Make what you do matter to you

I think a lot about how to use the minutes and hours of my life in meaningful ways, at least meaningful to me. Like anyone else, I both use my time well and I waste time. I work toward shifting my choices toward using the time well, though it seems that’s not always within our ability to control.

Regardless of what we might believe about what comes after we live our lives on this planet, we only know for a fact that we have our current lives. We have a finite number of years on this planet. Hopefully it’s a span of time that feels long enough to us. We make our choices every day, every moment really, in how to use that time.

I keep recalling one of my favorite poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot, that resonates with me over the years. Here’s just one part I’ll share:

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Photo by Simon Schmitt via
Photo by Simon Schmitt via

I have to remind myself to make what I do matter to me. It’s my life. I hope that what I do is beneficial for others, especially my family, but I need it to matter to me. I need to go to bed at the end of the day feeling like I made more good choices than not, in how I lived that day. It has to matter to me. Otherwise, I would be living my life in a way that I didn’t honor my own vision for how I wanted my life to be. I wouldn’t be measuring out my life in a way I wanted to.

I neither am perfect nor seek perfection, for perfection seems almost like a trap. Seeking perfection is a reaching out toward some ideal that we may never reach, and that seems too desperate. I have spent the majority of my life doing this in some way or form, and as a result, I am not very accepting of who I am. I think less of myself, because I’ve spent decades trying to lose weight and failed. I think less of myself because I don’t sign ASL as masterfully as I’d like. I think less of myself because my novel is only self-published, which wouldn’t at all be a bad thing if I were a good salesperson. I think less of myself when I spend too much time puttering around on the internet reading depressing news about dangerous political “leaders” and other things that I feel I need to know, but don’t enrich my life.

I have become tired of thinking less of myself.

In the past year or so, I have made progress with changing this. Look, there I go: I started to type that I have a long way to go toward getting there. But the truth is, I don’t have a long way to go and neither do you. It is possible to both appreciate where we are right now, to do what matters to us right now, and still be improving and learning and growing and becoming.

I eat an extraordinary amount of fruits and vegetables. I consume no animal products in part because I want to be kind to my body and I want to be kind to the animals. Either way, I am supporting an animal, whether I am the animal or a cow is. I try to be kind. I don’t do this because it’s the right thing to do, but because it feels good to be kind to someone without expecting anything in return. I get angry sometimes, and I get offended, but it happens less than it used to. I practice humility, which makes me quieter. I recognize that sometimes, a thought arises that is unkind, especially toward those political “leaders” I mentioned. I notice the need to add quotation marks with that word, think to myself whether I should change it to be kinder, and decide that it’s worth leaving in such a case.

I have habits that I have formed that I feel enrich my life and I have habits that I am either currently working to form or want to form. I want to do this because it matters to me. I want to live my life in a way that enriches my life and those around me. This also means that when I’m doing something that isn’t actually pleasant, such as doing the bills, that I am trying to find ways to make that time more beneficial. I can practice deep-breathing while doing my bills, so that hopefully I not only reduce the stress involved, but I can finish them relaxed. I can do the same while doing chores that I don’t normally enjoy.

I try not to push my own preferred habits on others, because everyone has different preferences. So I’m not going to tell anyone a list of Shoulds. Instead, I encourage you to grab every opportunity to ask yourself whether you are doing what matters for you. When you’re about to do something or you’re in the middle of something, think about whether it matters to you.

Small acts or large acts, it’s your life to live. You get to choose.

I’ve got mine, and I’m sure going to try and make it matter to me as much as I can.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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