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Free Bird

Longer summer days are full of possibility, but they often get gobbled up by obligations, either real or perceived. Weddings, graduations, fundraisers—sure some events we wouldn’t miss for the world, but what if you started sending your regrets to activities that you aren’t 100% (or even 70%) excited by? Just imagine what you could do with those balmy, sunlit extra hours, free as the proverbial bird.

There are people who love to be scheduled to the gills socially—the so-called “opening of an envelope” partiers. The rest of us wake up on the morning of an event and pull the covers back over our heads whining, “Do I have to?” Avoiding this feeling takes planning and a possibly little courage if you are used to being guilted into attending social functions.

Look at your calendar and decide how you’d really like to spend your time. Obviously, there will be the hardscape of work, child care, errands and other daily duties; we are looking at the free hours here. How you use your free time should be in line with your core values. Do you want to get more exercise, spend more time with extended family, volunteer more in the community, go on a retreat, read more books, see more movies, get out of town, get a tan or a manicure?

Plan and put all the stuff you really want to do on your calendar as if it were non-optional. When an invitation to a wedding or to sit on a non-profit board comes up, decide if it fits in with your values and whether it excites you on some level; don’t just immediately say yes because you feel either obligated or flattered to be invited.

Visualize the event and imagine how you will feel the day of the event. Are you happy to get dressed and get in the car? Or are you scanning your body to determine if you have even the slightest ailment that could be a valid excuse for staying home?

Does the travel time or the expense of the event outweigh the time spent having fun or doing good? If you have to get on an airplane, get an expensive hotel room, then sit through a high school graduation of a teenager who will maybe say hello before departing to hang out with friends and whose parents will be preoccupied with many guests, the answer is easy (but the choice is still hard!).

One of my fellow Rotarians gets teased because he doesn’t volunteer as much as some others. I’m not a fan of the pressure service clubs can exert on members. I respect that my friend has set his perfectly acceptable limits and doesn’t feel guilty for not going beyond them. It’s important to have an active membership, but not everybody is going to be volunteer of the year and there should be no shame in that.

The whole involvement competition and social media induced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) frenzy is something I work very hard not to participate in. Staying off social media is one way to prevent filling up the calendar with time sucking occasions.

I used to say yes to all kinds of events because they sounded fun in the moment or I’d had a lot of caffeine and felt up for anything. But the event date would approach and I’d find myself feeling irritated and obligated, often calling the host (hoping to get voicemail) to say I wouldn’t be able to make it after all. I’d feel guilty and depressed for days.

Now I give myself time to think my time commitments through. If tickets sell out or I miss the early bird pricing, so be it. Alternatively, if it is an event I know for sure I won’t enjoy (opera), I say no immediately. I feel a million times better, not only because I don’t begrudgingly attend events or volunteer for things that don’t resonate with me anymore, but also because people can trust that I will keep my commitments.

If you do accept an invitation and find yourself having a horrible time, there’s nothing that says you can’t leave! Have an escape plan. If you’re going with someone else, perhaps take separate cars or agree to leave by a certain time. If you’re far from home, catch a cab and go to a movie or museum or back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub. Life is too short to wear tight shoes at a bad party.

I was at a dinner party once where the hostess got up from the table, ascended the stairs, and never came back. It was a little shocking but I was so impressed. Cue the Lynyrd Skynyrd!