The whirlwind continues.
Lately things have been insanely busy. This is not very different from usual, and I feel like I’ve been saying that for years in my blog posts. “OMG I’m busy this week!” Quelle surprise, Tess! Shock us again! Also for years, I’ve been talking about and thinking about ways to slow down and to keep my schedule from drowning me. It seems like I’m always saying “As soon as such-and-such event is over, things will calm down” or “oh after such-and-such date I’ll get a chance to rest,” but that time never really comes. The grand date of calm, which is like a faraway beacon you’re striving for, never actually arrives. It keeps getting pushed back farther and farther into the future as more “important” things usurp it. And the ridiculous thing is that I’m not reaching for some goal of money or notoriety or safety or something. Actually, instead of being the kind of person who measures self-worth in how busy I am and how long my to-do list is, I’m trying desperately to get to the end of that to-do list. I just really, really want to lie around in my slip all evening and read books while the cats yawn next to me.
The over-scheduled life.
Finally, I’ve hit a wall. Yes yes, I have magical powers and all, but we Morning People get tired too. I think what finally drove me over the edge is that for a long while, I was working part time. After the wedding planning was over (because that’s a full time job), I had free time on a daily basis. And instead of working on my own projects or reading giant stacks of books, for this past year I got into a habit of just saying yes to everything. Getting involved in every committee, organization, and event I was invited into. Then I started working full time again, but didn’t do away with any of the committments I had entered into while working part time. I’ve been feeling entirely overwhelmed, and I think it was the combination of a few things.
- A crucial time for the temple, with Jewish High Holy Days happening super early this year which placed them at the same time as the beginning of the Religious School year…as well as the fact that I ramped up to about 45 hours per week, am now solely in charge of our entire web presence including social networking, and now have three bosses (“You see, we’re using these new cover sheets for our TPS reports”) with three styles of work, who all expect different deliverables on different timelines
- A crucial time for Always Midnight, with several due dates approaching rapidly and so much hot-gluing to do
- A crucial time for RVANews, with seasonal events being attended and written about, as well as a much-needed Capital! Style update, not to mention keeping up my regular Richmond Proper column
- A crucial time for charitable and church-related pursuits, with SynerGeo planning its year and needing lots of solutions to lots of issues, and with City Church growing and changing and so much research to do and so many decisions to make and so many meetings to attend and committments to fulfill
- A crucial time for festivities, with birthdays (including my own) happening constantly and requiring a ton of preparation and hanging out, and with so many weddings and all of their related events going on both in town and out of town, and with the time it takes to just sit down with friends we love and have a meal together
- A crucial time for our living situation, with roommates going and coming, and with beginning the infinite time-suck that is house hunting
- A crucial time for Richmond — summers here are always chock full of fun things going on, and that tends to crescendo right at the end of the summer
So maybe you can see how I’ve been kind of shell-shocked. And this list doesn’t even count regular human activities like fitness, marking off the 20-ish chores on the chore chart each week, gardening, budgeting and paying bills, procuring food for the household, managing to get dinner on the table every night, grooming oneself, etc. etc. Plus there are lots of other things I really like to do but rarely ever have time for, like more blogging, photography, yoga, and so on.
The results of an over-scheduled life.
I found myself hurtling through life at an almost painful speed. During the past few weeks it’s reached a fever pitch, with me getting up early to work out, and then rushing hurriedly from obligation to obligation until collapsing into bed. Finally I got to the point where I was just not looking forward to the next day.When you have this much stuff going on, something’s going to suffer. So some days you ignore way too many emails and texts, and some days you ignore fixing your hair, and things begin teetering into chaos. I can hear Clueless in my head: “I felt impotent and out-of-control, which I really hate.” Amen, sister.
Facing the obvious.
Friends and mentors and more recently, my husband, have all been saying the same thing for years: make a list of your committments and then simply cross some of them off the list. I’ve known what must be done for some time, but I’ve put off doing it because I knew it would be difficult. “I can make this work,” and “things will calm down ASAP, I’m sure of it” — these excuses don’t work forever. In the space of the past week several things happened to make this list-making seem more urgent.
- I had echoes of that same advice in conversations with friends, including Nicole, the Queen of the Successful Over-Schedulers
- Someone said “so your schedule kind of rules you,” and it became a bit of a guilty mantra, sounding in my head like one of those Soviet Russia jokes: “Een Soviet Russia, schedule rules you!”
- I proofread a sermon at work that talked about this kind of overscheduled lifestyle, and how living in the light of your own accomplishments dims the light of God
- I told my hairdresser that all I really wanted to do was clear my schedule, go away somewhere for like three days and stare at a wall, and come back and never let my schedule get like this again
- I forced myself to make time for reading and finished Marie Antoinette: The Journey, which is essentially about a woman who’s such a people-pleaser that she tries to be 100% devoted to everyone and everything, and eventually is devoured by those same people and things
- I started a new book called Bittersweet (I’ll be reviewing it on this blog soon) in which the author describes her own struggle with this issue of doing everything: “It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list. For me, everything becomes a lifestyle. Everything is an addiction.”
- I realized that although I deeply desire to be like Isaiah — bursting with eagerness to serve others, always saying “Here am I, Lord. Send me” — the quality of my serving goes down as the quantity goes up. I’m probably not much use to God, family, friends, the homeless guys camped out behind my house, etc., if I don’t have time for them because I’m too busy rushing off to my next non-profit meeting. I need to recognize my limits, make peace, and get back to the things that really matter (like lazy afternoons, stacks of books, and just being available when someone truly needs me).
Sacrifice for the sake of the greater good.
So although I knew what I had to do, it was incredibly painful. Someone said “This should be a relief to you, getting rid of these obligations weighing you down.” But it doesn’t feel like that at all, because these are not things I hate doing. All of these pursuits, everything I’m involved in, are things I do because I love them. They buoy me up rather than weighing me down. I look forward to them. I genuinely enjoy and believe in each one. Instead of being asked to make a list and scratch some things off of it, I feel like I’m being asked to line up my own 37 children and choose 10 of them to drown in the river. This is terrifying! It just seems fundamentally wrong.
Anyway I cried a little, and then made the darn list and scratched just a few things off, and made a sub-list of things I think can be scratched off very soon (I will talk about this in greater detail elsewhere). I wrote a few emails bowing out of various things and briefly explaining why, and each response back was completely understanding. I made promises to myself about taking a step back from the things that I did keep on the list, and not feeling like I ALWAYS have to be the first one to respond to every question, and like I ALWAYS have to volunteer for every little related task. I went to bed feeling mixed-up and unfinished somehow.
Getting back to calm.
I woke up the next morning feeling entirely different. My usually energetic spirit (the one that got me into this mess in the first place) had begun to mend, and I felt creative again. And since I’ve been vigorously RSVP-ing “no” to things for what seems like ages, my schedule has finally cleared up a bit and I spent a couple of evenings resting and a couple of evenings chipping away at my Always Midnight work.
I talk all of the time about calm. When I say that word I don’t just mean “the absence of chaos,” but rather a deep-seated peacefulness and levelness so rock-solid that there is no such thing as a bad day, because daily minutiae can never sway it. Certainly you might feel some tiny bit more tragic or ecstatic in a given moment somewhere on the distance surface, but either way it doesn’t matter much because you don’t live on the surface — you live in the deep, calm, peaceful core. It means not living a life of extremes, like a three-year-old. It means not being a slave to schedules or moods, but instead having such a sure foundation that life’s hurricanes are just tiny fluctuations so minuscule they’re barely noticed. It means that you experience pleasures and sorrows just as genuinely as others, but in a thoughtful and abiding way rather than a manic, dramatic way. Calm is when you have your eyes on the big picture rather than the next five minutes. It’s about depending on a Person who is unchanging.
Because this calmness is so important to me, I’ve built my life around it, always using it as a meter for self-examination. I think it describes me and what I’m all about, and also describes what I’d like to be. For the first time in years, the points plotted on this line I’ve been monitoring rose up ever-so-slightly, just enough for me to notice and be concerned. Alert! Errata in the data! And then prompt attention was duly paid, the prescription carried out, and the line returned to status quo. I am so thankful that this slight, barely perceptible readjustment is the most brow-furrowing thing to happen to me in like five years. Undeservedly, I am the most blessed person on the planet, and now I’m going to go focus on enjoying that very fact. More reading, home-cooked meals with friends, day trips, Skype dates, reading, sewing, video games, long walks, reading, enjoying a drink on the front porch with Dan, etc. Did I mention more reading?
I would love to hear your comments and your own experiences in this arena. Thank you to those of you who supported me and talked me through this stuff. Also, a more fun-filled, less introspective update will follow shortly, and you will get to see the positive side of my over-filled schedule. ❤