One of my favorite quotations is from G. K. Chesterton: “A man must be orthodox in most things, so that he has time to practice his particular heresy.” I’m not particularly orthodox religiously, so I do spend a lot of time practicing my particular heresy, but that thought has so many applications beyond religion. It’s too easy for the conscientious among us to acquire such a long list of daily and weekly “must do’s” that none of them get the attention they deserve and that you want to devote. It’s not just about orthodoxy and heresy, but on managing one’s time, attention, and energy so that there is enough of these three ingredients to spend on what really matters to you, where your gifts and talents meet your passions.
In the last seven months I have been on an eating and exercise regimen that requires more of my time and attention. Where was that extra hour every day going to come from? That challenge forced me to rethink my priorities and shed a few activities where my presence made little difference to others while my absence meant a great deal to me. One of those changes was to minimize evening events, because my natural biorhythm is early to bed, early to rise. Another was to be more selective about attending meetings.
When someone questions my lack of civic attention to meetings about the future of our city, I simply say, “I trust others who care more intensely and have more knowledge to take care of that.” My civic energy is devoted to my work with the League of Women Voters and to policy work in taxation and education funding. Someone else can take care of city growth management, public health (yes, I’m fully vaccinated and wear a mask), or foreign policy with my full support but not too much of my time and attention. I am happy to engage in conversation, but I don’t want to attend contentious meetings where people make impassioned speeches about matters that are not really at the center of my universe.
I’m not particularly pleased with the management of my homeowners’ association, which has moved in a highly regulatory and detail-focused direction. I listen sympathetically to others’ complaints. After having duly served as president for two years, however, I choose not to attend meetings, leaving it to those who care passionately to make critical decisions about paint colors, common property maintenance, and planning social events.
Knowing what matters to you and what you are committed to makes it easier to know when to say yes and when to say no. Each of us needs to seek and implement a reasonable balance among the many claimants on our time and attention. Chesterton might well have said, “A woman needs to pay only moderate attention in most things, so that she can give her full attention to those for which her engagement makes a difference to her and to the community (or the world).
What matters to me? Time with friends, time in nature, family time, clearly defined kinds of civic engagement, building community in nonprofit organizations, teaching ,learning, writing, travel. What matters to you, and where are you wasting time and energy that could be redirected to more meaningful pursuits?