As 2021 comes to a close, a lesson that I’ve been repeatedly reminded of is the danger of committing to too many things at one time.
Most of us are familiar with the scenario: we say yes to that first request and it is totally doable… and then we say yes to the next thing that comes up… and the next, and the next. Pretty soon, we have a completely booked week, zero time to ourselves, and all of a sudden, it feels like we have two full time jobs and the mental capacity of a dog in a forest with too many squirrels.
For the longest time, people pleasing was what prevented me from saying no to things. Later on, it was a fear of failure and the desire to keep my options as plentiful as possible. But just like the saying about being “a jack of all trades and a master of none,” states, if you attempt to half heartedly commit to everything that comes your way, you end up exhausted and unable to do anything well.
I’ve written about boundaries and saying “no” before, but my heart behind sharing today, is to hopefully encourage those of you who repeatedly feel overextended and exhausted from a life that seems more like an automated and accelerating hamster wheel than a journey to be enjoyed.
One of the first things I mentioned to my therapist was this very analogy about how I felt like a hamster that was running to keep up with this wheel only to get thrown out of the wheel disoriented and exhausted.
Her response was ironically, adding MORE life giving activities into my schedule, BUT with the qualifier of eliminating some life-draining activities at the same time.
Over the next few years, my perspective on self-care went from impulse buying a Nintendo Switch and binging escape rooms to carving out time in my days to intentionally care for myself. From running to basketball, writing regularly to quality time with friends, I began to incorporate a rhythm of prioritizing myself in my own life.
I stopped being the first to jump at volunteer opportunities.
I stopped feeling like every phone call and text message REQUIRED an immediate response.
I started sitting in my own discomfort at being alone in order to give myself space to process everything that I was feeling.
I started drawing my boundaries in my work environment and then for the hard part, I began to enforce those boundaries.
I pissed people off in the process as I began to say no to outrageous requests that I had been more than happy to oblige in the past. In the process, I began to love the time I got to spend alone, and this ENFP began to realize that he was a blend of introversion and extroversion.
Most app games that exist nowadays force you to manage some sort of limited resource. Maybe it’s speedups or gems or gold or food or candy crush hints. Whatever it might be, we gravitate towards challenges that force us to work within constraints.
Our lives are filled with choices and opportunity costs: decisions where choosing one thing means losing out on something else.
Some of us think that we are above these rules of limited time and resources and we try to have it all.
We end up tired, at wit’s end, and it is in those situations of fatigue that we make our poorest decisions, all because we neglected taking care of ourselves.
We think self care is eating out, manicures, video game binges, and shopping sprees. We generally know that certain coping mechanisms are actually negative, but they let us borrow tomorrow’s happiness and so in order to deal with the disappointment of today, we gladly borrow, though we pay with interest.
We self medicate with trips and shows and fantasies in order to take our minds off of the lack of agency we have in our own lives.
And even if we are self-destructing, at least we are making the choice ourselves.
A key tenet behind why I write and advocate so heavily for the issues that I do, is because I genuinely want people to operate at the best versions of themselves.
I often look back on my life and wish that I knew about the resources that I know about now, back when I was struggling to be comfortable in my own skin. I would have rather swallowed my pride, done the personal work, BEFORE I made my poor choices.
Unfortunately or fortunately, I learn best from experience, and so for me a lot of lessons were learned in hindsight. But for anyone who reads, I hope that you know that you deserve to be seen, heard, and understood, and that tools to help you navigate life’s more challenging seasons exist.
We oftentimes come up with excuses and like to play victim cards because it means that we don’t have full control or responsibility for what we do, but the truth is, in doing so, we only hurt and hinder ourselves.
I was homeschooled until high school and so my mom had the answer key to my math textbook. I used to open the answer book when she wasn’t looking and copy the work into my homework. I’d get full credit, but when asked to explain what I was doing, it was clear that I had no clue. My parents would scold me and tell me that “I was only hurting myself” by looking at the answers, but I saw my short term victories as a worthwhile exchange to spending hours trying to understand what was actually going on. This would come back to bite me in the ass later on when I went to public school and college, but that behavior was what started my habit of looking for shortcuts to deal with the day to day stress instead of preparing myself for the long term.
The truth is, most of us are like young Paul.
We see the day to day stress and anxiety, and we self medicate with reactive coping mechanisms that only temporarily distract us. We rationalize our behavior with our age, our finances, or our ability to “generally stay in control,” all the while knowing that we are lying through our teeth. We playact that we have our shit together, but at 3am when it’s just us and the negative self talk dialoguing, we realize that we are deeply frustrated with ourselves and where we deserve and need grace, the same coping mechanisms that provided us temporary distraction are used by us to shame ourselves and thus perpetuate the cycle.
Oof, did I just lose you?
Can we talk plainly for a second?
Our culture is obsessed with perfection and having your shit together. I can be anything as long as no one knows that I actually don’t have it all together.
We post the pictures of the parties, the promotions, the trips, the friends, the weddings, and anything that might get those likes, but we archive or don’t post about the break ups, the unemployment, the mental health struggles, addictions, and all those other imperfections we don’t want others to see.
Now while lying for the sake of our online reputations is one thing, the primary talking point of this blog is, why we lie to ourselves about our own growth points when really it is us that benefits or suffers based upon our action or inaction?
I think of this scene in the Zac Efron acted Ted Bundy Netflix film where, Ted goes to the courtroom and sees that the courthouse library window is a certain height above the courtyard outside. We then see a montage of him in his cell practicing landing after jumping from higher and higher distances. Eventually he jumps off of his bunk mate’s bed and lands safely, after which, the audience sees a shot of him making the courthouse library jump.
This example is SO FUCKING random, but I think it’s an interesting take on self-care and personal work.
We really do each have within us, the capacity to face the difficulties that life presents with us. It requires time and practice to figure out how to deal with our challenges, but we do have the potential to grow. But unlike Mr. Bundy, we’d rather observe the window of opportunity and worry about the risk and then forget about it rather than doing the work of preparing for our escape.
We all have limited bandwidth when it comes to the activities and passions that we can devote ourselves to. On top of this, life is short, and we never know how much time we are going to get. I’m reminded of how short life is every day.
Even with our limited resources, I invite you to invest in yourself above everything and everyone else.
To some of you this might feel foreign or selfish, but I promise you, that while all other relationships and friendships have times when they are unavailable to you, your own self dialogue is ALWAYS going to be your biggest ally or enemy. This reality behooves us to invest in ourselves and to learn to love ourselves in our strengths and weaknesses… because when it comes down to it, no one else is going to magically care for us if we don’t care for ourselves.
I spent years trying to fix myself through self work and therapy so that I could be present for those around me.
About halfway through, I realized, that the biggest goal was and always will be to learn to love myself.