Last week I had a terrible flu, and it tipped me into some darkness.  After I allowed myself some cozy time to mope around and despair, my feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm served as catalysts to get clearer on some things.  My energy became a precious commodity, forcing me to think more intentionally about how I spend it.  I had to get up close and personal with what is really important to me, and sacrifice the rest.  This reflection led me to a Memo to Myself.  I started by asking myself what I valued most in life.  These were my brainstorming questions:

What really matters to me?  Imagining myself on my deathbed, what will I conclude was important?  (Yup, I get dramatic when I’m sick.)  Think of my role models.  What do they embody?

There are countless values, none inherently better than others.  It only matters that they’re yours.  These are mine.

Self-care, family, service to others, curiosity, presence

From there, I wrote this Memo to Myself.  A north star guiding how I want to focus and invest my limited time and energy.  More often than not, I know I will veer from this, scattering my energy around on autopilot instead of checking for true north.  But for moments when I am overwhelmed, lost, or depleted, I can use this Memo as a compass.

Memo to Myself

My ability to do the things I love and engage fully in life hinges on my ability to take good care of myself.  This means: unplugging, getting outside, dancing goofily, exercising at least ten minutes a day, and engaging in activities outside of work and family.  And it means coming back to what’s important to me whenever I notice myself astray.

Then there’s family.  I’m committed to my marriage and my kids. I strive every day to be present with them when I’m with them.  Not half there and simultaneously coming up with a grocery list in my head.  Fully there.  And in the tough moments—the cranky, sleep-deprived, child is being a jerk and I am losing my sh*$ moments—I promise to take a deep breath and look for ways to reconnect with my buddha self.  You know, the part of ourselves we all have that can take a step back and get some perspective. 

The next place I practice my sowing and reaping is in my inner circle of loved ones: my siblings and parents and my friends.  These relationships are not always easy, but they are important to me.

Then, all of this goes to support what on a global level I derive meaning from.  Service to others.  For me, this means things like listening deeply, disseminating top-notch mental health treatment, making social contributions, and practicing kindness.

Finally, I value two more things very much. Curiosity—staying open to being wrong, open to new perspectives, open to new learning.  And Presence—practicing coming back to now, coming back to center, in the infinite moments of my day when I am pulled away from that.

When I am overwhelmed, this is simplifying.  When I am lost, this is clarifying.  And when I’m depleted, this is my fuel for action.

If, as I felt last week, you are feeling overwhelmed, lost, drained, or stuck, have a look at this Values Roadmap and see if you can come up with your own Memo to Myself.  See if you can include ideals that help guide and push you, as well as brass tacks that are specific and implementable.  Then, every day for the next week, ask yourself, am I on point with my north star or off?  Use it as your fuel for action.