I sit at my desk, transfixed. On the screen before me, in all its grandeur, is my weekly schedule.
How did I do this again?
Search as I may, I find little breathing room, little margin. Closing the calendar, lest tears of frustration begin to fall, I half-heartedly move my cursor over to my “To do” sticky note. It is a reasonable length, but the core of my being knows there are things missing from the list. Things that will pop into my mind as I try to drift off into the sleep I so desperately need in order to keep up with the overflowing agenda and endless lists. My stomach clinches, my mind races, and everything begins to shut down. It is too much.
Stop. Breathe. Try again.
“No,” becomes my favorite word for a few days. Smiles find their way to my face as I see a dwindling of appointments. Down time begins to emerge as a real possibility. Whole afternoons and even days off lay before me. It feels nice…for a few minutes. Then, the fear creeps in.
Am I doing enough?
My “no” disappears and the cycle starts all over again. Too much, not enough. Too much, not enough. Maddening, exhausting, and demoralizing. Certainly not the best way to live.
Something's Gotta Give
This kind of back-and-forth cycle defined my life for over four decades. Dearth or famine and not a lot in between. Crying on the drive to work for dread of the overwhelming day that lay ahead or depressing amounts of boredom and purposelessness when I reduced the load too much. In either direction it was always too much. I either moved too fast to enjoy life or too slow to properly engage with it. Whatever I did, it never felt right…it never felt enough.
I often wondered why I was even on the planet if I could never get this right.
And this from one who has felt a deep call from God to serve and bless others and has bubbling passion for it – at times.
If You Don't Fight It, You Succumb
The truth is life for anyone can quickly bubble over or dry up if we do not pay attention and sort some things out. The apparatus between our ears – yes, our brain – is a well-oiled, programmed machine. All day long, six times a second for the right side and five times a second for the left side, our brains scan ourselves and our environments to ascertain who, where, and how we are. If we imagine a head full of files (another way of thinking about well-wired neural pathways), then the determination of our who, where, what comes from what is in those files.
But that is not necessarily the only question to ask.
From the moment we are born, we are sponges, soaking up everything in and around us, formulating understanding of life based on incorporating new knowledge into previous understanding. In the early years, we probably change our mind about things a million times, but at some point, we settle on interpretations and judgments. These become the basis of what moves us when we are not consciously making choices. Therefore, it is not only what is in the files, but from where the content has come.
Walk through a mall with a thirty-foot-tall Victoria’s Secret model or turn on the television or Youtube to display the latest idol or influencer. Read a magazine, talk to a person with a differing political view, have a chat with mom or dad, or tune into the latest and hottest new TED talk or podcast. All these acts have a way of adding to our files. If we are not actively using discernment with whatever we pipe into our eyes or ears, then that which is perceived as “evidence for” a preconceived belief is retained and whatever is “evidence against” is tossed out. This is how our rather binary (“associative”) brain works.
Put more simply, if you (yes, you and literally every other human) do not actively fight against external programming you do not endorse, you will succumb to it – and the external company line of our society is: More, more, more OR less, less, less. This rhetoric will run your life if you do not put a stop to it.
What's the Answer?
It comes down to awareness and balance.
When you first saw the title of this blog, you may have thought, “Oh boy, another blog on how I’m doing too much!” Yes, but as you can see, it can go both ways. The idea is not necessarily to do more or less, but to start to pay attention to what you are doing and then go about figuring out the magic mix of life that is enough for you.
This endeavor begins with awareness. You must first see where you are before you can decide where to go next. What are you doing with your days? Which activities drain you and which feed you? What does the noise in your head say when you try to change course? Whose voice(s) do you hear and why do you listen? Take a look at all the major areas of your life, such as work, social, finances, spirituality, entertainment, etc.
Once you have a grasp on how you spend your days, you then need to understand that the word balance does not mean equal. In other words, one does not need all areas of life to have the same number of hours, degrees of effort, or return on investment to be balanced. Early in my career as a therapist, a person on my caseload had a high-powered job that regularly spent nearly (and sometimes over) one hundred hours of work each week. My first thought was they drastically needed to reduce their hours. However, after some time, it became evident that was not the case. They engaged in a particular hobby for ninety minutes a week and this gave them balance. They enjoyed the challenges of work and realized the freedom to engage in loved hobbies came from the prestigious and lucrative nature of their work. They had no trouble taking time off, but when they worked, they threw their whole selves in and this worked well for them.
This is certainly not everyone’s norm, but the truth is, no one else can tell us what our balance point is. It is something we must go on a quest to discover for ourselves – and once we find it, we must guard it, protect it, and ensure it as best we can.
There is no one-size-fits all road to discovering your balance. However, a few suggestions may help.
Figure Out Your Priorities
If you listen to everyone else and all of society and current culture, you will miss living your own life – and this is a sure recipe for out-of-balance living. Therefore, pay attention to what success means and feels like to you. Take everything and everyone out of the equation to start. Look first at your core values. Research shows decisions based on values are more likely to result in overall happiness. Knowing what matters to you will go a long way to prevent over or under work.
Figure Out Your Purpose
For this discussion, purpose means doing what connects you to that which is greater than you. It entails contribution, work, sacrifice, reward, and achievement. It is not always fun and comfortable, but it is that which gets your blood pumping and makes you feel most alive and connected. No human can tell you what that is. It is for you to discover. Pay attention to your likes and dislikes. If you pray, then do so thoughtfully and really listen. When you identify your unique place in this world do not apologize for it. Are you a stay-at-home mother? Wonderful. Are you a savvy businessperson who does not want the trappings of a family? Equally great. Whatever it is, you will be most balanced and not lured into extra work or pushed into shut down if you are living the life that is uniquely yours.
Figure Out Your Measuring Sticks
American society will have you believing that comfort, money, power, and happiness are the measuring sticks that equate success. Contrary to this popular belief, this is not the case for most people. Yes, I said most people. It is true the adage, “Money can’t buy happiness,” is not entirely true – but only to a point. Once we become slave to whatever gives us the money, we no longer feel satisfied. There is forever going to be another “new and shiny” whatever out there – having it does not equal success if your heart and soul are dying. Other possible measuring sticks may be a sense of accomplishment, thriving connections to others (community), joy at the start and/or end of the day, strength in perseverance. There are many measuring sticks – find the one that helps you maintain both fruitfulness and adequate rest.
Use Your Environment
Once you find your spot on this earth, do not expect that you will stay there on your own. You need landmarks, routines, check points, and external prompts to help you remember who you are and where you are going. Set time aside on a regular basis to check in. Create routines that help you do important tasks without thinking or being swayed by outside forces. Building your abundant life will not just happen. You must maintain awareness and be intentional. No one can do this 24/7, so find a way to remind yourself.
Life is hard, folks. Them’s just the facts. It is also beautiful and highly rewarding if you find your niche. Every single step away from misery and toward fulfillment is worth a celebration. Create a list of small-large things that constitute a celebration for you. A high-five? Manicure? Afternoon off? Dinner out? What helps you mark your progress. None of us will keep on the road to success if it is all “have tos” and drudgery. Don’t wait for others. Create your own joy – they will join in, trust me!
This journey to finding the sweet spot of “enough” will have curves and bumps for sure. I teach this information every day and even I fall down and get lost from time-to-time. Life is just too big and when it is, shut down happens. I accept that. When I fall, I take stock of what I think the cause is, dust myself off, talk to myself with encouragement and compassion, and get back up. The mistakes and falls we make are not failures, folks – they are fertilizer in the soil of your abundant life.