Months ago, my friend Rebecca forwarded a blog post by Glennon Melton about parenting that has stuck with me (Click here to read it.). Melton writes eloquently about her experience of raising young children, but what really captured my imagination was her observation of the difference between loving doing something and loving having done it. She wrote:
“…last week, a woman approached me in the Target line and said the following: ‘Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast.’… There was a famous writer who, when asked if she loved writing, replied, ‘No. but I love having written.’ What I wanted to say to this sweet woman was, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure you don’t mean you love having parented?”
Mmm. I so appreciate this distinction and it has stuck with me since. In fact, I’ve started looking at everything I do through this lens. Do I love doing this? Or do I love having done it? And then (since I am, after all, me), I took it a step further and created a chart. I just love me a chart. Here it is:
Love to Do
Love Having Done
Love to Do
Don’t Love Having Done
Don’t Love to Do
Love Having Done
Don’t Love to Do
Don’t Love Having Done
Part of what I’ve done on my radical sabbatical is to look at my days, what I spend my time and energy on, and to notice where they fall on the chart. A few examples from the past week:
Clean cat boxes – Don’t Love to Do / Love Having Done
Meditate – Sometimes Love to Do, Sometimes Don’t Love to Do / Love Having Done
Check email – Don’t Love to Do / Love Having Done
Ride bike to gym & work out – Love to Do / Love Having Done
Work in the garden — Usually Love to Do, When it’s Hot Only Love to Do for a Little While / Love Having Done
Call Comcast about Internet outage – Don’t Love to Do / Don’t Love Having Done
Empty Dishwasher & Wash Pots – Don’t Love to Do / Love Having Done
Call friend about sticky topic – Don’t Love to Do / Love Having Done
Eat chocolate (actually a LOT of chocolate) – Love to Do / Don’t Love Having Done
Write FocusPocus post — Love to Do / Love Having Done
I am on sabbatical, of course, so I am fortunate to have a large amount of freedom around how I spend my time right now. As you can see, almost everything on this list I love having done. As I’m looking ahead, my intent is to do my best to choose to do things that fall on the LEFT side of the chart: things that whether I love to do them or not, I love having done.
As I play with this chart, I realize that over the years (long before I had my chart), I’ve been slowly making more and more choices from the “Love Having Done” side. Ending relationships that weren’t working. Leaving jobs that were out of alignment with my values. Moving to homes that are beautiful to me. Doing work that I love. Spending time with people who feel good to be around. All of these choices are getting me more connected with the “Love Having Done” side of the chart. And organically, the things I neither loved doing nor loved how I felt about afterwards (the dreaded lower right corner) were the first to go.
On my list above, the one item that fell in the lower right corner was the call to Comcast to fix my doggone Internet. Not a rewarding activity in any way, and if a woman wants to post to her blog, she has to be connected to the World Wide Internet Web. The lower right corner reminds me to make choices to either find ways of avoiding the things that feel not-good in both the doing and the afterward OR to consciously play with ways of making the activity feel better (like joking with the representative or dancing to the crackly jazz music while I’m on hold for ten minutes).
Why not strive to have my whole life residing in the upper left corner of the chart? I actually think this would be a limiting goal. For me, it’s important that I’m stretching myself to do things that are challenging and maybe not always great fun in the moment as long as I feel good about them afterwards. If all I did was stay in the upper left corner, I would be unlikely to step outside the comfortable known. I recently wrote about my experiences this summer with running (click here for a link to the Turtle GO! post), and this is a good example of consciously choosing to do something challenging that feels great afterwards.
The key is noticing how I feel after I’ve done something, not just noticing how I feel while doing it. I’m learning that when I appreciate myself for doing things that I don’t love to do but I love having done, I’m more inclined to do them more often and sometimes (for example, running or meditation), they become things that I also love to do. In a way, it’s like getting a little reward before undertaking the challenge: I can say to myself, “Yes, I know I don’t love to clean the bathroom and I also know that it feels so great to shower on scrubbed, sparkling tile.”
Sometimes, Frank and I have “Work Appreciation” which is all about the bottom left corner of the chart. After I’ve done a lot of sweaty work in the garden, or Frank has finished building a complicated component of his Solar System, we take some time to really savor the feeling of accomplishment instead of just moving on to the next thing on the list. Especially when the task was challenging and perhaps not particularly enjoyable, Work Appreciation really makes a difference.
[CAUTION TO THE DUTIFUL AMONG YOU: I have to be careful with the lower left corner so I don’t fall into a big, fat case of the “shoulds.” If I don’t really pay attention to how I feel after I do something I don’t love to do, I often keep doing it thinking that I should (or, alternatively, that someone expects it of me or that a “good” person would do it). When I’m in this pattern, I often feel a sense of relief when the dutiful thing is over rather than satisfaction and pleasure. When choosing to do something you don’t love, stay alert to the afterward-sensations and notice if you tell yourself stories about why you “should” be doing it.]
So what about the top right corner? The things I love to Do and Don’t Love Having Done? I see this corner as my learning edge. This is the place on the chart where I have a habit or a tendency or a weakness that I’m still figuring out. The example on my list above is eating (a LOT) of chocolate. It’s true, sometimes the sensation of chocolate melting on my tongue is more than I can resist…even if I know I won’t feel great physically or mentally later. Sometimes, this is a signal to me that I need some other kind of care or attention. Sometimes, just the awareness that when I eat more than a little chocolate I don’t feel good later, can be enough to remind me to have just a little. And sometimes, it just is what it is: a learning edge, something to notice and play with and see how I might nudge it toward the left side of the chart.
Maybe you love a chart. Maybe not so much. Either way, this week I invite you to take a look at the thing that take up your time and energy and ask yourself if you love doing them or if you love having done them. Notice if you have things that you’d like to move to a different corner or ones that you’d like to leave out altogether. Whatever you discover, I’d love to hear about it. And if you come up with your own chart, you KNOW I want to see it!