Lately my to-do lists seem to be spontaneously breeding. I write a list, then later that day or the next, I’ll start another list. I might find the first list and add to it. I might have one list on my computer, a different one on the refrigerator and a third on a scrap of paper in my purse. I am not sure that the ‘to-do’ list apps on my portable electronics help, since no two lists match. Each list seems important, or, has at least one important item on it.
I don’t think it’s only a function of being busy, or of having multiple responsibilities. I think the constant river of information in which we live (or to which we subject ourselves) results in an overwhelming stream of opportunity. Choosing becomes fraught with dilemmas: what are the financial implications of this choice versus that one? what are the ethical implications of this or that action? will social justice activities crowd out family opportunities? where is there space and time for spiritual exploration or intellectual stimulation?
I know I’m not alone in this. My friends and I sometimes laugh about our lists and exchange hints about how to manage them. List management itself becomes a task on the list!
In the Jewish annual cycle, we have just entered the month of Elul, the month before the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) during which we take time for introspection, reflection and self-examination. It’s a time to examine our priorities, question our allocations of time and energy and analyze our life choices. In the midst of the proliferation of ‘to-do’ lists, I’ve been doing that kind of probing self-study.
Here’s the ‘bottom line’; my ‘mantra’ for the next stage of life:
“Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should”
“Just because I can, doesn’t mean I must”
“Just because I can, doesn’t mean I will”.
The ability to participate in any activity or even to excel at it does not obligate me to participate in it. The choice is, in most cases, mine.
This mantra will, I hope, allow me to ruthlessly prune my ‘to-do’ lists down to the real essentials, to my most deeply held priorities, to my most authentic self. I don’t think this will be easy. I do believe it to be an essential step in the next stage of my life.
Rabbi Min Kantrowitz is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, teaches about CryptoJews and Conversos of New Mexico for Road Scholar/Elderhostel and has private students. She directed the New Mexico Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program for 12 years, serving unaffiliated Jews throughout the state. A 2004 graduate of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, she is the author of ?Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide?. Rabbi Kantrowitz is a former psychologist, a former architect/planner, a wife, mother and the proud Bubbie of three grandsons.