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Reflection Self-development

The candle in the closet

Following on from my previous post, I want to write more about the benefits of living in the moment. In 2020, the year of appreciating what we had, I came across a TED Talk that changed my perspective on life.

This TED Talk was ‘Change Your Closet, Change Your Life’, presented by Gillian Dunn. While I’ve already referenced a few TED Talks in previous blog posts, I believe Gillian’s is the one that left the biggest impression on me so far.

‘Change Your Closet, Change Your Life’ – a summary

During a trip to Mexico, Gillian bought a ‘beautiful, blue, ornate’ candle. Despite her excitement, she felt it wasn’t the right time to light it when she returned home. She left it in her closet to save it for a special occasion and forgot about it. After two years, she remembered her candle and decided that it was the right time to light it. When she opened the box, she discovered a puddle of melted blue wax.

‘Now what struck me as really strange about this was that my candle had done exactly what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to melt but it had done it without me.

That’s the day that I learned: Don’t let your candle melt in the closet.’

Gillian works in the Emergency Department as a registered nurse. She observes a lot of change. Sometimes, it’s good change where recovery is simple. Other times, the change is difficult. Patients might be affected for the rest of their lives. In many cases, they will never get the chance to light a candle, use their finest dinnerware, or wear their nicest suit again.

So, Gillian warns us – ‘don’t let your candle melt in the closet’.

Why I always think about the candle in the closet

In her talk, Gillian discusses how her candle-melting incident resonated with her and her friends. When I first watched the talk, I was surprised by how much it spoke to me. I realised that I’ve experienced this phenomenon my whole life.

Even now, I have a habit of putting everything aside for special occasions. I received jewellery and perfume for my birthday, and I don’t wear them because I’m waiting for that perfect moment. I keep nice wrapping paper for scrapbooking and art projects, but I never use it. I still have a lot of movies, TV shows, books, and music that I want to watch, read and listen to, but I find it difficult to give myself the time to do so.

‘We have no problem with gathering stuff but we have a problem with using it.’

Hoarding things in this manner is troublesome in a couple of ways. As Gillian explains, depriving yourself of your special items creates a mindset in which you feel inadequate. You believe that your life isn’t special or meaningful enough to engage with the things you’ve spent your money on. In a world where money reflects the amount of time you spend working, not using your special items means a life of high productivity with little reward.

Another way in which this mindset is problematic is that it encourages waste. When we hide our high-quality items, we feel compelled to use less expensive but less effective substitutes. We are less likely to care for these alternatives, which allows us to justify throwing them out and replacing them with another disposable item. Or, of course, we let our prized possessions take up space and deteriorate without us. Our candles melt in the closet.

Beyond the closet

Of course, the ‘candle in the closet’ concept applies not only to material items, but also to the activities you engage in. Setting boundaries is important because our time is finite. However, it’s easy to become lost when you’re overburdened with more pressing responsibilities.

I must admit that I don’t have the answers to this. One of my main objectives for 2022 is to be more accepting of my ‘in the moment’ decisions. These are the intuitive feelings I have when I want to switch projects or take a break while working on a priority project. In my post about passive and active mindsets, I discuss how shifting your focus away from work and towards something more enjoyable and relaxing in the moment can be beneficial. Taking a break from a project often allows for breakthroughs on that same project.

But I struggle to internalise this. Despite all of my efforts to trust my intuition, I still force myself to work through the less desirable tasks at the expense of my more enjoyable personal projects. And the end result is simply a dissatisfied and resentful approach to priority work that produces poorer results than if I simply took some breaks throughout the process.

I’m writing this post not only to inspire my readers, but also to remind myself that work, rest, and play can be compatible.

Concluding thoughts

Gillian emphasises in her talk that she is not advocating for people to live recklessly and make impulsive decisions that endanger their health and well-being. It’s really about having a sense of control over your own life, which allows you to make decisions that prioritise passion.

As I’ve established, this process is pretty difficult when you’ve denied yourself fun for a lifetime. I think it’s necessary to develop a relationship with yourself. Connecting with your inner world, I believe, allows you to gradually trust your intuition. If you’re not sure where to begin, my guide to knowing yourself might help you get started.

But I’d like to ask you for advice. What systems do you have in place to ensure that you’re acting on your intuition? How do you avoid favouring difficult tasks over your passions? Please let me know in the comments section!

‘Life is what you make it. So make it one you enjoy.’

Gillian Dunn

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