A few years ago, I sat down and did some math.
I tallied up how many minutes I was spending on Twitter each day.
Then I multiplied that number by 75 years, because I’m hoping I’ll live that long.
Here’s what I discovered: if I continued using Twitter in the same way, by the end of my life, I would spend 1.8 million minutes of my life on Twitter. That’s 1,250 days. Or, about 3.4 years.
I kept staring at that number — 3.4 years — and I felt sick to my stomach. It didn’t seem possible. But math doesn’t lie. This was the future I was building through my daily choices.
After that little math equation, I decided to make some changes. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to “quit” social media all together, so I started with a short break just to see how things went.
During that break, I also began to examine my entire relationship with technology. My relationship with my phone. With my laptop. With email. With online metrics, like measuring how many people visit my website, and whatnot. I tried to explore each area with curiosity. “Why is this part of my day? Is this crucial? Do I really need that?“
I changed some patterns. I deleted numerous apps. I began using technology in a more intentional way — “selecting” rather than “sleepwalking.” To this day, I’m still figuring out how technology fits into my life — what feels healthy, what feels meaningful, and what doesn’t. It’s a relationship that continues to evolve.
Here are my current policies and preferences:
– I don’t keep my phone in my bedroom anymore.
– I switched to this alarm clock instead of using my phone to wake up.
– I keep my phone on silent (on the other side of the apartment, face down) all day long, almost every day, unless I’m expecting a call from a friend or client.
– I love email (I think it’s magical) but I don’t reply to emails instantly. Sometimes I reply within 30 seconds. Other times, it might take me 30 days. It depends on the request. I state this on the Contact page of my website to set realistic expectations.
– I delete all of my text messages at the end of each day — except for texts from my partner, Brandon. (I like to re-read B’s texts, especially if I’m traveling and we’re apart.)
– I try to invest in digital stuff thoughtfully. Do I really need a new Macbook Air or the latest smartphone model, just ’cause it’s available? Not really. Do I want a pair of Bose headphones with incredible sound quality that I’ll use for 6-8 hours every day? Hell yes.
– As much as I love the efficiency and portability of an iPad, I still love reading actual, physical, tangible books. I always will.
Nobody has the right to tell you how you should — or shouldn’t — use technology. It’s entirely up to you. We all have different preferences, different goals, and different needs.
Deep down, though, we all crave meaningful human connections. We all crave serenity, peace, and space to breathe and think. We all crave less clutter, less noise, and more beauty. Technology can help to deliver these things. Or technology can hinder these things. It just depends on how we choose to use it.
Almost everything in life is optional, not mandatory. This includes email, social media, smartphones, Netflix, Amazon, all the other facets of modern life. It’s important to question everything. “Is this necessary? Is this meaningful? Do I truly need this in my life? What would happen if I made a change? If I took a short break? A long break? How would that feel?”
Rather than sleepwalking through our lives, let’s stay awake and curious, and keep asking these questions.
For the last several years, my morning routine has rolled the same way.
Bleep bleep bleep. The alarm clock on my phone goes off. I reach groggily towards the little table where my phone is resting. I flip off the alarm. And then — because I’m already holding my phone in my hand — I start scrolling absentmindedly through emails, the latest news stories (usually horrible and devastating), and whatnot. After ten minutes, I feel… completely stressed out.
Not exactly an ideal way to begin the day.
A few weeks ago, I found myself wondering, “What is my ‘fantasy’ morning routine?”
My fantasy went like this:
– I wake up to a pleasant sound — a zen alarm clock that creates the sounds of ocean waves, birds singing, something like that — instead of aggressive robotic beeping.
– My coffee maker is located on the little table right next to my bed. It’s been pre-loaded the night before with ground coffee and water. All I have to do is reach out and tap the button. I don’t have to walk into the kitchen. I don’t even have to get out of bed!
– Next to the coffee maker, there’s a glass jar filled with Stroopwafel cookies. I can have a cookie with my morning coffee. In bed.
– My phone is not in my bedroom at all.
– Instead of the phone, there’s an inspiring book. I can spend a few minutes reading fiction first thing in the morning instead of scrolling through emails.
– I start my day feeling inspired, luxurious, and refreshed, instead of panicky.
And then it occurred to me, “Why can’t my fantasy be my reality?”
There’s nothing stopping me. All I need to do is move the coffee maker into my bedroom, take the phone out of my bedroom, and set a few things into place.
And I did.
And you know what?
IT IS SERIOUSLY AWESOME.
My morning — really, my entire day — feels different. All because I made some very small changes to my environment.
When we’re feeling stressed, often, we go to extremes. We think, “I need a totally new career!” or “I need to move to a new country,” or “I need to get rid of EVERYTHING in my apartment!” But often, those kinds of extreme measures aren’t really necessary. Sometimes, it’s the smallest thing that makes the biggest difference.
What’s a small change that would create a big ripple effect in your day?
Whatever it is, make the change. Move your painting canvas into your living room. Build a tea station in your office. Create a mini yoga studio and meditation shrine on your balcony. Put your phone into a drawer, out of sight, so it’s not the first thing you see in the morning.
Whatever you fantasize about, why not build it?
Make it happen. Because it will make all the difference.
PS. I am writing this article in bed. Surrounded by pillows. With my coffee next to me. Feeling inspired. Small changes are a big deal.
My first website.
My very first website was a free WordPress template. I installed it myself. Then I stayed up all night — and I mean literally all night, until the sun came up — watching tutorials about how to use WordPress, and how to do html code, and I taught myself the basics.
(By “the basics” I mean, “just enough to sort of, kind of, barely put a website together in an excruciatingly slow manner.”)
The template came pre-loaded with some text that was in Japanese. I couldn’t figure out how to change it to English, so I just left it… in Japanese. I have no idea what it said. I hope it was something pleasant.
I figured I needed a “professional headshot” for my website, but I couldn’t afford to hire a photographer. So I took a photo of myself with my flip-phone (remember flip-phones?). I was sitting in my car in the parking lot outside of the SuperTarget in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. I was wearing sunglasses, as I recall, which I thought looked really hip and cool.
My website has evolved a lot since then, but that was how it started. Very humbly. Very awkwardly. With no budget, long nights, bleary eyes, too much coffee, determination, and a flip-phone pic.
My first workshop.
My very first workshop took place at a local community center. It was free because I was terrified to charge money… because what if people hated it? What if they scowled and harrumphed at me? If they did, surely I would die of shame!
I provided free coffee, free donuts, and 2 hours of free advice on how to write more effectively. I reviewed people’s résumés, cover letters, any materials they brought along, and gave the best feedback I could. I think people liked it. I honestly have no idea, because I was so anxious the entire time that I could barely breathe or swallow.
Since then, I’ve done speaking gigs, retreats, and workshops in 3 countries and 18 cities for audiences of 6 – 400 people. My confidence has deepened, year by year. Today, I love public speaking. It’s a joy for me to do. But it all started in a tiny room with no windows, a projector that didn’t work, a box of free donuts, and 2 hours of dry-mouthed fear.
My first blog post.
My first blog post was a recipe for apple bran muffins. Yes, really. It wasn’t even my own recipe. It was somebody else’s. I thought it was tasty and I wanted to share it.
That’s what I did for the first couple years that I had a blog. I’d share other people’s stuff, link to other people’s stuff, make lists of things that I liked that other people had created.
It took several years before I realized that I wanted to create my own art, too — my own stories, my own articles, my own books, my own voice — not just re-post other people’s work. (Oh, and that very first blog post? I deleted it a long time ago. Bye bye, muffins.)
All the awkward firsts.
Over the last decade, there have been so many awkward, stumbling, clumsy first steps.
The first time I got hired to do a freelance writing project. The first time I did a pre-recorded radio interview, and my voice got so high, nervous, and squeaky, and the producer stopped and asked me to take a few deep breaths (oh God, the humiliation). The first poem I shared publicly. The first 5-star Amazon review. The first 1-star Amazon review. The first piece of hate mail. The first novel. The first online course that I taught…
That first step is terrifying. It’s always terrifying. But I’m so grateful for each one that I convinced (sometimes forced) myself to take. Because we don’t achieve anything, or create anything, unless we’re willing to march forward. First step. Second step. Right foot. Left foot. Onward we go.
Please remember that every person you love and admire — every author, every artist, every business owner, every luminary who seems to “have it all together” — just remember that their story is filled with hundreds of awkward firsts, too.
Please don’t compare your first step to somebody else’s thousandth step. You’re not them. They’re not you. Your paths will never be identical. All that matters is that both of you keep marching forward.
The only way forward… is forward.
One awkward step at a time.
“I’m taking a month off,” Megan told me. She’s a busy woman with a husband, kids, pets, and a small, but very successful business.
Most days, Megan works with her clients for five or six hours, and then it’s onto texts and emails, phone calls, working on her blog and her newsletter, sending out invoices… dozens of tiny deductions from her time-bank. Her to-do list never ends. It just spirals onward, like an infinite scroll that rolls down, down, down.
“Whoa. A whole month? No client stuff at all? Nothing? A blank slate?” I asked. She nodded.
Then I asked, “What are you going to do with all that time?”
She smiled and said, “I am going to be quiet… and hear myself think.”
A whole month. Thirty days. Seven hundred and twenty hours. All of that space to breathe, to daydream, and map out the future… what a priceless gift.
I asked Megan, “Was it difficult to clear your schedule and set aside all that time?”
She told me, “In some ways, yes. It took some planning. I had to notify all my clients in advance, for example.” She paused. “But I knew… if I wanted this month for myself, then I needed to claim it. Nobody is ever going to give this time to me. I had to give it to myself.”
I’ve been thinking about that conversation with Megan for the last several weeks. Her words keep echoing inside my head: I had to give it to myself.
What do I need to give back to myself? What is my heart longing for? What do I want? Several things. I want twenty minutes every morning to drink coffee in bed, sink into a snowy mountain of pillows, and read a fantastic book — twenty minutes of inspiration before I begin the day’s work. I want three days of solitude to refine my business plan for 2018. I want two months to study Hawaiian mythology and then write my next novel. When Brandon wants to go camping spontaneously, I want the ability to say “Yes!” instead of “Babe, I just… can’t.” And like Megan, I want time to be still and do nothing at all.
Who’s going to give that time to me?
Nobody except me.
And who’s going to give you the time that you long for — time to write a collection of letters for your children to read when they’re older, time to take that long-overdue trip with your best friend, time to make art, time to make memories, time to finish writing that book that’s been caged in your heart for so long, time to sit peacefully in a room and hear yourself think?
Nobody except you.
The time that you want. The time that you need. The time that your mind, spirit, and body is aching to take back. The gift that’s worth more than gold, more than trophies, accolades, and praise, more than anything.
Give it to yourself.
My mom got married and had my brother at a very young age. After that marriage ended, she was absolutely certain that she would never have another child, and she would never get married again. Her mind was completely made up. One hundred percent. Marriage is pointless, she felt. And having another kid? No way. One was more than enough.
My mom fell in love with my dad. They couldn’t stop it, anymore than you could “stop a moving train,” says my dad. They got married in my great aunt Mimi’s backyard. I was born one year after that. My sister was born six years later.
This was a woman who was totally certain that she would never have any more kids.
Hearts can change. Minds can change. People can be very surprising.
When I was 20 years old, I came out to my parents as a lesbian. I lived in another city, so we had the conversation on Skype. I looked into their faces on the digital screen. I was crying, overwhelmed with emotion as the words tumbled out of my mouth. “Mom, dad… I’m gay.” They told me they loved me no matter what.
Over the next seven years, I dated a series of incredible women. Meg, the engineer. Annie, the professor. Alex, the artist (yes, she had the same name as me — which was somewhat confusing!). I fell in love with my heart wide open. I watched every single episode of The L Word, twice. I marched in pride parades, proudly holding my girlfriend’s hand. I never, ever thought I’d be with a man. I mean, ew.
One day, I got an intense crush on a man. A very straight, manly man. Nobody was more surprised than me. The sight of his face made me wobbly all over. The feelings hit me out of nowhere, like a bullet from the clear blue sky. “What is happening to me?” I wondered. “This is bizarre. This isn’t supposed to happen. This isn’t who I am.” But apparently, it was.
We love putting people into neat and tidy boxes. We love categories. “I’m straight.” “I’m gay.” “I’m male.” “I’m female.” “I’m an entrepreneur.” “I’m a runner.” “I will never do that.” “I always do this.” It feels comforting to make that kind of declaration to the world. “This is who I am, exactly and forever.” We love these tidy boxes. But sometimes, our hearts say, “Well, just you wait, because I’ve got a big surprise for you…”
I never, ever thought that I would choose a man for my life partner. But now here he is — sitting across the room while I type these words. Brandon Charles Weeks. The greatest love of my life. Who would have guessed?
Hearts can change. Minds can change. Patterns can change. Habits can change. Desires can change. “Never” can turn into “Well actually, maybe just one more time…”
I have learned that when big, surprising changes arrive… I can be afraid. I can feel ashamed. I can deny it. I can fight it. Or, I can surrender to it.
I choose to surrender.