Am I Doing This On Purpose? by Shan Jeniah Burton

Do you have any odd little quirks to the way you do routine tasks – things that make perfect sense to you, but maybe not to anyone else?

When I take laundry out of the washer, I shake out each piece before dropping it in the basket. Once, while watching me do this, my Accomplice said, “You could just put it all in the basket at once. The dryer doesn’t need it to be separated.”

He was right – if my goal had just been getting the laundry into the dryer. But, while I shake out our clothing, piece by piece, I think about who owns it, and how thankful I am to have them in my life. I remember special memories and everyday moments that article of clothing was a part of. I get amazed, again and again, at how quickly the children have gone from tiny socks and onesies to people with clothes almost as large as my own – or, in my teen son’s case, larger!

For me, the laundry is a chance to be mindful of our right now. It connects me to the story of our family – almost two decades now of washing laundry as a married woman, and almost fifteen of doing it as a parent. Sometimes, now, those once-babies do the laundry, and I’m removed from this stage of the process. In what might seem the blink of an eye, I could be back to washing for two.

Clean laundry is more of a happy side effect, for me. My deeper purpose is to savor and relish the moments and the fact that we are all here, together, right now, when we haven’t always been, and may not always be. Dirty laundry is more than just a chore to me – it’s the story of us.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Sometimes I forget that my purpose is to be mindful. I get frustrated a the endless round of things I feel I should be tending to. I do them with a spirit of “gotta get this done” that saps the joy, and makes the doing more like a punishment than a blessing. I forget that some people don’t have a home to tend, a family, or passions that beckon and fulfills them. I’m fortunate enough to have all of these, and more.

When I’m in a funk about the goals I’m not meeting, I forget the deeper reason for setting themwhether that’s hometending that makes this a more pleasant place for all of us to live, or embracing my passion for writing, or supporting my childrens’ learning.

It can be easy to get swallowed up in the pursuit of goals, to the point where we forget that we have a higher purpose.

That to-do list mentality gets in the way of finding something much less tangible, and much more valuable. If we’re lucky, we get a reminder, and a chance to reset, like I did a few weeks ago, when I had one of the most intense migraines of my life.

I also had a long list of writing goals I wanted to attend to.

Writing was absolutely out of the question. That added to the tension of being incapacitated – until I had a revelation. I was making myself even more miserable because I couldn’t meet the arbitrary time frames I’d set. I was getting hung up on concrete goals, and that kept me focused on what I couldn’t do.

I decided to set time limit goals aside in favor of the purpose they were intended to serve: creating and preparing my Kifo Island novel series for self-publication.

In Smart Change, Dr. Art Markham cites management philosopher Peter Drucker’s distinction between achievements (or goals met) and contributions.

  • Goals are the path to contributions. Completing a goal is an achievement in the service of the overarching purpose it supports.

  • Contributions are larger scale, and make an impact. For instance, writing a rough draft of a novel is a goal; bringing the book to publication is a contribution, with many more steps (achievements) between the two.

In my laundry story, the goal is clean clothes. The contribution is mindfulness in my service to my family – a much bigger deal, for all of us.

This is an important distinction, because I sometimes get into a mindset of wanting to complete my goals without considering if they still support my desired contributions.

Here are some signals that clue me in that I’m in a “goal” rather than a “contribution” frame of mind:

  • A home that slides too far into unlovely chaos;

  • Feeling like I’m cheating on my writing if I don’t get to the computer right away, and stay there;

  • Frustration with other activities of daily life (like needing to sleep and eat!) and the inevitable hiccups along the way, because they’re “taking me” from my goals and my work.

What if I find myself slipping back into that “to-do list” mentality:”

I’m giving myself permission, here and now, to take time off. I will set my list and schedules aside for a day or three, and allow myself the space to just be – without guilt.

  • to putter,

  • or play,

  • or to do something absolutely not writing-related in any sense,

  • or to dive back into writing for the sheer passion of it.

So…I’ve talked a lot about me. Now, it’s your turn:

  • Are your goals working to move you closer to your contributions?

  • Do you know what your intended contributions are?

  • Are there steps you can take to relax and make sure you’re putting your energy, time, and focus to the best use to support those contributions, while not making yourself crazy with “have-tos”?

If you answered no to the first two points, I hope you’ll join me in taking some time this round to consider how to get a better handle on your goals and contribution planning, so that you get the most out of the time you’re writing – and the time you’re doing those Other Things life is full of, without stressing yourself out!

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

4 comments

  1. Wonderful article. I’m getting to this point in my life myself. I’ve decided to schedule in the tasks that have a specific date/time into my planner and let God fill in the rest. As my wife told me recently, “He’s already in the future anyway, so why not let Him plan it for you?” Gotta love her!

    Along the same lines of this article, I recently reiterated my life’s mission statement/goal: “To be fully who I am in Christ without fear or guilt.” When I finally realized this, I was in tears. How powerful a real truth can be in setting us on the right path to our “contributions” by way of our goals!

  2. Forgot to mention this as well: Earlier today, I was reviewing my goals for the remainder of the year, one of which is to finish editing and publishing 3 books. It looks like I’m only going to complete this process for one, but instead of feeling disheartened I wrote this next to the goal: “The ultimate writing goal: Keep writing and publishing! Everything else will fall into place.” If I just keep working at the writing and keep publishing my work, all these goals will eventually be met and I won’t have to feel guilty or disappointed that they haven’t been met “on time.”

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