I like to make good use of my time. Especially because I am in school and I can feel the time ticking away. I only have so long to focus intensely on my writing. I don’t want to waste a single minute and end up regretting it.
There is also the realization that I have the time now that I’m not working. I don’t have to cut out chunks for writing between doing things for a job or for other people. The writing comes first.
So, I take a few minutes every week to make to-do lists, long and short term. But, then I read an article about how to-do lists aren’t enough. It said we need to plan the time for each activity into our days. I already had a daily schedule, so it wasn’t hard to combine the two.
I found I could be extremely productive when I planned everything down to the minute. And all that open time on the weekends was prime for the picking, so I took chunks of free time and turned them into working hours.
I looked at my list of goals for the term and was happy to see I was making progress.
But I was starting to feel tired.
I knew that something was off when I couldn’t find time in my schedule to eat. Or shower. Simple bits of self care shouldn’t seem like such a burden or a waste of time. But I kept pushing ahead, because that is what I do. And I have so many ideas and projects I want to work on. It’s all fun.
Last weekend it started to put a kink in my schedule when I had to plan a trip to the coast for a friend’s wedding. I wanted to go and celebrate with her. I’d been looking forward to it for months. But this has been a crazy month with twice as many deadlines. I told myself I couldn’t afford to take the whole weekend off, I’d make it a day trip instead.
Luckily, I had a friend to go with me to make the drive more fun. And to have a good time with at the wedding, of course. The wedding was beautiful despite the muggy weather. The bride was happy and giggly, and it was her perfect day. I was so glad to be a part of that.
So at the reception when they poured pink champagne for the toast, I decided a few sips wouldn’t hurt. I knew I couldn’t drink a whole glass. I had an experience with champagne at a wedding in college that ended with me and a plastic garbage sack on the bus. And the bushes outside the hotel. I wasn’t going to make that mistake ever again.
But three sips to celebrate my friend’s wedding wouldn’t hurt.
I wasn’t drunk, or even tipsy. After food and dancing, and a trip to the photo booth, I was tired but prepared for the drive home. I knew it had been worth it.
The trip home was a lot like the trip out. My friend and I chatted so much there was barely any need for music. I got back after dark, and went right to bed so I could get a jump start on the next day.
My body had other ideas. I woke up feeling like I’d had an entire bottle of champagne instead of a few sips. I was dizzy and foggy headed, my stomach churned like it needed something greasy to keep it still. It felt like when I was back in college, waking up after a night of too much drinking.
I got up anyway and tried to write. But the words swam around on the screen in front of me and nothing made much sense. So, I switched to reading. It was the same thing. All that planning and preparing I’d done, and my body was revolting against the plan.
I texted my friend to complain and she offered me the perfect advice: It’s good to take a day off.
She was right, as usual. No matter how hard I tried to force myself to work, my body wouldn’t cooperate. I needed a day off. So I took one.
My friend and I went out to brunch and then I came home and vegged out on the couch with a movie. A movie that I wouldn’t even count as research.
That day highlighted for me how important it is not only to take time off, but to allow for the space and time for things other than work. To give myself a break and not feel guilty about eating lunch or taking a shower.
I can have my list of things to do and I can work on them one at time, according to my schedule or not. Under constant stress and pressure is not how I want to live my life. I’m not going to throw out the to-do list or the schedule, but I am going to stop forcing them into one minute by minute timetable.
I’m going to give myself some wiggle room and plan for rest, too.
Do you schedule yourself down to the minute? Do you plan out your free time? How do you deal with the pressure to get things done? Are you good at winging it?
I joke a lot about being lazy. I have to force myself to get the mail once a week and I love the valet garbage service where I live. A lot of what keeps me eating healthy and on budget is that it isn’t worth the effort to drive to a coffee shop when I can just walk to the kitchen and make something myself.
I’m lazy with the things that aren’t important to me.
But I’m also a big believer in rest. I plan my rest days from the gym to be actual rest, like reading or watching a movie, rather than slipping in some other form of exercise. Yoga sounds cool in theory, but I’d rather relax. I think it helps keep me balanced.
So I was okay taking a day or two off when I came down with a fever. I figured a few days of sleep and tea would have me back to normal, and back at the gym. Just to be safe, I gave myself a week. I’d heard the coaches say before that a week off could do wonders, so I thought it would be worth a try.
When the week was up I still felt exhausted. Not really “sick” anymore, just tired. But it had been a week. I couldn’t imagine not working out for longer than that. So I forced myself up off the couch and into my workout clothes.
I knew right away I wasn’t back to 100 percent. Just the warm up made me dizzy and tired. My body felt hot like my fever was back, not warm and ready to workout.
I tried for a little while, though. In between each set of squats I sat down to rest, and I kept saying I just wanted to close my eyes and lie down for a minute. When I leaned my head on the barbell to feel the cool metal against my skin my friend told me I needed to go home. I wasn’t ready to be back.
She was right, so I listened. Lifting heavy things shouldn’t be done with a fever, no matter how stubborn I may be.
I went home to rest, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment in myself. I was mad that I was tired, as silly as that sounds. I knew I wasn’t sick anymore, so I didn’t understand why I couldn’t workout.
Later, I complained to a friend. I eat healthy, I get plenty of water and sleep 8 hours a night. I get plenty of rest, I told her.
She stopped me right there. She made me look at my days, my weeks, my life and see that I don’t rest as much as I think I do. Working is still working if you do it in your pajamas. And just because you don’t think of something as work doesn’t mean it doesn’t take its toll.
I’m always writing or reading or thinking about stories. In fact, part of what I like about working out is that it forces that part of my brain to shut down so I can concentrate on counting reps. It’s about the only time I’m not working.
I keep thinking I have it easy now because I’m no longer teaching full time. And you can’t burn the candle at both ends when you go to bed before ten every night.
Then I realized that there was never a transition from teacher to student, there was no break in between. I started school while I was still teaching, just like I started writing while I had a full time job. Maybe 8 years of going full speed has finally caught up to me.
Because if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really like to take breaks. If I’m not working on one thing, it’s because I’m busy with something else. There are always a million projects I want to be working on, just not enough time for them all. Even in workouts, I’d rather push through and keep going to the end than take a breather. I can always see that light at the end, so I just keep pushing toward it.
Something about letting a minute go wasted seems sad. Unproductive. And our immediate, get things done culture doesn’t make that any easier.
It’s hard to give ourselves a break without feeling guilty. But if we don’t, we could end up passing out on the gym floor instead of choosing to sit down and rest.
It isn’t lazy to take a break. It’s necessary. Even if it’s hard.
So that is what I’m doing. I’m giving myself a break from the physical work of working out. And maybe I’ll try and plan in some relaxing time, watching TV that isn’t research or reading something that’s not for school. Or maybe even time at the pool. I’m going to let myself rest and not call it being lazy.
How do you feel about resting? Do you give yourself breaks? Or do you feel guilty for taking down time?
Exercise has become an important part of my life. Up until I went to LA for my MFA program’s June residency, I was working out regularly. I might even say hard-core. I worked out five days a week, and I went in early and stayed late to put in extra work on skills like pull ups.
I planned to keep up exercising while in LA, just on a smaller scale. I knew the hotel had a gym, so there’d be something I could do. I talked to a coach and one of my friends who travels a lot for work. I had a list of workouts, my jump rope, and a band for mobility and stretching. I was ready.
The first day, it was easy to get up and head to the gym. I was still on East coast time so my eyes opened long before the wake up call came. I put on gym clothes and headed down, with my workout on a sticky note and my phone for a stop watch.
It wasn’t easy to get into working out, even with a warm up of jumping rope and burpees. The air inside was cold and dry, overly artificial. My body felt stiff and slow, everything seemed a little heavier. I pushed through and hoped I’d feel good later because of it.
But I didn’t feel better. I didn’t get the boost of energy a workout normally gives me. I just felt more tired as the day wore on. It was harder to sit in seminars and pay attention, no matter how interested I was. I had to down coffee like water and it was still difficult to concentrate.
I figured it was just jet lag, and got up early again the next morning. The second workout was even slower, like I was trying to move in a swimming pool full of molasses. My entire body was sore and tired, and my head was cloudy all day long.
Exercising wasn’t making the adjustment easier. It just made me more tired, which took away from why I was there in the first place: to learn.
That’s when it hit me. I had to prioritize. Balance isn’t about making time for everything, it’s about deciding what is important now, and giving it the time it deserves. None of us can be everything at all times. But we can decide what we want to focus on in the moment and have the courage to let other things go.
I was there to focus on writing. To learn and grow and spend time being a part of the community. Doing that takes energy, especially when I am away from home.
So I let go of the need to work out. The next morning I woke up early again, but instead of hopping right up and heading to the gym, I lounged. I stayed in my pajamas and read. I looked at the schedule and planned what I wanted to do. I took my time to get ready, and then went down to have breakfast with my friends.
That day I wasn’t as tired. Yes, I still drank plenty of coffee, but I was more alert in seminars, even the last one of the day. I enjoyed going to readings, movie night, and dinner with friends and didn’t worry about what time I had to be up in the morning.
Once I let go of trying to do it all, I did my most important job really well.
When I got home from residency, exhausted but completely excited and ready for the upcoming term, it was easy to get back to the gym. Yes, I cut myself a little bit of slack at first by scaling back my effort to 70 percent. But I showed up and I worked out.
It wasn’t hard to slip back into my role of gym rat because that is part of who I am at home. It is a priority for the everyday and doesn’t take away from anything else I’m doing, especially writing.
But sometimes our priorities shift, like when we are sick, or moving, or starting a new job. Or even on vacation. Forcing ourselves to keep doing it all isn’t only unnecessary, it can get in the way. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is let go and just be.
From the moment I started taking myself seriously as a writer, I have dreamed about being published. Getting published would be a sign that I was good enough, that I was on my way, a reason to celebrate.
Last week the first part of that big dream came true. I got my first fiction acceptance, for a short story I wrote and sent out. When I read the email I did all of the normal things: I screamed, jumped up and down, and called my mom. I was beyond ecstatic. It was pretty much one of the best days of my life.
But the feeling didn’t last long.
A few minutes after I got off the phone I started to talk myself out of the celebration.
I started thinking about all of my writer friends who have been published multiple times in multiple places, and the people who write essays too. I started writing a list of all of the pieces I wanted to write and looking for places to send them, these things I hadn’t even yet written.
All of a sudden, getting a story published wasn’t enough. In order to be great, I had to publish more. I moved the bar up a wrung without even stopping to celebrate what I had accomplished.
It was as if because I had done it, it must’ve been something easy to do. So there was no way I could be good enough yet.
Then I remembered when I had an essay published, and then a piece of flash creative non-fiction. I didn’t celebrate that much, either. I told myself it didn’t count because it wasn’t fiction.
I had moved that bar up on myself, too.
It was the same thing when I was running. Sure, I ran a marathon. No big deal. It would be a big deal if I could beat my time, and then qualify for Boston. That would be something to be proud of.
Even recently, when I got my first real push-up, I celebrated for maybe thirty seconds. And then I moved on to the fact that I can’t do more than ten at a time, and I can’t even do one pull-up yet. How quickly push-ups became not a big deal.
Instead of giving myself credit for hard work and a job well done, I focused on the things left to accomplish. I have been making it impossible for me to ever succeed because I keep moving the end goal. Once I get somewhere I have wanted to go, it is no longer good enough on it’s own.
It’s like I’ve been planning a trip to Charleston, and I’m mad at myself when I get there and it isn’t California. Because that would’ve been far.
I’ve seen other people do it, too. Especially with weight loss. They lose ten pounds, but they never stop talking about those five last pounds they want to drop. It never ends, and they will never be good enough no matter how hard they work.
We can’t get to the place where we stop and celebrate if we keep moving the bar in the middle. Maybe there is a reason that goal posts are stuck in the ground. No one would ever make a touch down if the post kept moving away.
Just because we can do something doesn’t make it easy to do. In fact, I think it makes us pretty amazing. But if we never let ourselves get there, we’re missing out on a lot. The point of goals is to give us something to strive for. If we don’t have a chance of success, it’s going to be hard to keep moving forward. We have to celebrate when we get there, before we move on to the next goal. We have to let ourselves touch that bar and enjoy the feeling of that cool metal in our hands.
We have done it. We have accomplished something. It deserves to be celebrated.
Whether it’s getting a story published, losing ten pounds, or landing a great new job. The accomplishment is enough to celebrate, and so are we.
Do you stop and celebrate goals when you reach them? Do you really allow yourself to feel that accomplishment? Do you feel good enough just as you are, or are you someone who is always striving for more?
When I resigned from teaching elementary school I applied to teach at the local community college. It was the obvious next step in my long term plan, and I know that I’m more than capable of doing a good job. But I was still terrified.
I tried applying for other non-teaching jobs at the same level, like tutoring and working in a writing center. But none of those applications went anywhere. And the teaching position kept coming up.
I decided to give in and go for an interview. I figured I had nothing to lose. I could still say no.
Well, the interview was fabulous and I walked away really excited about the program. I wanted to teach there.
But I was still scared.
They said it would be a little while before the next term started, so I put it out of my mind and focused on writing. Every time a friend would ask about the job, I gave a quick answer and tried to change the subject. Especially as the weeks dragged on and I hadn’t gotten the call.
Luckily, one of my friends wouldn’t let it go. She kept asking, and steered the conversation back when I tried to change it. She asked me if I thought I would do a good job at the community college level. The truth is, I do. I know that teaching is one of my strengths and I care enough about students of all ages to put in the time and effort to be well prepared. I knew I would be good. Maybe even great. That didn’t take away the fear.
I could have sat down and tried to dissect my fear. Maybe I am afraid of new things. Maybe it is the change in age, or maybe I’m afraid because it’s something I really want.
But the reason doesn’t really matter. What matters is I was letting my fear hold me back from what I wanted. Fear was getting in my way.
The only way to overcome fear is to face it. So, I did something that seemed kind of silly at first. I stood in front of the mirror and said, “I know I am scared right now, but I really want to teach at the community college and I believe I will do a good job.”
It felt really strange the first time, standing in front of the mirror talking to myself. But, each time I said it I felt a little stronger. A little less afraid.
Somehow, admitting that I was afraid and accepting that took away some of the fear. I was telling myself that I could be afraid and still move forward toward my goals. It wasn’t one or the other.
I decided to give myself the mini-pep-talk for a couple of days, and then I’d send a nice “remember me” email to the interview committee. It would be good to check in and remind them that I was still interested in the job.
Then a funny thing happened.
Before I had the chance to email them, they called me.
They offered me the job, and of course I took it. I even got to pick which class I wanted to teach.
But even stranger than that, the woman who called told me they’d been trying to reach me. They sent emails that I never saw because they bounced to my spam folder, and left messages my voicemail must have eaten. She said they thought I must’ve taken another job or lost interest. That phone call was going to be the last attempt.
I know it sounds a little wacky, but it really feels like my fear was blocking their calls.
I picture my fear like the back-stabbing character in movies. She says she’ll take the message, but she doesn’t write anything down or even tell the main character that the dream guy/job/whatever called. Sneaky and underhanded because you don’t even know it’s working against you.
Thank goodness my friend called me out on my fear, and thank goodness I decided to face it. I didn’t even have to figure it out, I just had to admit it and say, “So what?”
It is ok to be afraid, but we shouldn’t let it stop us from the things we want in life.
Do your fears ever get in the way of your goals? Have you missed out on opportunities because you were afraid? How do you face your fears and move toward your dreams?
Some moments in life are difficult, like pretty much all of middle school. We don’t really know who we are or what we want, so we end up following other people and giving in to peer pressure. We struggle with friendships and issues of self esteem. Middle school is mostly about the social side of our lives, with a little bit of school mixed in.
Luckily, we get through that and become adults. We figure out who we are and discover what we want. We become strong and confident, and create the lives we want for ourselves.
It seems like by now we should have it all figured out, especially when it comes to the social.
But I’m realizing that it is still so difficult to stand up for myself.
I consider myself a strong person, especially when it comes to emotional and mental strength. I’ve worked hard not to care so much what other people think and to do what makes me happy. For the most part I am successful.
Unlike in middle school, I don’t really care if I fit in with people who seem “cool,” and I certainly don’t try and get people to like me by being anyone other than myself.
But when someone attacks me, my first reaction is still to freeze. Especially when it comes from someone I consider a friend.
Sometimes friends get used to certain roles. I have been the weaker one who needed help and guidance. As I get stronger and more confident in myself, that can make people uncomfortable. Insecure in their role. They might even start to see me as competition, despite the fact that I don’t compete. When people are uncomfortable they can lash out and say mean things, even to friends.
One of my friends started that with me. It began with little digs. Things that don’t really bother me, like about me being late or not ”good” at math. I brushed those off easily.
The problem was the more I ignored the digs, the bigger they became.
In a class we were taking she called out across the room what I was doing wrong. Then she pointed and laughed. I wanted to tell her to stop, to leave me alone. But my voice was frozen inside my throat. In that moment I couldn’t think of what to say or do. I just wanted her to stop.
Emotionally, I was back on that middle school playground. And the bully was winning.
I tried to focus on ignoring. Part of being strong means not caring what others think of us, after all.
So she moved over next to me and continued to point out all the things I needed to work on.
I should’ve told her to go away. I could’ve said, “You’re being really mean.” Maybe she would have heard me. But I was scared to stick up for myself.
The funny thing is if someone had been doing that to her, it would have been easy to say something. Sticking up for my friends comes naturally, even when they are the ones putting themselves down. So why can’t I do the same for me?
Later, at home, I realized that part of the problem is the unexpected attack. If she wasn’t my friend, I could say something to defend myself without worrying about her. But for me to be mean to my friend to stop her from being mean to me is hypocritical. It’s not something I can do. It wouldn’t be true to me.
Luckily, I have many good friends in my life. I called one and she helped me talk through what to say. Now I have a phrase ready to go that shows people I am not ok with being bullied, but without attacking them in return. “Picking on me doesn’t help either of us.”
It is true, and if I say it without emotion, hopefully it will point out something she doesn’t realize she is doing. If she is trying to help me, she’ll see that it doesn’t. And if it was meant as a joke, she’ll see that I felt picked on. Either way, it will tell her that the behavior is not something I will accept.
I get to stick up for me.
Maybe sticking up for ourselves is like any other skill. We just need to practice.
Do you have a hard time sticking up for yourself with friends? Does it seem easier to defend other people? How do you deal with friends who may say hurtful things or try to compete with you? Does being prepared help? I’d love to hear what works!
I’ve been doing CrossFit for over a year now. I’ve lost weight, gained strength, and become more fit all around. But I still struggle with some of the exercises we do, especially anything where I have to lift weight over my head. Even holding the empty bar above my head and just standing still is scary.
I am afraid of dropping the bar. I am afraid of failure. I know this about myself. And, really, it’s what terrifies us all: failing.
If I don’t try, then I have no risk of failure. I’ve seen this over and over again in so many areas of my life. Applying for jobs, moving, getting in to school, sending out stories and queries, getting the bar over my head and being a bad ass in the gym. Everything I want in life has a risk attached; the risk of failure.
I understand that failure is a part of life. We have to fail in order to succeed. I’ve heard all the quotes about getting up, dusting ourselves off, and trying again.
But that doesn’t make it any easier or less scary to try. Thinking that I’ll just try again doesn’t help me when I am frozen, too scared to try in the first place.
The problem with failure is that we never practice it. We spend our whole lives trying to avoid it or ward it off, and we keep it this big, scary unknown. The question is always at the back of my mind: What happens if I fail?
After talking with my coach and some friends from the gym, I realized that I didn’t know. I had terrible images of being trapped under a bar, and every scenario involved missing teeth and lots of blood. Yes, I am overly dramatic and a total worry-wort, but that’s who I am. I’d witnessed other people drop heavy bars and stand up with either a smile or a really pissed off expression. I knew it could be done. Just not how. And I wasn’t so sure by me.
So my coach made me practice.
First, he put some weight on the bar and had me practice dropping it. The loud sound of metal crashing to the ground used to make me jump, even from across the gym. I had to get used to it. I had to get over setting it down nicely, and worrying about what would happen when I dropped it.
My coach told me not to worry. “We can get a new bar,” He said. “We can’t get a new Emma.”
Then he took me through all the overhead exercises, showing me how to get out from under the bar and throw it down away from my body. He had me practice with the bar toward the front, toward the back, when I was down in a squat, and while standing.
Once I got it, he had me practice each fail over and over again. Until it became almost natural.
It may sound silly, but each time I did it, it became easier. I wasn’t scared of the bar crashing down on me or knocking out my teeth because I knew how to get away from it. I knew how to fail without getting hurt.
Does it still suck to fail? Yes. But I know I’m not going to get injured. And I’m not afraid to try it again.
The next day at the gym, I was more willing to attempt overhead lifts. I didn’t count and re-count the weight on the bar and try to talk myself out of it. I just stepped up to it, and did the move.
Practicing failure at the gym made me think about how I can practice failing in other areas of my life. I could send out a story to the journal of my dreams and hope for the best. But I would be ready with the list of other places to send it if they said no.
Just because I might fail with one journal, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying with others. And it doesn’t mean I have to give up before I try and only send it to the journal I’m sure would accept it. That would be like never putting any weight on the bar, because I know I can do that. A sure thing doesn’t have much risk, but it doesn’t have much reward either.
So I sent out my story.
And then I got to work on another, remembering that it is just a draft. I’m not aiming for perfection. I’m trying to hone a skill. I can try something new and totally fail, but I’ll still get something out of it.
When I think about it, every attempt is really a triumph. Every time I aim and try, I get a little bit closer. A little bit stronger. And a whole lot more confident.
Failure isn’t so scary once you know what it is and how to handle it. We can fail, we can drop the bar, and we can get away unharmed. We just have to practice.
Have you ever practiced failing? If so, what have you practiced failing? What areas in life do you think it could be good to practice failure?
We just had a winter storm down here in North Carolina. I know people up North may laugh, but I’m pretty sure it even had a name. Leon, I think they called him. Leon doesn’t sound like such a trouble maker, but when you’re not used to snow any amount can be a big deal.
I can drive in the rain. I am a Duck, after all. But, when it snows I stay home. I can’t think of anything that is worth the risk of driving. In an emergency, anything I really need is within walking distance. Better safe than sorry, and all that.
When I was a teacher I watched the news at the first hint of snow, hoping to see my district listed in the school closures at the bottom of the screen. A snow day wasn’t just any regular day off. It was a day where you couldn’t do errands, so you might as well get cozy on the couch and watch a fun movie. Maybe make some hot coco and read. Definitely, a day to stay in pajamas.
A snow day is different than a weekend. It’s like a forced vacation, and the fact that it wasn’t expected makes it extra special. You don’t worry about the day you have to go in to work to make it up, because a snow day makes you feel like a kid again.
But this year, I’m not teaching. I make my own schedule, and I can have a day off whenever I want one. I give myself two every week: Saturday and Sunday. Ok, maybe just Saturday. I know I only have so long in school and I want to make the most of every possible moment.
The point is, a snow day shouldn’t change anything for me.
And yet, somehow it did. There is still something special about a snow day, something that takes me back to being a kid. That giddiness that comes with being stuck at home and unable to go to school. I still felt it.
I told myself it wasn’t mine to enjoy. I’m not teaching, so I haven’t earned it. I thought about all my friends who’ll be working on Saturday or over Spring Break to make up for the time off. Who was I to hijack their day?
So I went back to my desk and tried to work. But every few minutes I would come up with a reason to get up and look out the window. Was it snowing again? Had any melted? Was the sun coming out? The more I tried to ignore it, the more questions I came up with.
The kid in me wanted to celebrate the snow day on the couch in my pajamas. But the grown up kept saying that it was a normal work day for me, so I better get to it.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we all need breaks from time to time. And just because I’m no longer a child, doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate like one. Nature was giving me a day off, it would’ve been a waste not to enjoy it.
So I turned off my computer, put on some winter pajamas, made a cup of coffee, and curled up on the couch under my favorite quilt. I found a fun movie on Netflix and still had a view of the snow out of the living room window. It was a perfect snow day.
The next day when I woke up and the ground was still covered, I didn’t even really notice it. I sat down and went back to work. Because I had taken the time to enjoy that snow day, I wasn’t drawn to the window or thinking about movies I could be watching. I enjoyed getting back to writing, maybe because I’d given myself some time off.
We all need rest and breaks from time to time. And what better time than a snow day to embrace the child like joy of free time. Our work will probably be better because of it.
How do you feel about snow days? Do you give yourself time off? Or do you work through? How often do you get free time?
Some people have very strong feelings about New Year’s resolutions, either for or against. I have always made them, but up until last year I never took them very seriously. I made fun resolutions that I knew I would want to keep, like to drink more fancy cocktails or go out more often with friends. One year I resolved to wear more track suits. That was a very comfortable year.
Last January I decided to take resolutions seriously, and really look at what I could do to make my life better. My resolution for 2013 was to be kinder to myself, and it worked. I practiced using supportive self-talk instead of tearing myself down. And I didn’t say as many negative things about myself to others. Yes, it is something I need to keep working on. Changing the way we treat ourselves takes time and practice, but I am well on the way. And that one change made a big impact on how I saw myself, and consequently, what I was able to do over the year.
I got into the MFA program of my dreams and started to take myself seriously as a writer. I had the courage to quit my job to focus on school and writing. I joined a new gym, made great new friends, and began to see myself as physically strong and capable.
In some ways, I almost feel like a completely different person than who I was a year ago.
But one thing that is still dragging me down is my habit of worrying about what I should do.
I should be productive, I should take the first job I’m offered, I should do the laundry, I should get up at the commercial break and do something. I quit my job so I should spend every minute working on my writing, and at the same time I should have time open to help other people out. The list of shoulds is never ending. I get tired just thinking about it.
When I do the things I should do instead of the things I want to do, I am miserable and they take twice as long.
I’m starting to realize that there is a reason for this. All of these shoulds are based on outside sources: other people, society in general, things I picked up from my bio-mom. I am letting other peoples’ values and ideas direct my actions. I am allowing other people to decide what is right for me.
So this year my resolution is to follow the energy and trust. I know what is right for me at any given time, because it is what I have energy for.
Yes, some days I have energy for doing laundry, going to the grocery store, and other boring chores. Usually it is when I am hungry or out of clean socks, but there is nothing wrong with that. I have energy for writing in the mornings and for working out at the end of the day. Instead of trying to workout in the middle of the day because I have time for it now or writing at night because I can sleep as late as I want, I am going to follow my energy and stick to my schedule. Because it works for me.
Just like I listen to my body to tell me when I’m hungry or tired, I’m going to listen to myself and choose how I get to spend my time. And I’m going to trust myself and my decisions.
We all have energy for certain things for a reason, at least that’s what I believe. When we try to force it, we only make things harder on ourselves. And most of the time we end beat ourselves up for lacking the energy in the first place, because we are so worried about what we should be doing.
When maybe what we should be doing is listening to ourselves, and following our energy.
Do you worry about shoulds? Have other peoples ideas of what is right or best for you ever influenced you? Gotten in the way of your dreams? Do you listen to your energy and trust your own decisions? If you have any tips, I’d love to hear them.
I’m not sure where most people fall on the continuum of crap-taking, but I used to be very far down on the end of taking it all.
Really, I was kind of a door mat.
Need to borrow money? Want someone to talk to about your crappy relationship, again? Looking for a scape goat? I was your girl.
Even if it had nothing to do with me or clearly wasn’t my fault, I would take the blame. I was used to being punsihed for things I hadn’t done.
But somewhere along the way I got tired of it. I started asking myself why I let people treat me so badly. And, I had some great friends who pointed it out and asked me about it, too. They told me I didn’t deserve it. Luckily, I listened.
I realized that a lot of my behaviors and decisions were just patterns I had learned as a kid.
Before my dad and step-mom came into my life, there weren’t really any rules that made sense. I could get in trouble for not doing something I wasn’t told to do, or for doing something I was told to do. There was no rhyme or reason for punishments, and they definitely didn’t fit the crime.
I got used to taking what was given, no matter how bad.
But I’m not a kid anymore. And I decided not to allow myself to be punished like one.
So I started setting boundaries for myself. I turn my phone off at night, I don’t offer money to everyone I meet, and I tell people when they hurt my feelings or upset me in some way.
For the most part it has been a nice transition, and the people in my life understand.
But last week, I kind of lost it.
Looking back now, it seems simple enough. I was at the gym and when my coach asked me for my time (how long it took me to finish the workout) I blanked. I had looked at the clock, but when I tried to remember my time it was just a flashing red light in my brain. Empty.
The coach did what he always does when someone doesn’t know their time. He told everyone to do 10 burpees. Not such a big deal, right?
I didn’t want to be punished for something I couldn’t help. It wasn’t like I hadn’t paid attention to my time. I just blanked. I do that with numbers sometimes. I decided that as an adult, I get to decide what I will and won’t do.
And I wasn’t doing those burpees.
But it didn’t stop there. I got so upset I had to fight back tears. And I wasn’t totally successful.
Then I decided I wasn’t going to stay. I got my stuff and stomped toward the door, determined never to go back.
Lucky for me, the coach was at the front of the gym sitting behind the desk. He didn’t let me storm out. He made me stop and talk. And he listened to what I said.
I didn’t go in to details, I just told him that I don’t like to be punished unreasonably.
He said he wasn’t trying to punish me, and didn’t mean to hurt or upset me. He felt bad that I was so upset and didn’t want me to leave.
My heart rate and breathing calmed down, and so did I.
The next day I was feeling embarrassed and worried. Why had I acted like such a crazy person? I talked it through with my step-mom and a couple of close friends who helped me realize that the freak out was all a part of the process.
We can’t expect ourselves to go from no boundaries to perfect boundaries without any difficult adjustments.
It’s like driving in bad weather. Sometimes we have to over-correct in order to get back on the right path.
After years of just taking crap, I am going through a take-no-crap phase so I can find my way to the middle. So I can set healthy boundaries and keep them.
Both extremes are too much. I shouldn’t be punished for everything, but I can’t expect life to be without any consequences. Neither way is healthy.
Hopefully, now that I see what is happening the transition can be a little smoother. I have my hands on the steering wheel and I can see the turn ahead.
When I went back to the gym the next day I was worried about how people would react to me. Would they all stay away from the crazy girl who might flip out over nothing?
My coach told me he was really glad that I had decided not to leave. Then he winked and said he was pretty sure I’d remember my time that day. My friends shrugged and said everybody has some issue to deal with and we all freak out from time to time.
So I learned a nice bonus lesson on this one: when you are in your right place, people accept you as you are, temper tantrums and all.
How are you at setting boundaries? Do you have any hot button issues that you are working through? Have you noticed a pattern of no boundaries to overly strict boundaries? Does over-correcting lead you back to the comfort of middle ground?