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At the home of my late grandmother (pictured in photo) in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria

What’s the one thing that, if you achieve it, would totally transform your life in 2020?

Take a minute and think about it. Close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like, all the ways it would shift your daily experience. Jot it down, if you like. We’ll get back to it.

Two weeks into 2020, I was already over this year and ready for 2021.

A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was still trying to wrap up 2019 projects and commitments that had bled into the new year. No matter how much I’d accomplished, the amount of workshops I’d given, pitch decks completed, and client deliverables turned in, the universe still wanted more.

Case in point, my trip to visit family in Nigeria for Christmas. I stayed for six weeks, splitting my time between Lagos and Uyo, the town in Akwa Ibom State where my family lives. Despite how long my trip was, it wasn’t enough time. Between meetings with my client — whom I agreed to continue working for remotely — family time, business time connecting with producers, and what little fun time I “scheduled” in the remaining hours of the day (check out salsa classes in Lagos if you’re ever in town!), I was stressed and exhausted in two different time zones.

Cut to me, running upstairs one night to say hello to my aunt, whom I hadn’t greeted all day, after getting off a client video conference call. I stopped myself mid-step, telling myself to walk, and then stood still altogether.

I’ve been running for an entire year, I thought. This is madness. Why is my life like this? I’m always running around. I don’t want to live this way anymore.

It dawned on me that all the reasons I generally give for why my life is hectic — living in New York; being a writer, director, dancer and consultant; starting an online course business; leading workshops — have nothing to do with why my life is actually hectic.

I could be in Nigeria on a so-called vacation and still be stressed out. Somehow, I always end up running around frazzled, wondering why there isn’t enough time in the day for everything I’m trying to do. The problem is clearly me.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve over-scheduled and overcommitted my time, believing that busy-ness is the key to productivity. (Coming from Stanford and NYU Grad Film, a daughter of immigrants, I also tend to surround myself with friends, family and colleagues who do the same.) I tend to project a different image, building in copious amounts of yoga and dance classes to “balance” it out.

But my Nigeria trip solidified that this is not how I want to live my life.

As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in Finding Flow:

“What we do during an average day can be divided into three major kinds of activities. The first and largest includes what we must do in order to generate energy for survival and comfort. Nowadays this is almost synonymous with ‘making money,’ since money has become the medium of exchange for most things. Between a quarter to more than half of our psychic energy goes into such productive activities, depending on the kind of job, and whether one works full or part time.

Productive activities create new energy; but we need to do a great deal of work just to preserve the body and its possessions. Therefore about a fourth of our day is involved in various sorts of maintenance activities. We keep the body in shape by eating, resting, grooming; our possessions by cleaning, cooking, shopping, and doing all sorts of housework.

Time left over from productive and maintenance necessities is free time, orleisure, which takes up about another fourth of our total time. According to many past thinkers, men and women could only realize their potential when they had nothing to do. It is during leisure, according to the Greek philosophers, that we become truly human by devoting time to self-development — to learning, to the arts, to political activity.”

For better or worse, no matter what country or industry you’re in, the internet and digital media enable you to be on your phone and devices, wired, and busy constantly.

Even before I touched down in Nigeria, I was checking emails on my layover in Egypt, trying to stay “available” to my client. What’s most striking is, the more scheduled I was, the less available for my own projects and creativity, for my loved ones, and the things that really add value to my life. This has always been a problem for me. As a classic overachiever, I tend not to pay enough attention to down time and rest, ie, smelling the roses.

And while I was thrilled that I knocked down all the goals I’d put on my list in 2018 and 2019, I wasn’t sure that any of them dramatically shifted my daily life for the better. So I picked one goal for 2020 that will.

Admittedly, 2018 (and 2019, by extension) was my Year of Yes. Almost any and every opportunity that crossed my path, I agreed to do. Nothing was too audacious or impossible. If it made me nervous or anxious, I said yes just to challenge myself. But the hectic schedule made me hungry for a Year of No. No more over-scheduling and overcommitment; no more making accommodations for stressful current and would-be clients; no more scheduling business during times when I need rest; and YES to more me time and play time.

I’m calling it my Wonder Year! Instead of a laundry list of resolutions, I have one goal.

Besides that, I’m saying no to distractions and creating room for more rest, more journaling, more yoga, more daydreaming, and more downtime, providing nourishment to the creative parts of my brain that are getting fried with all this constant activity and overstimulation.

So your challenge for your Wonder Year, should you choose to accept it, is:

Part of my goal involves rest and recovery from my Nigeria trip and subsequent whirlwind 5-day weekend at Stanford for my a cappella group’s 30th Anniversary Reunion. So far, I’ve been sleeping off-and-on the past week straight since returning to NYC — and it feels amazing.

So what’s your Wonder Year goal?

Would you keep the one you set before reading this essay, or change it? Is it a productive, maintenance, or leisure goal? Post a reply and let me know!

Onward & upward,

Iquo.

P.S. I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Creatives Converge Film & TV Production Retreat for women April 17–18 in NYC. Register now for an incredible time of building, growing, and networking!

Writer, creator, and consultant to artists and entrepreneurs. NYU Film & Stanford alumna. Let’s chat: https://calendly.com/iquoessien

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