How Do We Find New Things That Bring Us Joy (When We’re so Damn Tired)?

I know, I know. Sometimes it seems like a really daunting task to find things you enjoy when you’re really tired. The bugger of it all is that when you find something and get involved, you’ll have more energy everywhere. When we find something that is just for us, gives us pleasure, aligns with our values, and commit to doing it regularly, it can change our whole life. But how do you find whatever “it” is? And how do you do that when you’re already stretched pretty thin? I’ve got a few ideas… but first, a story.

About a decade or so ago I had two young kids and a spouse in medical school. I was a stay-at-home mom trying to figure out what in the world to do with myself and had not so recently left the religious community that provided most of my social life. It was then that I stumbled upon a fateful Craigslist ad: they were starting a roller derby team in my city and I was totally intrigued. I had to get gear, so I took a temp job grading standardized tests so I could pony up the cash to buy the most basic setup. And now that I had spent money, I had to be committed, at least for a while. I worked with my spouse to have him on kid duty while I went to practice and I jumped in. I didn’t know anyone, but I made friends that I’m still in touch with today. I didn’t know how to play derby, but I ended up being a pretty damn good player. (Could I play now? No, but that’s a topic for another day.) Before we knew it, derby was our whole lives: I played and was on the board, my spouse was our coach, and our kids had derby names and we started having to pay a sitter so we could both participate. It was so much work, but so worth the risk and getting over my own doubts to get out there and do it.

I’m not saying you need to find something like derby that will take over your whole existence. But I am sure that finding something you enjoy and making the time for it is 100% worth it. So let’s talk about how to find something.

Step 1: Set your expectations appropriately. Like dating and skin care, you’re going to have to try some different things before you find “the one”. You’ll probably do a few things you end up not liking AND THAT’S OKAY. Let’s just talk ourselves down from our perfectionism for a moment – you may not like it. And you may not be good at it, especially the first time. Let’s repeat that one more time: IT’S OKAY.

Step 2: Make a list! Of course I would say that. But really, make a list of things you’ve wanted to try or things you used to like to do BEFORE (before kids, before marriage, before adulting stole all your joy). 

Step 3: Research. Facebook events, Eventbrite, Meetup, Instagram, and your local paper are all great places to look. Also churches, your local parks and rec department (not kidding!), and the library! There are so many activities out there for you to jump into.

Step 4: Put on your big girl (person) pants and get out there. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it can be intimidating. Yes, you will probably have to make arrangements for your kids or other responsibilities to do it. DO IT ANYWAY. And then keep doing it.

Some other tips and ideas: get an accountability buddy to keep you on track and hold you to your goal. It can be so easy to let the stuff just for us slide and get deprioritized. But your self-care is too important to give up on. In that vein, start small. Maybe just sneak out on a Sunday morning to drink coffee and read a book at the Starbucks down the street! Do SOMETHING alone that you WANT to do.

Roller derby was a huge commitment and took a lot of effort to keep going. I don’t do that anymore, but I have lots of other activities that I make work and keep as a promise to myself. My kids’ activities are not more important than mine. They can miss one lesson or Scout event if I have plans. I try to avoid conflicts, but sometimes it happens. And when it does I try first to get creative: can I get them a ride? Can I take them early or pick them up late? Whatever I can do to keep my plans intact. It’s not always easy and I think, in our culture, totally frowned upon. Moms are supposed to give up EVERYTHING for their kids and put them first in every way. I’m doing way better at this. In fact, over Labor Day my mom flew down on short notice to stay with my kiddo so I could go on the trip I planned. This is extreme, I realize, but it took a lot for me to get to the point where I could say yes to her help and actually let that happen. I felt SO guilty… until I didn’t anymore. It takes practice, but by starting small and doing it anyway, you’ll build up the muscles necessary to prioritize yourself.

So get out there and try something new! Make a friend that isn’t the parent of your kids’ friends! Do something crazy that maybe involves fishnets, wild after parties, and a pseudonym (my derby name was Anita Whacksa Beaver – they called me Beavs). Or don’t. Join a quilting guild or a romance book club. Whatever YOU want to do. Do that.