Showing Up for What Matters: How to choose to be where it counts

Every day offers us countless ways to spend our time. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning, we are greeted with responsibilities, relationships, needs, and desires that all compete to be worthy of a fraction of the 24 hours we’re given to spend. We really should look at this as a bank account, and our allowance is the same day after day regardless of who we are or what we “need” to accomplish in that set amount of time.

This is why one of the most important things we can master in life is how to show up for what matters. This means saying yes to the things that are worthy of our time and attention and being okay with saying no to anything that distracts or cheapens these experiences. I think we can readily agree on this viewpoint – that’s the easy part. What’s hard is learning how to identify when we need to “show up” in life versus when we need to take a step back and protect our time. It’s particularly challenging when the things competing for the exact same square of our time both feel of high importance. How do you choose between a work trip that advances an important mission and your kid’s last baseball game of the season? How do you prioritize volunteering for a kindergarten field trip over spending time with your aging parents?

Sometimes the choice is obvious, but often it is not. The things competing for your time will work hard to make you believe you have to choose the option “all of the above” or you’ll fail the exam of life. No way! In fact, that outlook will most surely set you up for failure. I challenge you (and society as a whole) to view this in a different way. If we aim to do everything by saying yes to every opportunity, we’re only really ever giving something just a fraction of ourselves.

What if instead, we learned to fully show up for what matters and let the lesser things slide? I wager it’s a whole new way of living that produces far less stress and guilt. This is because we free ourselves from this self-imposed punishment for daringly going against the norm which is to be everywhere (but present nowhere) and be everything to everyone (but a shadow of the person we really are).

Easy? Not at all. Worth the effort to make the intentional shift to show up for what matters? Lifechanging! Keep reading to learn how I continually strive to adopt this mindset in my own life.

Choosing Who You’ll Cheat

Years ago, I had an enlightening conversation where someone explained to me that we must make the decision of “choosing who to cheat” with any particular decision. When multiple things are competing for my time, I have to choose who will win my time and who will be “cheated” out of it. If I wake up early to get work done, I’m cheating that extra hour or two of sleep. And vice versa. If I decline a professional obligation to attend my son’s baseball game, my work responsibility is who I’m choosing to cheat.

The word cheat often has a negative connotation, but in this sense, I encourage you to think of it positively – especially with how you phrase your options. Cheating something not worthy of your time and choosing the thing that is, feels good! Be proud that you cheated your desire to hit snooze and conquered that early morning workout. Pat yourself on the back for closing your laptop early and reading a book or two with your littlest one. And do an internal happy dance when you push through wanting to call it quits and instead complete a project you feel is your best work.

Learning to choose wisely when you choose who you’ll cheat with how you spend your time is key for showing up in life when and where it really matters.

The “I get to…” Mindset

This mindset became especially critical for me as I entered parenthood and my days and years became flooded with all sorts of new tasks and responsibilities I didn’t remember signing up for. Extra mouths to feed, bodies to bathe, schedules to coordinate, laundry to do, and tempers to manage adds up to a lot of to-dos! When I find myself in the trenches, I first try to adjust my mindset from “I have to…” to “I get to…” In a day there are a lot of things we may feel like we have to do. But think critically about each of the things on your plate right now that are competing for your time and attention and possibly adding undue stress.

How would it sound if instead, you said of each of those tasks, “I get to…” I get to wake my children up for school – and I’m grateful for healthy, thriving boys who enjoy education and have a safe and caring environment to learn. I get to work from my home office, run my own business, and use my creative skills to impact the world around me. All these sounds (and feels!) a lot better than framing these as mundane to-dos’ that are a weight on my shoulder rather than the foundation for my happiness.

Showing up for what matters in life is 90% attitude. Reframing obligations and responsibilities as ties to blessings in your life will shift not only where you choose to spend your time, but the joy you receive from everyday tasks.

Wherever you are, be there!

Oh the places you’ll go! But are you ever really there? Before you think too deeply about this, take it at surface value. When you’re watching your kids play sports, do you allow other tasks to linger on your mind? When you’re working do you worry about what you need to get done around the house? This isn’t multitasking and you don’t accomplish anything more – you just enjoy each moment that much less.

I had to learn about myself that I struggle greatly with being present. I’m one of those people who were born with their feet in motion. And even when I’m in motion, my mind is racing my feet. No matter where I was, I was mentally on to the next thing. I thought this was helping me get ahead, but really it was just stealing the joy of the present. The time will pass no matter how you spend it, why not stop to “be” wherever it is you really are? This could look like turning your phone on airplane mode when at your kid’s sporting event or during mealtimes. During work hours, be intentional about not losing time scrolling through social media. And when you’re with friends and family, practice being an exceptional listener. When you pay attention, live intentionally, and show up for what matters – there’s a big, colorful world before you. Sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder to take off the blinders and look up with clear eyes.

Agree? Disagree? Have another thought to share? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

4 thoughts on “Showing Up for What Matters: How to choose to be where it counts

  1. Hi Shirley, good post. In theory, what matters deserve our attention. But in practice, our minds get distracted and fail to show up as you indicated. The late Stephen Covey pointed out the dilemma in his comparison of the important versus the urgent. Few can resist the urge to answer a ringing phone. What we cheated in those instances is ourselves. I like the term “opportunity cost” better than the “cheat.” It helps me to see the cost-benefit in my choices. That is assuming I have figured out my important from urgent tasks. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for the comment and for stirring up further thoughts! I agree, “opportunity cost” is a great way to look at these choices. And a more positive take, though sometimes seeing what we’re “cheating” can also spur us to make better choices. I like that you referenced Covey. Almost daily I consider the quadrants my tasks fall into. I realize not nearly enough people know about his theory, so that’s a great idea for a future blog post!

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