In January, I decided to implement a few personal policies, not resolutions, for 2019. The first principle—as all of you might remember from my January column—was to stay mad about all the things I should be mad about and to use that anger to act in ways that could change the world. I planned to use my anger in productive, social justice–oriented ways. And I have.
My other two policies were more about how to carve out, and protect, space for me in our shared world: building boundaries and learning how to care less about what people think of me.
When I decided to create and enforce better boundaries about what I do, want to do and won't do, I had to consider whether I take on tasks because people expect me to or whether I want to because they have value to my career, my larger community or my life. I decided to reclaim my time, following Rep. Maxine Waters' lead. So, like a fierce dragon guarding her horde, I protected my time to continue to do a good job at work and to finish projects that matter to me.
Building boundaries required that I learn to say “no” rather than quickly agreeing to a task or project I would later resent. I finally prioritized what I have the time and energy for. I made choices that support my priorities. For instance, responding to email requests, in which someone tries to guilt me into being involved in something I didn't sign up for or don't want to do, was not worth it. (The delete button is a friend.)
Now, I am pushing back, gently, on friends and colleagues' requests to make my boundaries clear. I am being honest about what I will and won't do. Some folks are used to me being able to “fix” things for them. They are surprised—and occasionally angry—when I won't step in and help them like I did before. They keep asking, so I keep saying “no,” politely but forcefully. My time is actually my time, not someone else's.
But I am still having a problem with my caring less policy. It's harder to implement. I'm a person who cares a lot about my family (and pets!), work, friends, writing, people and their feelings, books, art, pop music, activism, the eradication of the white supremacist patriarchy, other people's projects, higher ed, politics (personal and national), Twitter, coffee, movies with women leads and many other things. There are so many things that do matter to me, so how do I even begin to figure out what I can care less about?
I decided I needed additional help (an intervention, maybe) and a friend suggested Sarah Knight's The Life‐Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (2015) to whip me into shape. This book is a guide to figuring out how to stop spending time on things you don't like (or even want to do) with people that you are, at best, ambivalent about or, at worst, actively dislike. It's also a book for all of us overachievers—who might be perfectionists and people pleasers too—to convince us to focus on what brings us joy. Her goal is to show us that we can actually care less about things that don't matter to us. I tried not to break out in a sweat and failed.
Now, as you can guess from the title, Knight relies on a certain f‐word to make her point, but I'm relying on the more family‐friendly term “fox.” She offers guidance on not giving a fox, and I was willing to try her method. I need to give less foxes because they are “a finite and precious commodity.”
My foxes, like yours, are limited.
Her book is a play on Marie Kondo's New York Times best‐seller, The Life‐Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014). Knight takes the KonMari Method of decluttering our lives and applies it to our mental clutter, all of those foxes we think we should give. She offers the two‐step NotSorry Method: figure out what you don't give a fox about and then don't give a fox. This seems deceptively easy, but this method takes work to become a habit. We have to take a hard look at all of our foxes, decide which ones are worth caring about and discard all those we don't. I had to figure out what mattered to me, so I could let go of all the things that didn't.
So, I had to inventory all my current foxes, and assess whether they bring joy or annoy, to clear out the mental clutter. My Things I Give a Fox About list, a suggestion of Knight's, included things and people that matter to me. Things not on the list (like Facebook, children's play dates, Game of Thrones, socks, trending hashtags or a clean car) were no longer my concern.
I had permission to not care. No longer would I let what other people think define my foxes. I chose my foxes and decided to care less about what people think because, as Knight points out, we can't control what they think about us. Our thoughts and feelings matter more. I don't get to be a jerk; I just had to care less about their thoughts on my choices. My choices were mine.
I am closer to not giving a fox, and maybe you can be too.