

11 thoughts on “What Serves Us

  1. Thank you for your insight and the offer to slow down to pay attention to what matters to me. Another great exercise.

    Mine are:

    In the coming days, weeks, years I will strive to bring the question to my choices– “Does this serve one or more of my chosen priorities?” Feels free and clear.

  2. What a great blog to start the day. Thank you for sharing!

    I try to self reflect often but I have pulled away lately. This was a great reminder to take a look at what is important in my life; where I am and where I want to go. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I gave it up when I was a kid because I didn’t believe I could make any money doing it. Of course, I know better now. BUT I move forward cautiously and I think that is hindering me. 🙁

    As you suggested, I will carve out time during the week to dedicate to creating art.

    My priorities:
    – Money (financial freedom)
    – Creativity
    – Health (getting older and feeling it)

    Love your work and glad I signed up for your blog.

  3. Self: I have spent the most of my life carry for others both emotionally and financially. It’s my turn! I am taking care of me now I’m nearly 56.

    Craft: I want to hone my craft, distill it down and be and artist.

    Money: I would like to make enough to cover my photography expenses at minimum, my retirement covers living costs and some fun too, so my photography should cover itself :}

    I am embarking on a life adventure, I have sold most of my worldly possessions and bought a big truck and fifth wheel trailer. My dog TJ and I will be setting off in May to become camp hosts, where I hope to find my happy. I will be making images and honing my craft along the way.

  4. I love this but, I really wanted to know in a practical way how you went feom 1 book to 45. Like, what is yor reading routine? Do you read in small chunks or big chunks? Etc.

    1. Great question! I have a fair amount of flexibility because I work from home and I don’t have kids. That said, whenever I feel a lull in my work day, like I’m not paying the best attention or I could be more focused (I try to be very aware of this), I read. Usually that lasts for about 15 minute increments. I read while dinner is cooking, before bed, and often after my work day for about 30 minutes. All in all, I read for about an hour everyday. On Wednesdays, however, I dedicate a lot of the day to reading (an average of 5 hours), because that is my day “off” to find inspiration and study my craft. I hope that helps!

    2. Oh and one more big thing! I used to spend those “lacking focus” moments during work on social media. Now I’ve put a limit on how long I can be on Instagram and Facebook from my computer (a total of 15 minutes a day) and instead I spend those times reading. It’s been awesome!

  5. This really helped me today! I have been thinking a lot about what will better serve my goals. I have kicked out several of my hobbies recently that I felt were distracting me from my most important goals (I’m one of those people with way too many interests) so that I could really focus on what brings me the most joy. My list is a little longer than 3, but they tie together nicely so I will categorize!

    Creativity- For me this is art photography, storytelling (through my images as well as writing poetry), and playing drums (I love music passionately, and this feels like something I couldn’t forgive myself for not pursuing) consistently for relaxation and just to feed my soul.

    Health – Eating well, being more active, nourishing my soul as well as my mind and body. Being a better person (kinder, more compassionate) is also something I am working for, and I love hearing how you changed in so many of these ways as well.

    Adventure – I get this through the process of creating, as my imagination is quite an adventure all by itself. I’m working on structuring a life that gives me more of that by creating my career to support my art and to be able to travel the world in the process. Reading more is one of my goals here as well.

    Thank you for your heartfelt words, you are always such an inspiration!

  6. Not to belittle all of your other incredible blog posts, but this may be the best post I have read yet. It is incredible, it really hits home for me. So inspiring and some of the best advice I have ever heard.
    I think my three things will have to be;
    Wealth (not just meaning money)
    Creativity (not trying to steal from your list)
    Nature (the complete and utter love of nature has been a constant through my whole life)

    I always envision and plan the future, and I see little manifestations moving me the direction of what I envision. I still go to French real estate websites and shop through the chateau listings, because I have no doubt that I will buy one.

    Your husband was right when he said to you “he loves most about me is my willingness to change.” that is most likely the best trait a person can have. Willingness to change is truly the mark of wisdom.

    I have had a Photo idea for a while now, but have been making excuses for why I haven’t done it. When I really just haven’t gotten up the nerve. But after reading this I am going to go start on it, because it serves me! Thanks!!!

  7. This resonates so deeply with me right now. I’m shaping my life too and for once commiting to what I want to do. I was never all I’m but this past year, something inside me changed (ironically after promoting passion). I’m all in with my art. I just resigned from my job to do the one thing Ive always wanted to be, a full-time artist. I used to read 0 books a year and have set a goal of 24 for this year. I’m 5 books in so far with two more that I’m reading right now. My three focuses are: creativity, home and freedom. However my “why” is to leave this world a better place than I found it by inspiring others to have the courage to follow their hearts. Thank you for being you. You’ve changed my life in more ways than you’ll ever know or that I’ll be able to thank you for.

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