What if you stopped trying to fix yourself?

stop trying to fix yourself

I was standing at the sink washing dishes about a week ago. Let’s call it “angry washing” because I’d just finished an argument with my husband, and as per usual for couples who’ve been together longer than a day, we’d both said some things we didn’t mean…and maybe some things we did.

During this argument my husband had listed a few of my shortcomings. This list included “not being a good listener,” as well as “always thinking of yourself first.” (Don’t feel too bad for me here. I, too, liberally shared a list of his shortcomings.)

As I shuffled dinner plates from the sink to the dishwasher, the blood pumping in my veins eventually cooled, and with it the realization that he was right–not about everything, but certainly about the bad listening and self-centeredness. These were flaws I was well aware of; flaws I’m constantly attempting to overcome.

Feeling ashamed, I immediately started brainstorming ways that I could try harder to improve.

I recalled tactics I’d used in the past but had quit trying, and resolved to try again. I devised a 30-day challenge for myself in a matter of moments (for the record, some delusional part of me earnestly believes that all problems can be solved with a 30-day challenge). I imagined a future version of myself being better, and receiving praise from my husband and others in place of critique.

And that’s when I heard it. In the midst of my self-coaching, a quiet Voice spoke from my heart.

“You don’t have to fix yourself,” it whispered.

(**Insert dramatic pause**)

With those six words, my eyes filled with tears as a feeling of freedom rushed in, removing all the shame. Instantly I recognized how much energy I put into trying to fix myself, and how much pressure I place on myself to try harder and be better. I’m always striving to grow and improve.

It’s exhausting.

***

Reader, I’m sharing this story because I’m not blind. I read your Instagram updates and see your pins. I talk to you over dinner and hear the words you’re saying about yourself. Here’s what I know:

You’re just like me–always trying to fix yourself.

Let me say–I love this about you. The “better version” of you that you’re striving for is a more loving, more generous, more kind, more patient, more present person. In other words, your heart is SO in the right place. I see that.

Also, growth is good. We were designed to grow–it’s literally in our DNA. When we’re not growing, we’re stuck, and stuck feels worse than striving.

But somewhere in the midst of growth, what was supposed to be natural became work. And work led to pressure, which opened the door to failure and shame. Do you feel the shame? Because I certainly do. Which is why that quiet Voice brought me to tears.

In that moment of clarity when the Voice spoke, I was filled with such an optimistic hope for myself. I simultaneously knew two things that contradicted each other:

One, I was accepted just as I was in that moment, and for every moment afterward. I knew that if I spent every day for the rest of my life being exactly this flawed (or even more flawed), that was okay.

Two, I was “fixable.” There’s a power greater than me working good things into my spirit. I don’t have to work for it; I just need to go with it.

I want these two realizations to sink into your heart, too. Because there’s freedom and hope on the other side of pressure and trying harder.

So, here are two things to try instead of fixing yourself

Receive grace.

Grace is favor that you don’t earn and don’t deserve.

Let me repeat that: you don’t earn it.

Grace is a beautiful, wonderful gift that trumps self-improvement every day of the week. It heals. It restores. And because it’s a gift, you don’t work for it. You just accept it. But grace and fixing yourself are like oil and water–they don’t mix. You have to let go of the one in order to have the other.

Let go and trust.

Trust that healing is happening, and you don’t have to force it. Trust that you’re not alone–that there is a Helper always guiding you, speaking through your heart and revealing truth along the way. And then embrace the adventure of not being the one in control, and see what happens. I think it will surprise you. I hope so.

Let’s put conservation back into conservative

Here’s something that might surprise you: I’m a conservative.

In many ways I don’t fit the stereotype. Specifically I’m a little too “hippie,” and would probably stick out like a sore thumb if I went to a conservative gathering right now (perhaps especially right now with our pending presidential election).

#awkward

Nevertheless, in my heart I’m a conservative because I believe in conserving what’s wholesome and good. The root of conservatism is conservation, after all. What are we trying to conserve? Freedom and family, yes. But also the natural world. Also equity, justice, generosity and compassion.

I’m totally disillusioned by today’s political culture

Sadly, like a majority of young people today, I’m totally disillusioned by our current political culture. One of my heartiest complaints is that we’ve become overly partisan, and this partisanship has made us—made me—lazy. It’s herding our conversations into media-friendly channels, only exposing us to sound-bite worthy headlines from people we already agree with. The result is that we don’t take the time to learn about the true complexity of issues, and we don’t get to talk about them outside of the liberal/conservative boilerplate platforms.

Issues that shouldn’t be partisan (but sadly are)

When we make issues that shouldn’t be partisan partisan we’re doing a disservice to ourselves, to the poor all over the world, and to liberty. For example, here’s a list of issues (from the book, Living More with Less) that shouldn’t be partisan, and yet many of them are:
•    Import-export agreements/trade policy
•    The structure and oversight of international economic organizations (ex. IMF, UN)
•    National farm policy
•    International corporate farming
•    Global unemployment, including fair labor and wages
•    Development assistance for poor countries
•    Arms dealing and military defense
•    Energy
•    Environmental conservation

A lot of these issues aren’t sexy. In truth, most of them are a snooze fest that have me snoring in minutes. ALL of them are universally complex. Because of these reasons, they don’t make headlines, and when they do, they’re grossly oversimplified.

I’ll make a confession: I don’t pay attention to hardly any of them. This makes me susceptible to partisanship myself. That’s going to change. Because “The two realms—conserving resources at home and taking on economic and political issues—are as inseparable as the yolk and white of a scrambled egg.” In other words, every time I fill up with gas or buy food or upgrade my phone, I’m participating in REALLY BIG issues. And my choices matter.

So do yours.

I don’t want career politicians who are trapped (willingly or otherwise) in today’s current inflammatory partisan muck to define what conservatism is. I’m going to invest myself in the discipline of learning about these big issues. And I’m going to talk about them. Warning—it might get #awkward, but that’s okay. I’d like to see conservation put back into conservative, starting now.

[video] What a hard week reminded me about minimalism

I had a quick message on my heart to share about minimalism after having a rough week of seeing people I love go through some really tough things.

In the video I mention the other reason I practice minimalism and zero waste: Because life is painful and I’m looking for moments that make the pain worth it.

Thanks for watching! –Steph

What thins your soul?

thin soul vs. thin life(1)(1)

thin soul vs. thin life(2)

Here’s a totally random and useless fact about me: I love researching and buying domain names. I think this love comes from a combination of my writerly attraction to giving things titles, and my nerdy interest in sociology.

I bring this up because originally this site was going to be called “A Thicker Life.” I bought the domain, AThickerLife.com, several days before I settled on Simple Life Lab. Now if you’re confused about what a thicker life is, and maybe a little creeped out by the word “thick” (out of context it feels a little creepster to me, too, which is one reason I decided against it), let me explain: Last winter I read a book that talked about how many of us are experiencing a “thinness of soul” in our busy, over-saturated, overstimulated lives. The phrase immediately resonated with me. I frequently feel thin, like butter spread over too much toast (thanks, Bilboa Baggins, for the analogy).

In contrast, a thicker life is nice and fatty, brimming with good, wholesome stuff. This looks different for different people, but universally I think it includes satisfying personal relationships, an abiding sense of purposefulness in our labor, a strength and vitality in our physical selves, and a wholeness (let’s call this joy) in our spirits.

Here’s what thins my soul, and what I’d rather be doing instead

 

> things that give me a thinness of soul: too many hours looking at a screen, mindless media consumption, too much work to do, buying what I’d rather create, too many hours in the office and away from home/nature, clutter

> things that move me toward a thicker life: creating stuff (you’ll learn that I’m a maker), using my hands/body, being outdoors, enjoying people, worship/prayer/journaling

Though the phrase “thicker life” didn’t make the cut for a domain name, it’s the goal of my “lab experiments” toward more simple living. My “thinness of soul” list is like a target, and my lab experiments are my attempts to systematically destroy them.

So if you, too, feel like you’re sick of looking at screens (and yet, perversely, can’t look away. Damn you, Internet!), let’s work on that. If you sense deep in your heart that making things from scratch would be infinitely more satisfying than buying them, let’s work on that. If you’re working too much, dear God let’s work on that.

Because I’ve been attracted to simple living for a long time, I’ve already developed several “formulas” that’ve worked for me for these things. But there’s still a long way to go, which is good because I enjoy the challenge, and it gives us something to keep trying and talking about together.

Try it: Make your own thin/thick list

To conclude, I have something for you to do: Make your own thin/thick list. Type up your list on your phone, or scratch it out on paper. Then share what’s on your list with me. I’m particularly interested in ideas that are different than mine, so comment below or tag me on Instagram.

I’m pursuing a simpler life, but not for the reasons you think

I’m standing over my thirty-year old blender (a hand-me-down from my husband’s parents) watching two cups of peanuts slowly blend. The sight is mesmerizing. I watch as the chunky pieces get smoother and creamier as they spin.

This process of me stalking my blender lasts for four minutes, which is about how long it takes my old blender to churn the mix from chunky to creamy. It’s time I could be spending doing a long list of other far more reasonable things. But for that moment it’s just me and the peanuts as they transform into a creamy spread.

“Um, what are you doing?”

I turn to see my husband entering the kitchen to refill his water glass. We’ve been married for over a decade, so by now he’s used to finding me doing weird things on a Saturday afternoon.

“Making peanut butter,” I answer matter-of-factly.

“Of course you are,” he says with a slight shake of his head. Likely fearing that I’ll drag him into a talk about the process (he’d just endured one about Castile soap and hadn’t fully recovered), he quickly ducks out of the room, heading back to his dark TV den to watch Netflix. I know what he’s thinking: Why doesn’t she just buy peanut butter like a normal person? In fact, we already have a jar of Jif in the pantry. It’s in perfectly good condition, and still halfway full.

But what fun is that?

And that is the answer that sets the foundation for this simple living project. Fun.

The movement toward voluntary simplicity (and it’s more recent offspring, minimalism and zero waste) has been around a long time (monks, for instance, have always embodied simple living), and there are many reasons people are motivated to join in. Two of the most popular reasons are a concern for the environment and a rejection of excessive consumerism. Additionally, people are looking for ways to reduce the stress, debt and distraction of busy, technology-saturated modern living. And while I share many of the same sentiments, here’s the real reason I love simplicity:

Because I think it’s fun.

I wanted to address this motivation right from the beginning because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. I don’t have an agenda. I’m not trying to convert people. I’m not on a soapbox (well, maybe a small one, but it’s built on pleasure, not preaching). Yes I’ll share my opinions, and I can’t help it if I’m persuasive (I am—you’ve been warned). But for me, no level of earnest conviction and reasoned principle is enough to make someone stand over a blender for four minutes on a Saturday afternoon creating something from scratch that can easily be purchased for the same price. I just doesn’t make sense.

Reader, there are A LOT of things about living a more simple life that don’t make sense. These choices are inconvenient. They require sacrifice. They sometimes cost more money, not less. And in the face of true problems in the world, they frequently seem meager and impotent. And yet in the midst of this reality, I still blend peanuts into creamy paste because I find the process irrationally pleasing.

This irrational and irrepressible delight in small, simple actions is what motivates me, and what I hope to share here.

So welcome to the site. Here’s what you can expect:

  • my simple life “lab” experiments where I showcase homegrown challenges, initiatives, and projects I’m conducting to move my life from complicated to simple
  • journalistic-style updates about the movements of minimalism, zero waste, and volunteer simplicity, including people who are doing inspiring and innovative things
  • reports on the environmental and economic impact of our increasingly complex lifestyle choices, including the toll of consumption on us and on the planet

All of these, God willing, will be delivered with cheer and fun. Life’s too short! Simplicity is about moving toward more meaning, passion, freedom, and peace. I aim to make the journey irrepressibly delightful. Join me!

–Steph