CORDEN: You're a big fan of Rom-Coms, right?
STYLES: Ummmm, it's been known, yeah. It's been known.
CORDEN: What's your favorite romantic comedy?
STYLES: I think The Notebook.
CORDEN: Do you mean this, or are you just saying this because you know the reaction of females when they watch this, when--
STYLES: No, I feel like I should say my favorite movie is, like, Fight Club or something. It's just not.
--Harry Styles, Carpool Karaoke with James Corden
You’ve heard the voice, right?
Do everything. Do more. Do BETTER. BE BETTER!
I’m not the only one, right? RIGHT?
Please tell me I’m not crazy.
I have a hard time saying no to things.
I have a hard time not comparing myself to everyone.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to do and be a lot of things.
It was true for me in college and it remains true as I head toward my late twenties.
In college, I couldn’t say no to any opportunity that presented itself: lead Young Life, work for the orientation office, audition for a theater production, join the Improv team, choreograph dances, add a second major. Yes. Yes. Yes. I lived under the assumption that more is always more, that I could do all of these things well.
Nowadays, I make to-do lists every day and struggle to enjoy free time for fear that I’m not doing enough. This past Spring, I took on two separate leadership roles at school and said yes to acting in a play. It remains remarkably easy to compare ourselves to those around us (and even those not around us – thanks, Zuckerberg), to feel as though we aren’t doing enough, and to try to be all things to all people.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I suspect I’m not the only one who struggles with this. The challenge is not determining what we want to do, but trying to figure out what we need to give up and say no to in order to pursue the things that we’re committed to. One way to do that is to create a list of things I do and things I do not do, a declaration, an organizing, a commitment, an anti-commitment, and a way to be freed of the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves.
Before I begin, I should note that this list isn't necessarily permanent and unchanging for the remainder of life, but rather a list of things I do and don’t do at this stage of my life, as a grad student living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is my list, and yours probably (definitely) will look different. I’m not arguing that these will never change, though many won’t. Times and routines change, hobbies develop and different stages of life allow for different activities and habits. That’s ok and good and messy and wonderful. Creating this list, I think, can be freeing and exhilarating and fun and meaningful and absolutely necessary. So, without further ado, here's a few things I do and a few things I don't.
Things I Do
I invest in my marriage. It’s the most important thing in my life, and I’m committed to protecting and bettering it. This means, at times, choosing to say no to certain things so I can say yes to growing my relationship with Kendahl. It means spending quiet time together, sipping coffee or wine, listening even though I’m not naturally good at it, going for walks and drives, and laughing together a lot. It also means unashamedly watching a lot of Netflix (see below). It means budgeting for and planning travel together, going to concerts, and sitting on the couch together so she can study while I watch football on Sundays.
I spend time in community. Our small group has been an encouragement and blessing to us, and we are committed to that. We strive to spend time with friends as much as possible, amidst the busyness that everyone deals with. Community encourages and sustains us.
I read. I read books about sports, biographies, books about faith, and novels. Even though I’m currently a student, I have decided to protect the time before bed for reading. I try to consistently read the Bible in the morning and commit the day to God through prayer. Reading is and has always been essential for me.
I write. I want to continue to get better as a writer and provide a space where people can connect, re-energize, laugh, and be encouraged. I want to tell the truth as I see it. I want to continue to tell stories. Writing is therapeutic and good and beautiful and I don’t want to stop.
I watch Netflix. Kendahl and I have indulged in so many great shows over the past couple years: Bloodline, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (fantastic intro song -- unnnnnn BREAKable), Parenthood (I know, I know, late to the party), Dexter (I KNOW!!!!!), New Girl, and, currently, The Killing and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. People, we’re living in the Golden Age of television. If you don’t have TV, that’s fine, but just be prepared for plenty of awkward silences the next time we see each other. (WHAT WILL WE TALK ABOUT?!?!?!?!?!)
I listen to show tunes. Shout-out, Hamilton. Shout-out, Wicked, Newsies, Memphis, Jersey Boys, and The Book of Mormon. I unabashedly listen to musicals and sing along at the top of my lungs. Thank you, hour-long car ride to East Lansing twice a week.
I watch basketball. My love for LeBron James has no limits and no shame. Deal with it.
I study. It’s a real gift that Kendahl and I can pursue grad school at the same time, so we’ve spent many hours studying together at home, Starbucks, or the library. Shoot, I practically lived at Starbucks this past semester. (Things I do: be basic.) I’m committed to school and what it has to teach me, and I strive to do well and to be equipped for the next step.
Things I Don’t Do
I don’t make videos every week. I admire people who make YouTube videos every week and seem to have endless time to edit and craft creative masterpieces consistently. There was a brief stint last year when I had the capacity to do the same, but that time vanished quickly this past year. It has taken me a long time to come to grips with that and claim the fact that I don’t have time, creative energy, or endless boyish charm to make videos worth watching. (Although let’s be honest, that boyish charm is still pretty much there.)
I don’t take amazing, awe-inducing professional-looking photos on Instagram. I went through a phase where I tried, but in the end, that’s not me. It seems like everyone is a photographer these days—and I don’t mean how Instagram has made “everyone a photographer;” I mean everyone literally seems to be starting their own photography business. That’s great, and I have a lot of friends who are incredibly talented and who should be doing that. But it’s not me, so I have freed myself from the unrealistic expectation that, on top of everything else, my Instagram will be carefully curated with beautiful mountaintops and sunsets.
I don’t cook gourmet meals. We’ve shared the cooking duties this year, seeing as we’re both in school and both working part-time jobs to stay afloat. I’ve determined that, when I cook, I make simple meals that I know what all of the ingredients are when I look up the recipe. If we are tasked with bringing dessert to an event, and I’ve already made my delicious chocolate chip cookies once before, I will gladly purchase something pre-made.
I don’t lift huge weights or run long distances. I’ve developed a real, consistent workout routine that works for me. It doesn’t involve throwing up huge weights or running until I pass out. (Tried that once, didn’t work out too well for me.) I see so many people running the Grand Rapids Riverbank 25K and I’m going to support my friend run a marathon this weekend, and I am thrilled for and proud of them. But I’m sticking with my push-ups, light weights, abs, and tennis. It’s me, and it’s something I can see myself doing for 20 years or more consistently.
I don’t listen to Drake. I TRIED! I TRIED! I TRIED! I love Drake as a host on SNL and I love Drake as a Toronto Raptors ambassador/fan/token-celebrity/pump-up guy or whatever his title is. And I love Fake Love. I really loved Forever. But I just can’t get into most of Drake’s music, and I’ve decided to be at peace with that, even if it means I’m not cool. (Kanye is sick, though, amirite?)
If you haven't noticed yet, Things I Don't Do is the more important half of this list. We all try to be things that, if we're honest about it, we don't need to be. It's time to free ourselves from those chains we put on ourselves. Things I Don't Do does 2 things: frees us from those arbitrary, self-imposed shackles, and frees us from the tendency to judge other people, because their list probably looks different for reasons we probably don't fully understand or need to.
Thanks to Shauna Niequist for this list. If you haven’t read her stuff, go buy or borrow or steal Bittersweet and be transformed. I’ve been encouraged by her daringly vulnerable writing, even though I’m pretty sure I’m not her ideal audience. Her thoughts and musings, particularly this idea of a Things I Do/Things I Don’t Do list, has given me a lot of encouragement and hope that, amidst all the noise, I am enough, that I don’t need to try and be everything, that what I bring to the table is good enough simply because God has given me gifts and is overjoyed with who I am. Full stop. I don’t need to be another fake person in a world of fake people showing fake love to other people.