Like many people, I wear multiple hats. I have an absorbing career that's driven by deadlines, projects and people management. I'm an involved parent to my two school-aged children, whose curiosity keeps me on my toes at all times. I'm in a relationship that, for all of its harmony, requires care and maintenance. I have close friends who know they can depend on me for advice, a listening ear and an honest opinion tempered with kindness. I'm keeping an eye on an aging parent who luckily, is still quite independent and active. I have family members who call upon me from time to time. And let's not forget about the 14-year-old orange tabby cat that my kids are convinced has Maine Coon ancestry and is a legitimate member of our family.
All of the above are important to me, and all compete for my time and attention. While I've learned to prioritize, the demands will occasionally (well, frequently) exceed my bandwidth. But, I worry about some critical path item slipping, of making mistakes. I worry about failing people who are depending me. So, I keep pushing myself, barely staying ahead of feeling overwhelmed.
I realize that I'm not a perpetual motion machine, but being an imperfect human is one of the hardest things to admit. I'm more willing to accept the frailties of others than my own. I know myself well enough to see when I've pushed myself too far: I shut down, I lose patience, I'm distracted, my energy level drops. To paraphrase what a therapist told me, "Imagine you're a pitcher and providing water for everyone. Who refills the pitcher once it's empty?"
When I'm empty, I become still.
This does not mean that I cease all action. Rather, I slow down. I retreat into a book. I listen to music. I find a recipe to make from scratch. I clean a room in my house. I write. I play mindless games on my smartphone or tablet. I make lists that range from the usual groceries to packing lists for vacations that haven't been planned.
A remarkable thing happens when I take a break to be still -- the demands that seemed so unwieldy become manageable.
I was facing an impending deadline for the Monday immediately following a rare weekend away. I was staying at a bed and breakfast inn in a vineyard and had brought my laptop with the intention of doing a few tasks here and there. I did not have any urgent issues to address; I was fueled by guilt for being away and not working.
I never turned on the laptop.
Instead, I enjoyed my mornings sitting in the patio, listening to the birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind. I heard the sounds of dishes clinking and the murmurs of our hosts as they prepared breakfast. I heard the movements of the other guests, starting their day in a leisurely fashion. Sharing a meal outside, talking and laughing with people I just met, taking a walk around the nearby town -- all contributed to my slowing down and being present. I willingly accepted a weekend of spontaneity; I lost track of time.
In breaking my modus operandi, I stopped fretting about a deadline that I had well in hand and rested instead. And, guess what, the deadline was met without the need for weekend tasking. I'd even say that my cleared head made me more efficient when I went back to the office.
I'm no poster child for the modern superwoman. I'm still a flawed, multitasking superwoman wannabe who will put the oxygen masks on others before putting one on myself. All I can do is to remember to breathe and sit in stillness every so often.