Believe me when I tell you, I always have the best of intentions. I truly enjoy being involved and helping out, even if it means I’m on the clean-up crew. Just ask my kids! More often than not, we arrive early and are some of the last to leave. But I’ve come to understand that saying “yes” can quickly become the perfect storm for me. (Enegram 2w3 here… which means I’m a healthy mix of ‘Helper’ and ‘Achiever.’) Every time I heard my family and friends say “I don’t know how you do it all,” I was equal parts proud and plagued with fatigue. The fatigue I understood, but accepted as a fact of life. The pride part? That wasn’t so pretty. I was forced to take a good, long look at it and realized some really uncomfortable things.
Though I often agreed to help out for the right reasons, I easily lost sight of the “why.” I identified my self by the titles I carried and found meaning in busyness. To-do lists help keep my head above water, and the satisfaction that comes with checking things off gives a healthy sense of accomplishment. Right? But do you know what’s not healthy? Feeling driven to fill every moment my day with task after task (typically for others), until I collapsed into bed at night exhausted and unsatisfied. Believing that my self-worth is connected to my contributions, and saying “yes” to things at the expense of myself and my family. The helper in me wants to ‘do all the things so you don’t have to,’ the achiever in me thinks ‘it better be done well.’
Of course, there are non-negotiable’s that come with every day: work, kids, marriage, going back to school, tending to medical needs, IEPs, aging parents and the list goes on. Your days look different than mine, and mine look different than they did five years ago. There are also seasons in any family where burning the candle at both ends is necessary (I’m looking at you, October). I’m not talking about those things … I’m talking about the ‘unnecessary extras.’
I don’t even remember where I heard the one thing that changed it all for me (except, I think it was a podcast). The conversation was all about emotional energy and saving your best energy for the things that matter most. I finally started to understand that I only have a finite amount to spend on any given day. It was time I took stock of where it was going. There is, in fact, enough energy for the extras that mean the most to me. But there were (and still are) some things that myself and my family need to let go of.
A new motto
“Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.” I’m learning to pause, put a sleep cycle (or two) on things before I commit to them and ask myself “why?” I recently was offered an opportunity that I dreamed of a few years ago. Except it came with after-hours commitments, and an investment of time and energy that I don’t have to give. So, even though it went against my nature, I declined. Thankfully, it didn’t take long before I was filled with peace and knew it was the right decision. I am definitely a work in progress (hence the quotation marks in the title.) In fact, I think I’m only scratching the surface on my way to recovery, but some of the changes I’ve put into place have already made an impact.
To be fair, I have the toughest time setting limits when it comes to my kids’ school. But, for me, my involvement with their school is one of the ‘important extras’ that isn’t going anywhere. Even so, we can’t contribute all of our time, energy and finances to every volunteer / involvement opportunity. So, we pick and choose what fits our family best.
As moms, it’s so easy to get caught up in the hamster wheel of life. But then before we know it, the hamster wheel has sprung from its cage, and entered into a rat race that never seems to end. Do I WANT to say yes every time someone asks? Maybe, on some level. But is it realistic, healthy or helpful? No. We’re all working on prioritizing around here. It’s a family effort which translated into my daughter taking a year-long break from dancing. She loves it, has danced for years & we love watching her. But I’m not willing to encourage her to follow in my overcommitting footsteps. We explained the situation and gave her the chance to choose which of her ‘extras’ she put her energy into. She chose sports, and we all had the chance to practice what I (now) preach.
And an experiment
As my ‘recovery’ continues, I try to stay mindful of the ‘unnecessary extras’ that try to creep in. This week, I did something that will seem outrageous, ridiculous, and impossible to some of you. (Heck, I still can’t believe it.) I didn’t make a single list. I ignored my planner, which I previously considered my lifeline. All the spaces are black and I have my anxiety just looking at it, but also, I have peace. I don’t imagine this will continue, because truthfully, I’m just too absent-minded. Living without lists is a huge gamble for me as a wife, mom and human. But this week, it was liberating and we didn’t miss a thing. In fact, I’m sure I learned a few in the process.
I don’t intend to change who I am, or how I love others. I am a ‘caretaker’ and I value the life lessons that come from involvement. But, I do intend to stop stacking my days and running myself and my family ragged. If any or all of this sounds familiar that I invite you to join me on my journey… Say “no” once in a while and watch what happens. The world will keep spinning, the racers will keep racing, but you and I? Maybe we’ll catch our breath.
(P.S.- If you aren’t familiar with the Enneagram, check out this article. There’s a link to a free quiz and wonderful articles about each of the results.)