Traffic sign that reads too busy to illustrate the struggle to identify what's important.

Can’t Identify What’s Important? Ask These 4 Questions.

I traveled to Greeneville, North Carolina, so I could be in the path of totality during the 2017 eclipse. The event we attended was held in Furman University’s football stadium for the four-hour event. 

As temperatures inched toward ninety-six, we sweltered and chatted with nearby folks who’d also driven hours to witness this spectacle.

As the last of the sun’s rays fell upon us, the marching band played “Sprach Zarathustra,” the theme song for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Darkness fell. The crowd silenced—save the gasps as the temperature dropped, crickets chirped, and stars lit the sky.

Tears fall even now as I re-experience the awe of being but a mere speck in the vast universe surrounding us.

Those of us who felt it hugged and cried. I’m still Facebook friends with two of them. I’ll be thinking of Fred and Kirsten as I celebrate the April 8th eclipse at the Solar Eclipse Festival in Kerrville, Texas.

Solar eclipses are opportunities to reflect on and let go of patterns, beliefs, and aspects of life that no longer serve us. This one appears two days before my fiftieth birthday—a time in astrology made for addressing core wounds.

I see it as an opportunity to create an even more authentic life.

In preparation for what I call my birthday eclipse, I’m journaling and reflecting on what I’ve done and where I want to be. 

According to the psychosocial stages of development, I’m in the middle of Generativity versus Stagnation, a time when we seek our place in the greater world and work to contribute to others and make our marks.

I’ve started reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. It’s about learning to value your incredibly limited time and giving up the illusion that you can do it all so that you do what’s important.

He argues that you’ve been trained to believe you’ll one day find the hack that allows you to “get it all done,” and that when it happens, you’ll have control of your schedule.

I’ll write more about the book in the coming weeks, but here’s a big takeaway from one of the opening chapters:

“So long as you continue to respond to impossible demands on your time by trying to persuade yourself that you might one day find some way to do the impossible, you’re implicitly collaborating with those demands. Whereas once you deeply grasp that they are impossible, you’ll be newly empowered to resist them, and to focus instead on building the most meaningful life you can, in whatever situation you’re in.”

Writers’ lives are filled with impossible demands. Write a book, build a platform, attend to all the comments and messages that come from said platform, work a job, answer all your emails, exercise, be a good partner/child/spouse/member of your community/guardian to your cat.

Trying to do it all, and especially trying to do it all perfectly, leads to burnout. Instead, you must figure out what’s important and prioritize it.

As a new writer, that might mean holding off on your author platform and instead writing and focusing on learning how stories work.

As an emerging writer, that might mean figuring out what aspects of an author platform bring you the most joy, help you clarify your story, and allow you reach the most people without stealing all your writing time.

As a debut author, that might mean understanding what success looks like for you and creating a plan that helps you get there without getting sick or burning out.

As a seasoned author working on a new book, it might mean pulling back on a few things so you can nurture your creativity and focus on your project.

Only you know what’s possible or impossible for you.

Here are five signals you’re struggling to identify what’s important:

  • You hear faint whispers that seem to say “too much” or you feel overwhelmed.
  • There aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.
  • Your to-do list is endless.
  • You feel exhausted.
  • You want to quit.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, are you collaborating with those demands by pushing harder or trying to work faster in hopes of getting it all done?

As you ponder this, plan how you’ll spend time on April 8th. If you’re near the path of totality,{$name}, I highly recommend you find a way to get there. If you’re not, pause and watch the eclipse online here if you can.

Then ask the following questions to help you identify what’s important and what to let go:

  • What is important to me?
  • What belief, behavior, or aspect of life is coming up for me to work with and let go?
  • How does this belief, behavior, or aspect of life impact my writing life?
  • What practices remind me to be patient with the process?

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