It’s Still All About You—The I of the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 25, 2010

Invent your world. Surround yourself with people, color, sounds, and work that nourish you.
• Sark

My office is an art installation I call Things That Make Me Smile and I live in The House of Stuff (located at Happy Rabbits Farm, where ideas grow like rabbits), home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History. Even as a small child, my room was an explosion of things that interested and amused me. Creating a pleasing personal workspace, whatever that means to you, is important to success in school. It can help you stay focused.

Sometimes, the only place I could get away from family life was in the bathroom. Sometimes I needed more distance and worked in the school library, but even there, I found a quiet place where I could make myself at home with small reminders that brought a grin to my face and that also kept me reminded of the bigger picture of my academic aspirations: the lucky clipboard from my son with a family picture taped underneath the paper, my favorite kind of pen, 3×5 notecards in case I discovered wonderful quotations, a box of Jujubes (a childhood evocateur and lo-cal treat—just don’t chew if you want to keep your teeth!), and a very small rubber alligator.

It’s impossible not to smile when there’s a gator grinning at you from a stack of books. Here’s some other “I” advice from the D.O.LIFE:

• I know that letting go was the L, but this is so important: You don’t have to do everything. Learning to do things for themselves is valuable for everyone in your life. I used to tell my sons that no one would want to take care of them when they grew up. They have both found this to be true whether they are in or out of relationships, and are glad that they know how to do laundry, clean, decorate, iron, cook, and just generally take care of themselves.

• Even five-year-olds can be taught to sew on buttons. Decide what needs to be done and who can do it. If you have infants, they probably can’t do anything, but even a toddler can do more than you imagined if you aren’t picky. And children do get older, rather quickly!

• My husband and I advocated for a change from “room mother” to “room parent” at one of our children’s schools when my husband took over duties I’d carried for years. I include this here in the I section as a reminder that you do not have to continue with traditional activities when you’re in school. Say no to things you don’t have time for and don’t shift them onto others unless they are willing.

• Be honest with others about the demands school places on your time. Don’t promise to go on a picnic the day before a big something is due, hoping you’ll be done with school assignments early. This kind of optimistic thinking is often wrong and you’ll find yourself stressed. Either you’ll disappoint someone or you’ll be up all night getting your work done after a picnic where your smile hid the anxiety you were feeling about what you really ought to be doing instead.

• Save yourself and your energy for the things that really matter. Don’t expend energy on things that don’t. So easy to say. So difficult to do.

Being creatively selfish doesn’t mean you ignore the others in your life. It doesn’t mean that you never sacrifice personal time and energy for someone who needs you. In fact, if those others are your children, you have an obligation to take care of their needs as well as your own. It’s very easy, though, to slip into doing for others when they could be doing for themselves and benefitting from, both the opportunity to take care of themselves and the opportunity to help you out a bit as well. Tomorrow, the F of L.I.F.E.

How do you integrate some creative selfishness into your life?

I know what’s best for me; after all, I have been in the Claudette Colbert business longer than anybody.
• Claudette Colbert


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