What Are You Building?

.008 Lessons from Trees and Violets

This is something I ask myself periodically: what are you building?

When I get too comfortable with my life or when my goals and ambitions go a bit slack, I ask myself what I am building and what I want to build as a way to refocus and channel my energies into deciding what to invest in next.

When my life is getting crazy and chaotic and starts to wear on me rather than give me life, I ask myself what I am building as a way to narrow my priorities and filter through my commitments. A weakness I have is that I tend to say yes without pausing to decide if I really believe in what I am committing to. When I consistently remind myself of what I want to build, though, it is easier to say no. I know that, if my heart isn’t in it, there is probably another person who needs to say yes instead of me. I don’t want to steal another person’s opportunity for the sake of my own pride.

On the flip side, sometimes I need to say yes to new opportunities, expand my horizons, and take a calculated risk now and then. What am I building? That is the core of it all. As I build, I pare away some parts of who I am and add on to others. It’s a sculpting process, a gentle balance, and sometimes it means that I need to stop being so careful and let myself enter uncomfortable spaces.

When I feel like I’m hitting the same wall over and over again, I try to remember that I’m building something. I’m growing my character. I’m adding to my story. I’m gaining experience. I’m learning a new perspective. Sometimes it takes a few tries to knock a strong wall, like a deeply ingrained bad habit, completely to the ground. Sometimes the process of building inherently requires destruction. In the broken-down, destructive space, though, I always think about art and how the messy process makes beautiful things. When I make pottery or if I paint, I always get clay or colour all over my hands and clothes. When I write, the first drafts are choppy and pieced together from scraps of scattered thought. Messy, paired with a plan and a process, often produces beautiful things.

So- building. What are you building? What do you want to create with your life? You can see this as a collage of relationships and projects and conversation or the way you work or carry yourself. What kind of beauty do you want to assemble in your life? You have control of this. What walls need to break down and what needs to be sculpted? Sometimes I sit down and make physical lists of the areas I need to focus on in my life. Other times, I just go out and take a walk or find a person to talk to or sit down and make something. Building is a process of working and engaging. It is learning to recognize opportunities and potential and what is worth investing in.

Some people might approach “what are you building?” like creating a personal brand or something along those lines. I guess that if it helps to think about it within those parameters, go ahead. I do think, though, that this building process is more fluid than fixed. It is more organic than signature. Choose to do things that you believe in, that give you life, and that challenge you to grow, and the building process will automatically evolve and start to shape you.

Practically, these are a few examples of areas that I generally focus on when I think about what I’m building:

Relationships: I try to invest in relationships that are enriching. This can include friendship, mentorship, or developing good connections with people. My rule here is developing intentionality. I want to invest my time and emotional energy in enriching ways, for both parties. For example, if a relationship is dragging me too far down mentally or emotionally, I know that I need to create some healthy distance. On the other hand, I also have a carefully chosen circle of people that I go to for their wisdom and encouragement. These are the people I truly listen to: opinions from all other people are less valid until they have earned their place in this circle. I’m also learning to balance relationships of give and take because I know that I need both kinds in my life.

Work: I’m becoming more and more strategic in the way that I work. I want to use my time efficiently. I want to choose projects that I believe in. I want the body of work that I produce to be meaningful in some way and I want to be challenged by it as well. For me right now this is mostly my creative work. However, this can extend to any job. Work with integrity and work to your greatest potential with the tasks that you are given, and your work will start to build something in you.

Rest: This might seems strange, but I’m also learning how to rest well. Creating intentional spaces of fulfilling rest on my weekends and scattered throughout my days has increased my productivity so much since I started to implement this practice. This does not mean doing something mindless like scrolling through Facebook or whatever. For me, this means slowing down and taking time. I might read something, but more slowly. I might write something, but it might be just a list or some scattered thoughts. I might take time to have a long conversation with someone I love. There are so many things that I do, but the point is that I’m learning to do them with more purpose and intention and slowness. I block off a certain space and say: “this is for rest.” I refuse to feel guilty for it. This really has changed the way I work.

These are just a few broad examples. The building process is a very personal, somewhat circumstantial process. It relies on the personal lessons you need to learn in order to grow, as well as personal interests, talents, and life goals. This looks different for everyone. It is a process of learning what is important to you and, as you gain a clearer picture of what that is, filtering out what doesn’t work and continuing to fill yourself up with what does work. Sometimes this is a bit of a guess and check process but it is also very healthy. Do not fear the messy space. You need it. Building is a creative process, both reflective and proactive.

And building, inherently, produces growth.

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