The past two weekends I have made a concerted effort to do less. I’ve had, at best, moderate success with it, but it’s a start. In recent weeks and months I was stretching myself so thin that everything, even the things I love, were starting to feel like obligations. And as soon as something feels obligatory, I feel resentful. And once I feel resentful, game over—I’m not adding anything to the experience, only taking away. Unfortunately, I know the only person to blame in these situations is myself.
This is not the first time I’ve found myself here, feeling overscheduled, overburdened, and overcommitted. It happens, sadly, with relative frequency which, to steal a thought from my sister, is to say that I’m not done learning my lesson since I’m still continuing to do it.
So when I examine why I do this to myself—overschedule my life—I find it’s usually a combination of these things:
- My ego enjoys the pull of overcommitment—It says, I’m needed, I’m wanted, I’m important.
- I’m avoiding looking at something else that is just beneath the surface, something that needs quiet and space to come to the top—Maybe a spiritual quandary or maybe just a project that requires focused, undistracted energy.
- I’m afraid I will go back to who I used to be—Today I’m extremely grateful to be a person with a lot of interests, a wide circle of friends, and no shortage of things to do, but it wasn’t always that way. There have been times in my life that it felt like too much work to leave my apartment, get to know new people, or try new things.
Each of these seems equally accurate and also intimidating to tackle, at least in this limited space. I don’t have the solution yet. When personal value becomes inextricably tied to breadth of schedule, it makes it much harder to untangle the solution from the problem.
Recently my solution had been to hack away at my schedule in the short term, then wait until I’ve forgotten how uncomfortable it got the last time, start refilling my schedule, and let the whole cycle happen again. It’s certainly not the most productive way to learn, but I do think there is some inherent value in making the same mistakes over and over to eventually recognize there is a pattern (of insanity) there. With each iteration, there comes the hope and the opportunity (because hope isn’t nearly as effective at bringing about change as action is) to make a different choice. And that’s where I am today: choosing to take a different action.
I can look at each day as an endless list of things to do or I can look at it as a list of things I could do. I could do laundry today or I could not. I could go get coffee with this person today or I could not. I could go work out today or I could not. When everything becomes a must, life gets unsatisfactory quickly. I’m not saying to turn our backs on responsibility but rather to exercise a little more discretion when applying the labels of “must do” or “urgent."
People are going to be disappointed sometimes; sometimes people aren’t going to care at all (oh, the ego!). Part of taking responsibility for ourselves is allowing other people to take responsibility for themselves. I can’t think of one thing in my life today that I would be the absolute make or break to. When I say no, someone else fills in the gap or the gap doesn’t get filled at all, and life goes on. I’m finding more freedom in knowing that no is just as much an option on the table as yes.