The Pursuit of Calm

Some reflection on being enough, striving, and discovering what it means to live a calm life.

The Pursuit of Calm
I can haz pancakes, plz?

Most Saturday mornings, we wake up slowly. My husband rolls over sleepily for our usual morning snuggle. Sometimes, we go back to sleep, but more often, we are marshalled out of bed by the insistent cries of hungry cats. It’s not often we make it past 7:15 am.

We don our cozy sweats and sweaters while the cats circle, encouraging utmost haste. While I brush out my sleep-tangled hair and make our bed, my husband heads to the kitchen to start the coffee, cats nearly nipping at his heels. I come down the stairs to the sound of percolating and the gnashing of the beasts as they finally get their morning repast. 

Dana moves around our small kitchen with practised ease, listening to a podcast on his AirPods and waiting for the pan to heat up as he pulls out all the pancake accoutrements.

I dig out the lost mice and scrunchie balls from under the couch, to the great anticipation of Winston and Stella. Cats fed and briefly subdued, I curl up to read my morning basketball newsletter. Dana brings me a coffee with a bit of vanilla creamer, just the way I like it. 

We have spoken but a few words, but our easy, familiar rhythm of over 21 years together makes conversation unnecessary.

When the food is ready, we settle in at the kitchen table. We butter and syrup our pancakes and read our respective news or books. There is no sound but the occasional scraping of our knives and forks and the patter of Stella’s paws as she chases her favourite scrunchie ball in our daily game of fetch. Winston desperately tries to get close to the butter dish but is foiled time and time again (usually 😅).

When the plates are empty and tummies full, I do up the dishes and refill our coffees while Dana gets our latest video game queued up. Our big soft blanket is spread over us as we all settle into our usual couch spots. Stella does her little purr dance on my lap before curling up, with Winston close behind.

And we begin the morning’s adventure. 

This is a snapshot of my life. I treasure it and feel immeasurably grateful that it’s a pretty standard Saturday morning in our house. It’s what I want for my normal, and usually, it is. It’s what calm looks like for me.

On these days, I no longer feel the pull to do more. I don’t question if I should be working or if I should be doing something “productive.” I don’t should myself at all, and (though it took a while to believe it) I know I am doing something productive. I’m spending time with the person I love most, doing something we enjoy together, and recharging. 

What does enough mean?

It hasn’t always been like this. 

It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I could relax without guilt, sit still and not feel the pull of my never-ending to-do list, not feel like rest was a waste of time, and feel like I was allowed to not always be “doing”.

The beginning of my career was dogged by an ever-present push for more. The narrative of the intrepid entrepreneur burning the midnight oil in their 80 work week was loud in the back of my mind as the “right” way to be. If I wasn’t always working, was I even an entrepreneur

There was a constant pressure to make things bigger, faster, louder… more

And what’s worse is that it never, ever, felt like it was enough. It felt like I was never enough. It was, frankly, exhausting. It was also confusing, frustrating and demoralizing, and eventually, I was left to ask:

What does enough mean? And, even more important, what does enough mean to me?

The pursuit of calm and learning what enough means to me

As is so common in North American culture of more, somewhere along the way, I had confused “productivity” with being a good person. I had tied my value to checking things off a list. I had thought that there was only one way to be valued, and that was to be busy doing.

The change happened gradually over the years. It’s been a combination of getting to know myself better through regular reflection, understanding where the impulse to always be “doing” came from (both in my life and externally), and some significant life experiences along the way. 

Aging, while unfun in some ways, brings with it some significant gifts in the form of: 

  • Caring less about what others think (though not entirely)
  • Gaining clarity on what I want out of my life (which has evolved)
  • Being more secure in who I am and who I want to be (though that is a work in progress as well)

Of course, having MS is a factor, too, but I would like to think I would have come down this path regardless, though perhaps a little (or even a lot) slower. 

I’ve realized there is always, and will always be, more to do. There are more chores, tasks, experiences, and options than anyone can ever consider.  

If you are fortunate enough to live to your late seventies, you will have four thousand weeks in this life. If I am so lucky as to make it that far, I want to make sure I did the things I wanted to along the way with the people I wanted to do them with. I’ve come around to a better appreciation of “the outrageous brevity and shimmering possibilities of our four thousand weeks.” (Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals)

Most of the time, I know what makes me happy, compared to the cacophony of noise online that tells me what I should want, how I should do things, or how I should live my life. 

In the endless pursuit of more, I have instead embraced the pursuit of calm. A life of measured forward movement, enjoying what is already a pretty wonderful existence.

Changing what it means to strive

A significant part of my pursuit of calm is the recognition of the tension between that calm and striving for more

Calm doesn’t mean a lack of excitement or effort or that I don’t work hard. A calm life doesn’t mean I don’t strive to improve myself or my business. It means I also strive to take care of my body and connect with my friends and family. It means I also strive for a calm mind that isn’t spinning and anxious but content.

I strive for a life of joy, curiosity and happiness with the people I love most.

I’ve come to realize what I want in this season of my life is different from what I wanted in the past and will likely be different from what I want in the future. I’ve realized that it’s okay for what I want to have changed and to know it will change again. And again.

I can’t honestly say I don’t occasionally feel the weight of not being “productive” enough. I can’t say I don’t get caught up in the fervour of busyness and wonder if I am doing “enough”. I can’t say I don’t wonder if I am enough. But these feelings and thoughts are less frequent and intense. There is even value in having them as a check-in on where I am and where I want to be. 

Knowing I will evolve and change my mind (and already have) has given me a measure of freedom. It’s the shift from: What do I need to do to be enough?...

... to, what do I need to do that matters to me? 

Your pursuit of calm

My brand of productivity consulting is in service of the pursuit of calm. It’s helping others gain clarity on what matters to them by helping them calm their chaos enough to be able to think about their lives intentionally. Then, it’s possible to establish the habits and processes to work towards those goals with the support of some of the tools and tactics I share.

In the pursuit of your calm, consider the following:

  • When you think of your ideal Saturday, what does it look like?
  • Do you get to have it on occasion?
  • If not, what needs to change to make it happen?

The ideal Saturday is just one small part of the pursuit of calm, and it’s representative of making progress towards the intentional life.

What’s your next step?

If you need some help in the pursuit of your calm, I would love to chat.