By Alice Kuo Shippee
Inspired by my kids’ amazing elementary school, The Knowing Garden, I’m embarking on a series of passion projects. At their school, students have an hour each day to work on a project of their choice; it can be to create (make something new), innovate (improve something already existing), or educate (teach others). Their personal interests are fostered & their journey of inquiry supported by the adults in the community. The teachers help them structure their research & dig deeper with questions; parents might have something to offer in the way of experience or skills. I have always been inspired by how children so clearly know what they’re interested in; they have many questions about the world, & usually their only problem is deciding on just one on which to focus.
Last year, my husband & I worked with Tom Pitner of Zen Four, a life coach. For three months, we explored in particular our “competencies” vs. our “preferences.” Turns out, they’re not always the same thing. As a mom, I have to be competent at a lot of things; & anyone who is a parent knows that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean that we want to do it. But often, our abilities become equated with our preferences–to the people we work with, to our partners, to ourselves. In many workplaces, we will get assigned a task, we’ll do a great job on it, & then we’ll find that we get assigned that task over & over again–without any question of whether or not we want to do that task. Leadership thinks, “Hey, she was awesome at that! Let’s have her do it again next time!” That’s the smart choice for them, right? Pick the person who’s going to do the job well. And as employees, we are flattered to be picked, & we keep doing that task. In fact, because we’re no dummies, we get better at it every time; soon we’re not just doing it well, we’re hitting it out of the park! Now we’re REALLY associated with the success of that task, so the cycle continues.
But so many of us have had the experience where we start asking, “Ugh, why do they keep having me do this?” And we joke with each other, “Don’t do it too well, because then they’ll keep asking.” And resentment builds, especially when someone else who doesn’t do the task well then isn’t asked anymore & they don’t have to do it. None of us would purposefully fail at a task we know we can do well, so we just keep doing the cycle.
So, what I came to understand in my life coaching was:
COMPETENCE ≠ PREFERENCE
ABILITY ≠ PASSION.
Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should do it.
But we get trapped into it–sometimes by cultural norm or our upbringing. How many of us make these “should” statements to ourselves?
“If I can bring homemade cookies to the bake sale, I should. I shouldn’t do store bought.”
“If I can do my own taxes, I should. I shouldn’t hire someone to do them.”
“If I can go to the party, I should, even though I think I’m coming down with a cold.”
Really, though. Why? Why should you?
Now, we all know that we have to do shit we don’t want to do ALL THE TIME. And we adult & just do it. It’s BECAUSE we already do this that the idea of occasionally asking oneself, “Am I passionate about it?” is important.
If you are passionate about baking, then by all means, bake those artisanal Snickerdoodles. It’s baking with a passion that brings you & others joy. You gotta be honest if you’re just trying to impress someone or trying to avoid guilt because you’re impressed by someone who bakes & you wish you would care about it as much as she does.
Are you passionate about doing your own taxes? Does it make you feel empowered & financially abundant? Then do it. If not, pay H&R Block & get over it.
Are you passionate about dressing up & going to that party? Then go! If not, I’ll bet $100 that your friend would much rather you go home & take care of yourself & not spread your germs all over the appetizer table. Real, emotionally mature friends would rather that.
Our ENTIRE lives can get filled up doing the things we happen to be REALLY GOOD at & yet DON’T want to do. Since we have so many tasks that we can do, should do, & must do, let’s all try to cut at least just those things that we can do, should do, & DON’T HAVE TO DO. That will allow us to carve out just perhaps a few hours a month to do the things we LOVE, that we also CAN do.
I always love a good matrix, so here you go. Copy this on a sheet of paper & fill it in with 2-3 items in each box.
So, for me, it looks something like this:
So guess what I have spent most of my time doing…Yup. The meh stuff. And, this explains why, no wonder, I’m usually really deflated around dinner prep time…
TIME FOR A SHIFT.
I still have to feed my kids. I still have to organize my home. But can I do ever so slightly less of the things that fall into that lower right quadrant, so that maybe I can do just every slightly more of the things that I’m passionate about it? I think so. But that means asking for help!
For example, I have recently been enlisting the help of my friend Suzi of Summit Organizing to help me purge my closets & garage. While I can do it myself, I lack the enthusiasm for it. I want my house to be clutter-free & organized, & I actually am good at organizing, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to put into it. This is where a pro can make all the difference! She comes with all this positive energy & provides the moral support I need to do a task that otherwise just drains me, even though I intellectually can do it. And in having her help, I can retain my own emotional spirit to put into my passions!
So maybe for you it’s hiring a babysitter for a couple hours a week that you will DEVOTE to your passions ONLY. Maybe it’s hiring a housekeeper. Maybe it’s finally getting your kids to do some of the chores they’re perfectly capable of, but you have to let go of them doing them as perfectly as you would. And if anyone tells you you’re “lucky” to have a sitter or a housekeeper, you tell them it’s not luck, it’s a choice. You do have to pay those people, after all. And in choosing how to spend your money, you’re also choosing how to spend your time.
I think that the emotional advantages & disadvantages of our choices show up in the matrix something like this:
And when you really think about the quality of the life you want, those emoji faces pretty much say it all. There will be frustrations & challenges in every box in that matrix, but they will be met with a certain energy & will that is what you carry around with you all the time. Let that be at least something better than meh. ❤
Special thanks to the women of Raise Your Vibe Tribe for helping to light my fire. More on that & them in another post!!