New Thing: Be In My Life

be in my life
Every year I make a list of new things to try. These New Things are a pretty predictable mix of physical challenges, weird foods, and books/movies that everyone-other-than-me is familiar with.


But this year, I’m trying something different. Something that’s, honestly, probably a lot more challenging than running a 5k or taking a trapeze class.


For my next trick, I’m going to (try to) really, actually be in my life.

Truth be told, I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life living out in front of it, starting sentences with “When I get back from ….” and “As soon as I finish …..”

I’ve started planning my next trip while on other trips.  I AM LITERALLY WRITING THIS POST NEXT TO A POOL IN MEXICO. Since I finished college, I’ve been building my life around some Giant Thing In The Foreseeable Future. Moving to Taiwan, moving to New Zealand, finishing my MA, leaving my teaching job, planning a 10-month trip, moving again, traveling again, moving again … and on and on and on.

I’ve compressed entire portions on my life – my health, my relationships, my creativity – into teeny, tiny boxes so I could make space for Some Giant Upcoming Project. And while it’s lovely to undertake Giant Projects, I imagine it would also be lovely to have some sort of work/life balance.

At the risk of sounding like your hippie cousin:

Living in a constant state of future-ing is a disservice to my present. Click To Tweet

When I’m counting down the days to my Next Big Thing, I’m compromising my Current Thing. I miss birthday parties and long lunches and sunset walks. My bedroom lacks personality and my backyard is boring. I drink smoothies on the way to meetings and eat ‘dinner’ standing in front of the fridge.

I do most of these things for ‘good’ reasons – I’m working really hard so I can take six weeks off! I’m launching a new offerings! I’m applying to a really cool professional development program!

I don’t want to stop doing huge and exciting things, but what if I tried to create a life that was lovely and sustainable and exciting in the day to day? What if my life wasn’t always a feast and famine of overwork followed by six weeks of capital a Adventure? What if I had smaller, sweeter adventures every day and every week?

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure how to do this or what it will look like. Maybe it will mean maintaining my professional ‘status quo’ instead of trying to triple my traffic and income.

Maybe it’s taking a long weekend to visit my grandma instead of spending a week in Iceland.

Maybe it’s getting to know my own city and state, finally planting a vegetable garden, and diplomatically saying ‘no’ to any project that requires a huge time commitment.

Maybe it’s just having the guts to keep my calendar open and giving myself and my life a little bit of breathing room.

This New Thing is less ‘achieved’ and more ‘a work in progress.’ Last time I decided that I was going to do this, I booked two trips within two months and decided to completely reconfigure my business model. So, if you’ve mastered the art of living in your life instead of in your calendar, I’d really, really love to hear how you do it.

(And, uh, hold me accountable when – in two weeks – I tell you that I’ve embarked on some new Huge Thing.)

Tell me, friends, are you a future-liver? And if you’re a recovered one, how in did you stop?!

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Want to spend your time, money, and energy on purpose? I'll show you how.

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28 Comments

  1. lulu

    What a lovely act of balance! I think it is a fantastic goal. The only thing I am extreme about in my life is extremism. Balance and presence are the most rewarding in the long run. More power to you, sister!

    Reply
  2. Dineo Maboe

    This is brilliant! I’m guilty of doing this too. I agree, smaller tasty morsels beat the reflux caused by overwhelm/over consumption. Question is, how do we help each other out and not commit to big things all the time, inducing FOMO?

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Good question,Dineo! Honestly, my current approach is to schedule 4-6 months of ‘mellow time’ into my life and then one big project? Instead of three or four huge undertakings each year? Will report back on how that goes 😉

      Reply
      • Dineo Maboe

        Brilliant, I look forward to hearing from you!

        Reply
  3. lauranne

    I realised a lot of my stress was due to me worrying about the future, how I would cope if X situation happened, how my career would end up, would I marry, would I have kids… so I stopped. I try to live in the here and now, as I realised worrying about future happiness was robbing me of my happiness now. When I first started I had to be really mindful about it, but now it is almost natural and when I do get stressed I bring everything back to the moment I am in and that really helps

    Reply
  4. Kate

    Man. I just love you. Thank you for what you do, for what you write, for what you say, for how you inspire.

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yooouuu! Thanks for reading <3

      Reply
  5. Andrea

    Sarah! I’m proud of you. I fight the overcommitment fight all the time, and it takes some practice to get it just right. Just make a plan to do more of what gives you fuel, and then your priority list will look a lot more logical instead of looming. I’m becoming my own hippie cousin, finally, after 31 years of trying to get to the next precipice of career, projects, relationships, etc.

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It’s tough, right? Because I just want to do All The Things and most of The Best, Most Exciting Things are super time consuming and eat the rest of your life for breakfast, ya know?

      Reply
  6. lindsay

    oh my, this is super timely for me! the past year or so, i’ve been planning toward my husband and i moving out of the big expensive city to somewhere we can buy a house and have a baby. so i’ve been dismissing everything else – the fact that i don’t really like my current job, my lack of hobbies that excite me, etc – by saying “well, it’s not a big deal because we’ll be moving next year and then BABY which is what i really want.” well, now it’s looking like the move-&-baby-having will be delayed a few more years, so i’m trying to focus on what i can do to make me happy in my life now, instead of just looking toward the next phase. for me, this has meant taking ballet classes, taking long walks after work, cooking a lot, and taking classes/attending networking events to move toward a better job fit for me.

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I get sooooo emotionally committed to whatever I’m Doing Next, it’s hard to focus what What I’m Doing Now.

      Reply
  7. Rachel

    Hi Sarah, I can somewhat relate to where you are coming from. Since I left college at 22 I’ve lived in West Africa (2.5 years in the Peace Corps), Hawaii, Boston, New York, New Zealand, and California. I’ve done two long trips around the world, been to over 60 countries, and always needed extra pages stapled into my passports. Even after getting married and becoming a doctor I couldn’t stop planning for the next massive adventure or life change (the year in New Zealand, one trip around the world, and moving across country all came after marriage and MD) so I don’t think the way I lived had anything to do with my job, my financial situation, or whether I was alone or dragging someone along with me (in fairness, my husband has always been game for my schemes). It was just what I wanted to be doing. But it’s funny how things change. Just this morning I received an email from an old friend in New Zealand who wrote something like “I’m sure you’ve had big adventures since the last time you wrote.” But the thing is, I haven’t really. A 3-week hiking trip in Europe last summer is the only thing I can come up with. Without being aware of it, I seem to have settled into a stable, mellow life over the past few years. It’s strange because I didn’t see it coming. And I sometimes miss my old Adventures and planning my next Grand Life Change, but for the past few years I’ve been happy just being where I am, working at the same hospital, hiking in my local mountains, living in my house, and planning small, nearby weekend trips. So Sarah, I very much hope you find what you are looking for, but I also think that one way of living is not inherently better than the other (grand adventures, big projects, manic planning vs small adventures, manageable projects, and consistency). I also suspect that when you are truly ready for your life to be different, it will happen. You may not even see it coming.

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      What an awesome, thoughtful reply, Rachel! <3

      Reply
  8. Suzy

    One thing that I find helps is to actually take a couple of moments to not just say thanks, but really feel grateful for things or moments in your day, (even dinner in front of the fridge), a few times a day. How you do that is up to you, whether you believe in God, Gaia, nothing, or something else… I’m currently trying to re-build this practice into my life; I used to do it all of the time but somehow I let it get away from me in the last few years.

    Reply
  9. Katie

    YES! I am doing this right now actually. I started a new job in January, just as my teaching side-gig ended, and my other volunteer commitments are winding down. Between now and August, I’m working on just…going to the park after work to read. And going to happy hour. and yoga. and out to dinner with my husband. and keeping the apartment clean…knowing that in August I’m going to jump into a ton of new volunteer roles and projects! It makes the year have a nice rhythm.

    Reply
  10. Katie

    Yes, this! I recently had a birthday and one of my goals for this year is to try to simply enjoy the passage of time more, and notice little beautiful things about my everyday life. We’ll see if that happens — I have a long history of living my life from accomplishment to accomplishment. Turns out I’m really productive, but I don’t want to look back when I’m old and have my years be a blur because I was always chasing the next thing.
    One thing that seems to slow me down in a good way is trying to get outside every day, even if just for 30 minutes. Even if I only average 4-5 days a week it’s amazing what it does for my clarity and pace. Good luck to us all!!

    Reply
  11. Alicia

    I totally get this. I am one of those people who feels happier with something big on the calendar, something to commit myself and time to, obsessively.
    My advice is to schedule this down time too! Start with little bits of time (such as-“Sunday is my free day, I will not do any work”), and keep it like you’d keep an important appointment. I started this by choosing not to travel once a month- just for a summer- and it’s amazing now how much I love a weekend to just live in my life (enjoy my backyard, go for a walk with a friend, or tackle a task with my fiance) and not try so hard to MAKE a life happen.
    So, start small, and maybe the habit will develop automatically!

    Reply
  12. Elizabeth

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately too. I’m doing a lengthy grad degree that I need for my chosen career but find being a full-time student a bit tiresome, and demotivating. Lately I have been focusing too much on The Future when I will finally be done with school and get on with the work I want to do. So I am trying to be more mindful and at least appreciate, if not enjoy, the life I’m living right now.

    I am finding The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life, by Thomas Sterner, surprisingly helpful. I didn’t expect it to be about fostering present moment awareness – which, sure, can help achieve goals, but has intrinsic value as well. His point is that goals are fine, but if you’re thinking about/worrying over/anticipating/judging yourself for not being close enough to achieving them, you are not present and able to enjoy the current moment. So he talks about concrete ways to diminish the “right now is eh, but when I achieve [goal], THEN everything will be great!” internal commentary that distracts us from whatever it is we are actually doing. It’s full of gems, but one I just love is this metaphor:

    “At what point is the flower perfect? I hope you already know the answer: It is *always* perfect. It is perfect at being wherever it is and at whatever stage of growth it is in at that moment. . . Do you think that a flower seed sits in the ground and says, ‘This is going to take forever. I have to push all this dirt out of my way just to get to the surface and see the sun. Every time it rains or somebody waters me, I’m soaking wet and covered in mud. When do I get to bloom? That’s when I’ll be happy; that’s when everybody will be impressed with me. I hope I’m an orchid and not some wildflower nobody notices. Orchids have it all . . . no, wait; I want to be an oak tree. They are bigger than anybody else in the forest and live longer, too?”

    It’s a quick read and I find myself reading parts over and over – I highly recommend it!

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oooh! Thanks for the recommendation – that sounds great!

      Reply
  13. Andrea Isabelle Lucas

    I can TOTALLY relate!! Don’t go making yourself wrong for your world-traveling, passionate project-starting ways! You’re a deeply creative and adventurous person and it’s been what you love to do! 🙂 FYI I’ve actually gotten a ton of hygge-type inspo from reading your blog so I was surprised to read this, I thought you were kind of a cozy homebody when not traveling!

    Reply
  14. Vanessa

    As with most things, I had to learn to do this the hard way. Living with mental illness & working through layers of trauma have forced me to slow down & stay present. Strangely enough, sitting with all the uncomfortable feelings trained me to be present. Let the feelings wash over you & take things one step at a time.

    Of course I have long term goals & that Next Big Thing that I’m toiling away at. But I’ve learned to recognize that the sma things add up. &As often as we wallow in the painful feelings & desire, we can savor all those tiny good feelings. I also use Instagram for chronicling these things so I can refer back to them.

    It helps that one of my providers keeps telling me, “You are exactly where you need to be right now”.

    Reply
  15. Carol

    Hey, dear, check your Twitter setting on the Tweetable quote. It attributes it to @yesandyes, which appears to be owned by a women who is not you.

    Reply
    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Updated! Thanks!

      Reply
  16. Michelle Chandler

    Such a valuable conversation to have with yourself. I was walking with my hubby and daughter tonight, as we do on most nights to “just be” with each other for awhile, and we had such a good time pretending to be characters the last 1/4 mile home. Keep enjoying those little moments sister, they are so important. Thanks for writing and sharing so brilliantly! -m.

    Reply
  17. Savannah McKenzie

    I can’t even tell you how much this post resonates with me. The minute that I take on a project or job I am already looking around the corner for the next. I am always on the run mentally, but I never get to revel in my successes. I recently decided to do things for the sake of enjoying them. Meditation seems to be helping. I hope that you enjoy your newly found present moment!

    Reply
  18. Sara

    Life is beautiful moment by moment. Stay focused in the present. I started traveling to Haiti in 2011, and it has completely changed my perspective. There is an incredible sense of joy and peace found in lingering in the day to day activities-enjoying the people, the view, good food and long lazy days found on that little island nation. I try to keep that flowing when I return to the chaos of my suburban Minnesota life. Soak up all the good stuff! Thanks for your perspective!

    Reply
  19. Shannon

    For me, learning to be in my life really came when I had children. (Not that I recommend this as a solution!) But kids require you to slow down. For one, you need to give them your full attention or they know it – they’re excellent at sensing when someone is distracted and calling them out on it in some way or another. Secondly, you can’t do as many big, grand adventures with small children just because of pure logistics and financial constraints. What I’ve found is that I still have adventures with them, but they are simpler and more low-key, like going to local festivals and hiking at nearby nature centers. What’s neat is that the more of these low-key adventures you do, the more you notice and appreciate them. So it may be worth hanging out with some friends who have little kids and try to move at their pace!

    Reply
  20. Eleanor Burke

    Dear Sarah- I too have followed your blog on and off for your years and love it! I am a dreamer and visionary- I can see the end result so well that sometimes that is enough to feed me and then I fall apart on taking the small steps to get there, or so caught up in the need to get it done that I fail to appreciate the now. Having a child really helps with that as he forces me to get down to his level and he is still young enough he’s not super anayltical about things. Doing more things where I am IN my body physically- hee hee I just got in from digging my first garden as a single gal. As I get older (in my early thirties) I realize that a lot of my dreams are fantasies that often relate to me feeling insecure about my own path. When I stop and drop into gratitude- like last night my BFF came over and we collaged vision prayers in celebration of the Aires new moon on the floor of my converted school bus- how rad, and focus on WHAT is working in my life, the anxiety goes away. Being out in nature, working with plants or children, meditating, and taking time to spend with loved ones, especially older ones b/c their perspectives are so good help keep me out of the future and BE IN MY LIFE! great post!

    Reply

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