When I was in my early twenties, my life guru and now business partner, Betsy Tomlinson, a woman forty years older than I, introduced me to a ritual she had created earlier in her career.
For each season and chapter, she kept detailed lists of the most important people, places, and things in her life. In her beautiful scrawl, she filled pages of hand-selected Italian leather journals (her favorite) with notes like:
There was no intent for what the list accomplished other than it helped her acknowledge and appreciate the things she held dear. With each list, she cemented the people who meant the most to her, the places that brought her the most comfort, and the things that elevated her life.
I adopted this practice immediately. Today, we formally call it a people, places, things (PPT) list. I was 22, newly graduated, a fresh young professional living in downtown Chicago. My list looked something like this:
A decade later, I can vividly see these people, places, and things, and the impact they had on my daily life. I can reflect and see with absolute clarity that these were the things that made my life feel right and feel like mine at the time.
While it’s been nearly ten years since Betsy introduced me to this practice and my lists have changed often, direct reflections of the distinct chapters of life following the thread of new jobs, new friends, new cities, and new focuses.
This is what this practice has brought to my life. As we grow we are essentially in a phase of constant expansion if we allow ourselves to be. There is always room for more—more growth, more experience, more interests. And while more can be appealing, it can also be terribly distracting. More pushes us to go wide, instead of going deep.
It’s important to recognize that there are seasons for more just as there are seasons for less.
Enter COVID-19. This pandemic, while completely without a playbook or any certainty on what the other side of this will look like, is a transition at its core. Similar, not the same, to transitions we’ve all navigated before: new job, new city, new spouse, new child, new chapter, new season.
This transition is begging for a PPT list all it’s own.
I’ve lost track of what day of quarantine I’m on, the days of the week continue to lose their pre-corona meaning, and the lines of time continue to blur. As a result, I’ve found myself more and more distracted by the bombardment of constant communication with dozens of people I haven’t spoken to in years in addition to my closest people and colleagues. There’s no shortage of suggestions for new things to do or try at this time to fill the hours. My relationship with place has been forced to change. The newness and the change of it all can be overwhelming.
So I sat down and started the age-old practice of creating my PPT list for this chapter of life. Once again, this exercise helped me deduce what is essential vs. what is a distraction in this new season we’ve been forced into.
Today, my list looks something like this:
In response to the pandemic, we, like so many others, pivoted our business strategy. What once was a focus on printed copies of a journal only available in the United States and in-person events, gave way to a digital edition that could reach anyone anywhere, and online events. I was so skeptical about the latter.
On March 15th, just as the world turned upside down, I put a casual message out on Instagram, “If anyone wants to meet for 30 minutes to reflect on a daily journal prompt and share our answers, send me your email.” Today, 50+ women from around the world participate in “morning rightness” on a bi-weekly basis from six countries and 10 states.
Last week, I invited them to write and reflect on their own PPT list. I had no idea that this prompt would spur so much emotion in the group and myself. I found myself crying when it was my turn to share, so moved by their reflections on how they viewed their lives today. I was amazed by their resilience and commitment to celebrating the people, places, and things they love most as they are right now.
As you navigate the pandemic and the inevitable transition that follows, how can you focus your energy on the people, places, and things that delight you instead of those that drain you?
How can you unapologetically prioritize your essentials and let the rest fall away?
If you want more, sometimes you have to reach for less.
Writing Activity: Make a list of the 10 people, 10 places, and 10 things that mean the most to you right now. Continue to refine your PPT list as you move through different chapters or seasons of life.
About the Author: Ariel Upton is on a quest to do it right every day of her life and help others do the same. She is the co-founder of The TODAY I DID IT RIGHT™ Approach and Self-Connection Journal. She is an intentional activator in all of her work as an author, writer, speaker, and mentor. To individuals, corporations, and communities, she is a careful coach that champions self-connection through writing into existence. Ariel believes living a right life on a daily basis is the secret to living a right life. She is an American ex-pat (former Chicagoan, forever Floridian) living in Sweden, where you can currently find her gardening, writing, and exploring the countryside @todayididitright.
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