I recently made the leap from the relative comfort and security of the corporate world to running my own business. Oh, the expectations I had for my new life! I knew that when I was finally running my own show, I would be free to work in a way that reflected my true values of kindness, balance and peace - values that often seemed at odds with a successful corporate career.
Reflecting back on the journal I kept for the first few months is like watching the blooper reel at the end of a movie.
Day 1:"What could I improve on? Well, I worked 14 hours today and sat down for most of it, now I am sore all over."
Day 8: "No more double shots of coffee in the evenings!!!"
Day 49: "Last week was chaos."
As the days, weeks and months went by, I found myself feeling even more pressed for time than I had in my corporate career, and even starting to resent some of the exciting new commitments I had thrown myself into so wholeheartedly.
What was going on? Why was this new life of freedom that I had dreamed of for so long feeling not so different after all? One day it struck me - maybe the problem wasn't my environment. Maybe the problem was me.
Was I addicted to being busy? Did I secretly love seeing a calendar full of appointments that made me feel important, the same full calendar that I had raged against for years in my old world? It was time to be brutally, unflinchingly honest with myself. I did get a kick out of seeing all those shaded slots on my schedule, and the excitement of meeting new people and hearing their stories. But it was short lived as I contemplated the day ahead and realized that I would have no time for the other work I love to do - strategizing and creating - or for the things that light me up like yoga, playing music, and photography.
I had identified a behavior that was holding me back, and had been for years while I blamed the problem on my environment. When others are continually making demands on our time, it can be difficult to say no, but what if we could remain mindful of the fact that we do have ultimate control of how we spend our time and energy?
This concept of mindfulness was how I decided to tackle the problem, once I realized that it was mine to fix. Mindfulness is an amazing skill that is rapidly gaining widespread application is fields as diverse as stress management, weight loss and military training. As described by the Greater Good Science Center, it involves "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment".
In this context, mindfulness means that I am shifting my default response from "Yes!" when an opportunity arises, to a simple pause. During that pause, I reflect on two questions: "Does this serve my purpose?" and "Does this bring me joy?" If the answer to both of these is no, then I politely decline. If the answer to one or both is yes, then I consider the opportunity against everything else I already have planned and make a mindful decision about my ability to commit.
Something I have noticed as I have started to implement this mindfulness practice is discomfort. Discomfort in the moment of the pause, and discomfort in those moments when I say no. Even discomfort in the (sometimes protracted) moments where I agonize over the fact that I am going to say no. But on the other side of that discomfort is gratitude to myself for having the strength to say no, and an incredible feeling of freedom on the days when I see that I have a few hours open to do creative or strategic work.
An addiction to "busy-ness" is not the only troublesome behavior I have realized belonged to me and not my environment since starting my own business, but it is one of the most relatable. There are only a handful of people I know who do not struggle with this, and I am in awe of their calm and steady presence.
Interestingly, I have found mindfulness to be a universally helpful tool when dealing with these types of behaviors. My process includes:
- Owning the behavior,
- Identifying when it comes up, and
- Pausing instead of rushing into a habitual response.
This experience has taught me that when we face challenges in life, we almost always have more control than we think we do. In reality, the only thing we can truly control is our response to the events around us, but this response is everything when it comes to our experience. When we believe that our external environment is responsible for the challenges we face, we are relinquishing our power to overcome them.
What are some of the challenges you face? What could you do to take back control in those areas of your life?
This piece first appeared on Light Yourself Up.