Improve Your Life by Contributing More Than You Consume

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

January has become a favorite time of year. These frozen, grey days on the tundra when the demands of the holiday season are behind me. Spring and summer remain far enough off with their taunts of being short-lived that send Northerners into a frenzy of lawn care, home improvement and patio dining bucket lists. This stretch of time seems to move more slowly–you know, like molasses in January. And slow time feels like more time. More time to create and contribute–a goal not just for January but for the entire year and hopefully, my entire life.

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

You see, here’s the thing. Sometimes I get down on myself. Maybe you do too. Like I should be accomplishing so much more with my life. I get up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, sit in my favorite chair and scroll through my phone to see what’s happening in the world. I read news articles and send funny videos to my teenage kids in an attempt to make their morning crank faces crack a smile. But I also thumb through all the pretty pictures on social media. Maybe you do too.

I consume lots of ideas. Recipes I’ll probably never make. Exercises I’ll likely never do. Home décor trends I can’t replicate. Beauty secrets that remind me of my age. There’s lots of wonderfully curated inspiration in cyberspace. But whenever I consume more than I create or contribute to the world, this digital diet begins to weigh me down with negative self-talk. Why can’t I cook like that? Dress like that? Have a clean house like that?

Because I spend more time consuming ideas than I do creating or implementing ideas. Duh!

When scrolling through Twitter and Instagram become a spiritual discipline, it’s probably time to make a change.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Twitter and Instagram. I love all of the connectivity, inspiration and opportunities available right in the palm of my hand! But am I letting my consumption of content weigh me down rather than get me going? Am I balancing my consumption with contributing positively to a conversation, offering ideas or implementing any of the good ideas I see?

For many folks, January is a time to refocus on health and wellness. Well, a simple rule of healthy living (including our relational, financial, mental and spiritual health) applies to most aspects of daily life–including our digital life. Our contribution to the world should outweigh what we consume from the world.

That’s my mantra for 2017: Contribute & Create more than I Consume.

Contributions and creativity can look any number of ways. What’s your gift? How can you use your gifts to create something or contribute to the world? Writing. Cooking. Designing. Volunteering. Reorganizing. Donating. Entertaining. Scrapbooking. Teaching. Photography. Whatever.

For me, this mantra isn’t about any particular task or checklist of endeavors. It’s simply going to be about reminding myself to spend a little less time scrolling through other people’s worlds and more time contributing to or creating something good in my little corner of the world.

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Having Your “Poop” in a Group

Each year the hubs is asked to complete a self-evaluation for his employer. This is a common practice for many organizations to help employees set goals and determine how effectively they spend their time. The hubs is not a fan. His complaint, in typical Midwest fashion, is that it feels too much like bragging about doing the job he is paid to do.

I assure him that many people don’t do the job they are paid to do. That showing up day in and day out with clear goals and a strategy to meet those goals is not typical. And yet, those daily grind activities are often what lead to achievement.

It’s the same with writing. If I commit to sitting at my desk to finish a story each day before lunch, deadlines are met and I seem impressive, sometimes even to myself.

I’m not talking about miraculous life-changing triumphs that merit a reality television series. But by taking small steps, one foot in front of the other, every day, stuff gets done.

I remember when our children were babies and I could be found wandering the house bleary-eyed and overwhelmed by piles of dirty laundry, crusty dishes, dust bunnies and unopened mail. It was then that I discovered the beauty of narrowing my focus down to one thing at a time.

I learned that it’s okay to occasionally ignore the big picture when that view immobilizes us with anxiety and a sense of hopelessness. Instead, just do one thing. Keep moving and do the next thing. Eventually, a bunch of things get done and you can write yourself a stellar evaluation of time management and achievement.

But there are pitfalls to having your poop in a group. People will have higher expectations of you. And occasionally you will fail or be sad or get sick. And this will surprise people. Because they wrongly want to believe you have it together all the time. So remember two important things:

  • Don’t hide your setbacks. Perfection is impossible. Acknowledging difficulties makes you a more relatable person. And most likely you’ve learned something worth sharing.
  • Don’t whine. But make sure you have a few people in your life with whom you can share your laments when you feel the need. And this goes both ways. Life is hard for everybody. So be a good listener. Because nobody has it together all the time.
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