How Much of Your “Now” Are You Using for “Later”?

It’s mid-morning. I pull my teeth retainer out of the cup they’ve been soaking in for a few hours. I brush them, dry them, then put them back in their case. I won’t need them again until bedtime. But I want to get them ready now.

I have a busy week ahead, so I look over my schedule for the next few days. I want to see which of tomorrow’s tasks I can go ahead and do today to save me some time tomorrow. I flag a few to finish by early afternoon.

Next, the clock says my dinner guests will arrive in a few hours, so I spend this hour straightening the house and prepping the food. I want everything to be ready for their arrival.

We all have tasks that we do now for later. Plan a trip. Shop for groceries. Fill the gas tank.

But I’m curious if they can get out of proportion.

Am I spending too much of my now to prepare for later?

My future self in today says no. She has no problem with any preparations I make for her.

  • She appreciates that yesterday I washed the shirt she wants to wear today.
  • She’s glad I did my workout earlier this morning instead of needing to do it at noon.
  • She thanks me for finishing this week’s book club chapters last night instead of having to speed read them today.

But sometimes the proportion still feels off.

So in this year of taking a curious look at how life happens and why I do things as I do, I am mindful of a mental shift I might make with time.

Can I practice seeing more of my tasks for the future as beneficial in the present moment, instead of only beneficial later?

When my friends arrive for dinner later this evening, I’ll be glad that the food will be ready so I can concentrate on our conversation instead of on cooking. But can’t I also be glad that I’m getting to spend this hour baking the cake and sweeping the floor?

Time is a slippery thing. I want to be prepared for later. “Work before play” and all that. But I also want to enjoy the present, too, maybe by reframing the preparation work as play, too.

Gerald May is quoted as saying,

“The difference between work and play is only a matter of attitude. Work, fully done, is play.”

I’m curious if he may have been right.

How much work do you do now to prepare for the future? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Fasting the Illusion of Independence – 40 People of Lent Project

“Remind me of a love that is good
and let the warmth of it tug loose
a memory
of being seen and loved, even cherished
by a familiar, knowing face.

They’re here within reach.
These loves.
The kindling of gratitude when I start
to count and count and count again.”
– Kate Bowler, Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day!, Thursday of Lent, Week One

Count to 40

I’m counting again this year: 40 faces in 40 days. It’s my personal 40 People of Lent project.

I only have two rules for myself:

  1. Don’t repeat people. Connect with someone different every day.
  2. Go below the surface, when possible. Aim for an intentionally meaningful connection.

We like to believe we choose the details of our lives. And some of the details we can choose, within reason.

But knowing which exact people we will see (and even more, who we’ll make a connection with) in any 40-day stretch is essentially out of our control.

Maybe we can count on seeing those who live in our homes, those we work with, those we have weekly meetings with.

Yet all the other random lovelies that we may cross paths with on any given day? We can’t predict who they will be.

  • Who will I meet for the first time?
  • Who will pop into my life from long ago?
  • Who will be a steady presence on multiple days?

But this is what I hope to find out from now until Easter.

How Independent Are We, Really?

Kate Bowler writes about choice, among many other things, in her newest book, Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day! Daily Meditations for the Ups, Downs & In-Betweens.

American culture values choice above all. People who choose are masters of their own destiny. They are the greatest of all mythical creatures: self-made. By contrast, people with fewer choices—less independence, more dependence—might begin to feel the sting of a distinct kind of shame.”

Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day

Yet this illusion of choice is a setup. Kate reminds us what we already know, that much of life will not go as we plan because . . .

“All of our freedoms—our choices and our ridiculous attempts to plan our lives—are constrained by so many unchangeable details.”

From our very first breaths, many details of our lives are not chosen by us, including when we entered the world, which family we were born into, and what citizenship we immediately attained.

We aren’t as independent as we think, as if independence is a trophy to be proud of. As Kate puts it, “Our independence is a sham.” 

The truth is, we need each other. Even more than we’d like to admit.

“How are we? Dependent. How are we doing? Fine until we need help (which will be in roughly two or three minutes).”

Fasting the Illusion of Independence

So for Lent again this year (like I did last year), I choose to fast my illusion of independence—and accept the reality that I am a dependent creature—by connecting with 40 different humans whom I will run across in my daily life, some by design and some quite unexpectedly.

That is my plan. (And knowing how plans often unravel, I’ll hold it loosely.)

And this is my goal, the beautiful sentiment of Guru Arjan:

“I see no strangers. I see no enemies. Wherever I look, I see my people.”

How independent do you see yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you’d like to follow along with Kate Bowler’s Lenten prompts, sign up for daily emails at her site here.

Or you can read her book, Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day!, which has 39 daily meditations, plus 40 meditations for Lent and 8 for Advent. As in all her books, you’ll discover rich connections among the coexistence of pains and joys.

Learn more about Kate Bowler’s books:

My thanks to Netgalley + Convergent Books
for the review copy of Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day!

At the Intersection of Curiosity and Energy

“Curiosity is the main energy.”
— Robert Rauschenberg

When Your Energy Freezes Up

I’ve been waiting to hear these words for several weeks. They finally arrive in an email on a Friday morning.

All the paperwork is complete. We need to admit her today or tomorrow. Let me know what you prefer.”

I walk into the spare bedroom where I’ve been piling my friend’s new clothes on the bed, preparing for this move. I wonder if everything will fit her since she’s lost weight. I doubt now that it will all squeeze into one suitcase. I wish I’d been able to give her more notice about the move.

I see the sharp contrast between how much is left to accomplish, and my energy to do it. There is no way I can make everything happen for her today. Can I even be ready by tomorrow?

I don’t know. But I type my email reply and hit send:

“Tomorrow will work!”

The exclamation mark is perhaps inappropriate. I’m not that certain. My body already feels overwhelmed. My heart is racing.

Yet my energy is frozen.

Where Does Energy Go?

I’ve been intentionally curious about energy the past few weeks.

  • How do I use my energy?
  • What gives me more energy?
  • What depletes my energy?
  • How much energy do I need to function in an ordinary day?

I even catch myself using the actual word, “I’d like to [insert activity], as long as I have the energy for it.”

Every person’s energy is finite, even though some appear to have limitless energy and some have little. As an Enneagram Five, I’m aware that my energy is a basically fixed resource, so I like to budget it wisely.

By Friday afternoon my brain feels tired from all the loose threads it’s trying to pull together to create a cohesive move-in for my friend.

Mental work requires energy too. I allocate a portion of that energy to create a checklist of things to pack for my friend. Of things to remind her to bring from her apartment. Of questions to ask the staff when we arrive at her new place.

The list works. I no longer have to use more energy to think about logistics; now I only have to do.

More Energy Hacks

Saturday morning arrives.

Now it’s my body that is rebelling. It longs to stay in bed. Doing also needs energy. I force myself up, eat breakfast, and even though it’s still morning, I pop open a rare can of Diet Coke (not a healthy hack, but a temporary fix today; I’m not a coffee drinker).

I need a better boost to keep moving. I stop for five minutes to do some deep breathing to prepare for the day. It helps.

I notice where my energy is pooling now: into my emotions. I feel anxious. I feel doubtful. I feel alone.

This energy morphs into the visual manifestation of tears. After my shower, my husband Jeff finds me alone in the bathroom crying. He does what a best friend can: he offers me his complete presence for the day. I graciously accept.

We can sometimes borrow other people’s energy to give our own a boost. Jeff typically has more energy than I do; I’ll tap into his today.

I’m also aware of the connection between energy and purpose, between energy and relationship. When our energy wanes, we might need to remind ourselves of our values.

  • What am I wanting to do and why?
  • What value am I meeting by this use of energy?
  • Why is this important (or not) to me? To someone else?

I remind myself that my friend needs this move. I am here to help her, as Jeff is here to help me. We have enough combined energy together to get this accomplished, one task at a time.

End-of-the-Day Energy Birther

The day progresses with ups and downs. By late Saturday afternoon, the work is done. My friend has a new home, food in her stomach, and a staff of people to meet her needs. Jeff and I drive back to our own house.

I’ve consumed almost all my energy to get to this point.

I use its final wisps to reflect back on the day. I’m curious about the existential overwhelm I felt earlier, the feeling that there was too much to do and not enough energy to do it.

I’ve felt this flooding before. I’m certain I’ll feel it again. But with each go-round, I hope I’m learning to practice a few more skills for successfully managing my finite energy:

  • by taking pauses for deep breaths,
  • by organizing on paper what is circling in my head,
  • by asking others for help,
  • by taking one thing at a time, and
  • by remembering my why.

And one more energy booster at the end of every day . . . by stopping when my daily awake time is used up. Even if I have leftover energy and could get more done, I need to lay down my body and my brain for sleep.

Rest will birth new energy that I’ll need again tomorrow.

Are you a high-energy or a low-energy person? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Which Is Worse: The Straw or the Burger?
Review of "This Is Not the End of the World"

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.”
– Ancient Kenyan proverb

Straw or Burger?

When I go to Culver’s or Five Guys for a juicy cheeseburger and french fries, I sometimes feel guilty using a plastic straw in my drink. I want to be a responsible citizen of the earth, after all.

But after reading Not the End of the World, I realize I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing.

This is a book review I’ve dreaded writing.

Sometimes a book feels too weighty to sum up in just a few words or blog post. This is one of those books for me.

So in case you read no further here, I encourage you to find a copy of Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet by Hannah Ritchie and read it. See what you can do to be a better neighbor to fellow earth-inhabitants.

Eat Less Beef

I’ll start this review with one of the actionable take-aways for me: eat less beef.

If this seems like a weird to-do item, listen to what Hannah Ritchie says about environmental problems.

“Changing what we eat is not going to solve climate change. We need to stop burning fossil fuels to do that. But only fixing our energy systems, and ignoring food, will not get us there either.

. . . Eat less meat and dairy, especially beef. It’s one of the most effective things you can do to cut your carbon footprint.”

Food is connected to climate change? Definitely.

While there are many layers of work we can do to stop harming our environment, making slight adjustments in our diet is one place we as individuals can begin (as we advocate for better laws and have more discussions about climate science).

“Look at any of the world’s environmental problems and food lies close to the centre. It really is at the nexus of sustainability. The food system is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Save the Forests

I used to think that the rise of cities is what is eating up our land and causing deforestation. But I’m learning I was wrong. Again, the culprit is food.

“Our cities and urban areas take up just 1% of the world’s habitable land. Agriculture takes up 50%. Our biggest footprint on the world’s land is not the space that we ourselves take up, and build our house on; it’s the land that’s used to grow our food. This is the biggest driver of deforestation, not the rise of urbanisation. In fact, the migration of people from rural areas to cities has mostly been good for protecting our forests.”

We need better agriculture practices. Bad agriculture practices are a huge contributor to deforestation. Because deforestation releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it causes even more global warming.

Thankfully, we’re making progress in improving our agriculture practices in many regions around the world. The progress just isn’t happening fast enough. Our global equilibrium is greatly offset by the reduction of the world’s forests.

Back to the Burgers

How does this relate to my hamburger?

Ritchie says,

Beef is the largest driver of global deforestation. The most obvious way to reduce deforestation, then, is to eat less of it. Raising cattle is a very resource-intensive way to make food. Cows need a lot of food, water, emit a lot of greenhouse gases and need a lot of land.”

I see a lot of cows in Alabama. We have approximately one cow for every three people here. Beef production is a multimillion dollar industry for our state. You’ll find cows in all 67 of our counties.

But while these cows do produce tasty food for us (I do love a tender steak!), they require far more food than they give. Ritchie says that, “For every 100 calories we feed a cow, we get just 3 calories of meat back in return; 97 calories are effectively wasted.”

And they take up for more land than forests. About three-quarters of the world’s land (not including deserts or land covered in ice) is “used for raising livestock—either land for grazing or for growing crops to feed it. . . . We put a lot of resources into livestock, but the returns are not great.” I didn’t know.

As a comparison, Ritchie asks,

Can you imagine buying a loaf of bread, cutting a slice, and throwing the rest—more than 90% of it—in the bin? When it comes to calories, that’s pretty much what we’re doing with meat.”

She’s not suggesting we eliminate meat entirely from our diets (although that’s not an impossible idea either, as many global citizens prove daily). But finding and implementing the best policies for producing, transporting, distributing, and storing our food (including meat) is more critical than ever.

An Optimistic Book

Not the End of the World is about far, far more than just burgers and land, though. Ritchie also writes very plainly (yet also very data-driven) about air pollution, biodiversity loss, ocean plastics, overfishing, etc.

And surprisingly, she’s not pessimistic. She sees a lot of reasons for hope because she’s seen a lot of changes that the world is already making as we grapple with our climate crisis.

We just need to make the most effective changes the quickest before it’s too late. Together we can do this.

And plastic drinking straws? While Ritchie isn’t an advocate for them, naturally, she doesn’t think plastic straws make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. In rich countries like the U.S., the odds are very, very small that my plastic straw will end up in the ocean. It will probably end up in a landfill (which is another topic in the book).

So instead of foregoing the plastic straw—and for the record, I’d rather have no straw than a paper straw, ugh—perhaps I should more often forego the burger. My cholesterol would also appreciate it. (I’ll address my bacon consumption another day.)

I didn’t tell you enough about this book; there are so many treasures in it. I learned SO much from it. I knew this would be hard. I highly recommend you read it yourself.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley + Little, Brown and Company
for the review copy of This Is Not the End of the World

You Might Be an Introvert If . . .

You might be an introvert if...

You might be an introvert if . . .

  • You cry easily at commercials
  • You have friends who talk more than you do
  • You prefer texts to phone calls
  • You think small talk is shallow
  • You keep your stories short so you won’t waste people’s time
  • You prefer to study alone rather than with a group
  • You get personal on social media
  • You can’t scrapbook with a group
  • You’ve been told you’re too sensitive
  • You blush easily
  • You leave a party with less energy than you arrived with
  • You become speechless over a piece of art or a poem or a song
  • You’re not labeled a “people person” despite having strong friendships
  • You have fewer hobbies but you stick with them
  • You hate scary movies
  • You can be too tired to talk

It’s been awhile since I’ve read the game-changing book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’m due for a re-read soon.

Looking back, there were some things I learned brand-new in Quiet. And other things reinforced what I already felt deep in my spirit.

“Introverts may enjoy parties and business meetings up to a point, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas.

They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.

They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.” 
– Susan Cain, Quiet

Introversion Is Not Shyness

Nobody is all introvert or all extrovert. One-third to one-half of us are introverted (but it’s hard to tell because introverts can channel extroversion as needed).

American culture encourages extroversion whereas many eastern cultures respect introversion. (The tipping point for extroversion in America was around 1900; earlier, our culture emphasized the importance of virtuous qualities over having a “good personality.”)

Even though the terms are often usually interchangeably, introversion is not the same thing as shyness.

  • Introversion is also not low self-esteem.
  • It’s not low IQ.
  • It’s not about liking or disliking people.
  • It’s not about the ability to carry on a conversation.

Though these qualities—either negative or positive—are often attached to popular definitions of introversion/extroversion, there is no scientific evidence correlating them to either introverts or extroverts.

“Probably the most common—and damaging—misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social.

But . . . neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social.

. . . Your degree of extroversion seems to influence how many friends you have, in other words, but not how good a friend you are.”

So What Is Introversion?

Introversion is about how much stimulation you need to function well.

For introverts, less is more because they’re more sensitive to stimulation than extroverts. Introverts tend to process the world more deeply, thinking and feeling more thoroughly about what they notice.

In infancy, introverts are high-reactive babies, typically very sensitive to their environments. Extroverts, however, are typically low-reactive babies; it takes more stimulation before their nervous systems are overloaded.

The upside for introverts is they are more empathetic and cooperative. Kind and conscientious.

They have thinner boundaries, able to empathize and focus on personal problems of others instead of considering them too heavy for conversation.

They have greater powers of alertness, seeing extra nuances in everyday experiences.

The downside is they may react to stress with more depression and anxiety (and yes, sometimes shyness) than an extrovert.

They can feel more guilt because of their heightened sensitivity to all experiences—positive or negative.

They are also more easily disturbed by cruelty and irresponsibility.

“It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day.

We all empathize with a sleep-deprived mate who comes home from work too tired to talk, but it’s harder to grasp that social overstimulation can be just as exhausting.

It’s also hard for introverts to understand just how hurtful their silence can be.”


Introverts are geared to inspect. They think more and act slower.
Extroverts are geared to respond. They think less and act faster.

Should either try to change? No, except when it’s temporarily appropriate to do so. Otherwise, stay true to yourself.

If you’re an introvert, learn to use it to your advantage. If you’re an extrovert, strengthen your unique skills.

Walk alongside your opposite to complement each other, not compete. Each has much to offer the other.

Whatever your temperament, we all have much to gain by better understanding each other and valuing each other.

Learn to appreciate and use your type. 

* * *

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Is your partner the same or opposite? Please share in the comments.

revised from the archives

Can You Give What They Need?

I walk into their apartment complex lobby on Monday afternoon. I see the posters plastered on the walls, the elevators, the bulletin boards. They say,

Google Fiber is coming! It will be installed in your apartment soon!

Personally, I’d be thrilled if Google Fiber would come to my neighborhood. Our home internet is okay, but it’s never completely dependable.

I wonder if the residents here are excited about it. It only takes a few minutes to find out. Ms. B lets me know what she thinks.

What Do You Need?

Sometimes we don’t know what other people need. If you could provide a service for them, would it be to sign them up for better internet? Bring them a home-cooked meal? Show compassion to their hurts?

Maybe we don’t know what they need because they don’t tell us or we don’t hear them if they do. Maybe we’re too afraid to ask.

Or maybe they don’t know what they need themselves.

Often I’m unsure of what I need. And even less sure about how to ask for it when I do know.

But one think I do know: open communication about our needs is a more sure way of getting them met than hinting, hoping, or silently wishing.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning. I don’t do well articulating my needs to others, or even to myself. But I’m trying to do better. It’s a process.

And I’m trying to do better about hearing what other people need as well, including asking them directly if it’s unclear.

Do They Need Google Fiber?

As I stand outside Ms. B’s door, she lets me know exactly what she thinks about getting Google Fiber.

“We do NOT need Google Fiber! We don’t have any use for it here. But what do we need? Washing machines that work! That’s what we need the most.”

She’s clear. She’s reasonable. She’s vocal.

But I’m not the one to meet her need for working washing machines. I can only bear witness to it.

I wish everyone could receive what they need instead of only what someone wants to give. I assume the city has a contract with Google Fiber and wants to supply it to the residents (that’s a good thing!). It’s just not a service that everyone needs first.

Will the washing machines get fixed at this apartment complex before Google Fiber is installed? Probably not. But it won’t be from a lack of voices expressing the need. I’m glad people like Ms. B can articulate it.

Expressing a need is no guarantee it will be met. But it does increase the likelihood. It’s helpful to be clear about our needs.

Because the thing we request may be the very thing that someone is available to give. And we might not know unless we ask.

Is it hard or easy for you to express your needs? I struggle to ask for help, even when I really need it. Share in the comments.