I’m about to get real with y’all in this post. It’s a topic that has been weighing in my mind, and maybe it will resonate with you too. As one of my faculty mentors says, “I offer these humbly, knowing it may miss the mark, come too late, or be too early to be understood.” So take what is helpful to you. For a long time, I have felt competing pressures to constantly be doing something while also trying to be present and live my life in its full capacity. That’s no surprise – we get constant messaging to be more productive, about “lifehacks” to save time, and achieving our dreams. So when I started the bullet journal it made sense that people would start to make comments about how I was wasting time “decorating” instead of using that time to “get something done.” But here’s the thing: I am not using my bullet journal to get more done. And I’ll tell you why.
For so many years of my life I’ve been trained in the value of productivity, efficiency, and methodically working toward my goals. I was well-rewarded for always being on the move, always achieving something, and then moving onto the next thing – my family would nod, my teachers praised me, my supervisors trusted me with projects, I got good grades and the belief that I “had my shit together” which somehow equated to being successful. It’s what I was trained to do – and I got (am) very good at performing like I have it figured out.
In high school the hamster wheel was about being in clubs, having a job, being president of something, getting high grades so you can get into college. Then in college it was a bigger, badder hamster wheel that involved pressure to have jobs, grades, (unpaid) internships, a social life, and clubs so you could get into graduate school or “The Job”… I was kind of foolish to think it would end in grad school. But, once I was in graduate school, I started getting tired of constantly running on a treadmill, chasing after things that may or may not have been what I really wanted, checking off boxes on a list that wasn’t mine.
After school, you don’t get a syllabus or a rubric anymore. There are definitely checkboxes at your job, but somehow it’s different from being a student. And “suddenly” you feel a sense of liberation and fear that you have the space to write your own list. So what do you put on that list?
When you get to create your list, decide how you spend your time, what do you choose to do? What items are put on there by other people and what are the things you put there on your own? And what are the things that give us life instead of take it away? And… what is it I want my life to be about? And I knew, it wasn’t about just DOING THINGS. It was about the depths of my friendships, my connection to my family, my health, passions, not just how many boxes I checked off.
So when I started bullet journaling, I wanted to give space to both “being” and “doing.” I absolutely wanted to keep my goals in mind, and of course I believe in having intention, but I also wanted to use it to create space for the things that make life worth living (to me). The system isn’t just for doing work for me – it’s to make sure I’m doing the right work. Not necessarily a LOT of work, though some days that is absolutely true. A long time ago I decided I wanted to be more about who I am than what I do – which is EXTREMELY hard and I STILL live as a doer, but that is my intention.
So what does that look like in my bullet journal?
The world is always spinning, and especially in our doing-focused US culture, it can feel like your entire worth is measured on what you do and produce. But hear me, friends, when I say I want to know about who you ARE, not what you produce. What does your life tell you about who you are? How can your bullet journal reflect that too?