For a minute there my world ramped up to be busier, and more stressful as the gift of time and energy competed with available hours in a day. The things I needed and wanted to do contended with requests and obligations from others. With each additional invitation to participate, it began to feel as though the world was closing in around me. Life became more hectic as each square on the calendar was sectioned out to the enth degree.
Drowning. No, seriously. I feel like I am suffocating in my own life over here.
And you know what? It’s all my fault. A couple weeks ago whilst snarfing down lava hot chicken tenders bought at the deli section of a Vons so that I would have food in between obligations, mentally running my line up of ‘to dos’, and considering making a list on my phone to see if I could streamline trips to fit more in, my life hit a snag. There I was sitting in my car with parking lot as my scenery; it dawned on me. ‘Girl, put down the chicken. This is how people go crazy. You are on the brink of losing your fool mind!’
Time for a new plan.
I sat there taking in the stillness of my car. Merlin’s Beard am I Tired! I’m working full tilt and still feel like I’m failing. I’m lonely as hell and I have zero social life. How can I be this worn out?
Well, I was giving myself away one yes at a time.
So how do I fix that? On the side of that paper chicken bag I began the ‘to do’ list to save myself.
Schedule ‘Me’ time and keep it. Okay, that sounds easy. But my Me time was one of the first things I was willing to give up to be helpful to others. Me time includes yours truly on the lanai sipping a yummy beverage, going on a walk or reading a good book. I love to pre prep crafts so I have last minute fun things to do with my kids. I love jump roping and cannot tell you the last time I actually did that. I really miss it too. What about that repurposed painting I have been putting off since last summer or the guitar waiting for me to pretend to be a rock star or that crochet hat/beard matching set I want to make for my kids because I think it would be hilarious? Ya know….the silly little things that make kooky people like me feel whole. Joy events. One at a time my Yes gave all that goodness away.
Say No. Which I found to be a really hard thing to do at first. Because I’m not always a straight out No sorta person, it was a matter of finding the right language. What I began to say is this: ‘I’m sorry, that’s not going to work for me/my family.’ And give no further explanation. If it’s a person you are somewhat close to, simply state that you wish to scale back your calendar.
You’re thinking, ‘Oh no Christy, that’s so rude!’ I say, not at all, it’s actually very smart. People who want to talk you into giving your time will reason away any excuse you make to prove that you can and really should do what they ask. No further information gives the asker nothing to grab onto to change your No to a Yes. Don’t say, ‘I’ll think about it.’ or ‘Ask me later.’ That just means, ‘I’ll say yes if you ask me another way another day.’ Don’t fall for it. Stick to your guns.
Be prepared for people who don’t take no for an answer. Not everyone will be understanding when you decline. I was surprised to find some passive/aggressive behaviors when I began to say no. Have I been saying Yes for so long that the word No is surprise enough to inspire a temper tantrum-ey episode? From the reaction of some, I think yes. If so, then look at it as an unacceptable (yet educational) eye opener into the character of those you were once obligated to.
Never Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain yourself to unreasonable people.
Never JADE. Simple.
‘That doesn’t work for me/our family.’ Really is a good enough reason.
If the people you worked so hard to help really do care about you, then they should understand that you are going to need a break from time to time or move on to other things. And that’s okay.
Be prepared to defend against the task masters. I’m not saying that task masters aren’t the sweetest people you have ever met. But some have gotten accustomed to their ability to talk people into doing things. On looking back I can see where my willingness to be helpful has played to their strengths.
Don’t bring the calendar and pretend I don’t have one on my phone. A willingness to open my calendar equals a willingness to open myself up to make more obligations. Master task givers feed off my willingness to ‘see if I can squeeze one more thing in’ and thrive off of assigning aka roping one more soul into doing their bidding. Because I am generally friendly, open and willing, I was an easy target. I need to work on being more aloof. Open calendars are for doctors appointments and joy events that I chose for myself.
Clear the calendar of clutter. Call and bow out. It really is okay. At first it was a challenge to say no. But I soon found it to be liberating. I had to really look at my calendar and seriously consider what I’d signed myself up for. Do those things make me happy? Do they serve me at all? Are they robbing from time with my family? I was the one who agreed to all those things. Me. So then I was responsible for untangling myself from the obligations that aren’t really important. I went down to bare bones. My purged calendar now consists of check ups and school events for my children.
And I’m going to leave it that way for a while. I’m in Yes Recovery and I require time to become comfortable living like that. I need my life to be about love, supportive family, and our experiences together. I was guilty of letting others carve time away from those people that matter most to me.
Be clever about your yes. Pick a thing you are good at and stick to it. A lady at our church does drinks. Sounds simple right? With dedication to coffee, juice and water, she has lifted the job of providing drinks to a higher level with skill and an eye towards presentation. For every wedding, funeral, brunch, luncheon, or benefit she creates the nicest, most welcoming drink experience ever. Drink Lady stands proudly to tend her beverage artistry. After the event she cleans her station, launders the fancy tablecloths and looks forward to next time. She loves it, it doesn’t take up so much time that she is over obligated, and because of that, she is able to give her time joyfully. Does she do other things? No. Her specialty is beverages. Simple. We all respect that.
Don’t worry. When things calm down for you there will be plenty of opportunity to jump back in. But when you do start over with your time, treat it like the precious thing it is. It’s okay to tell people that you only obligate yourself to one event at a time.
The following things count as events that are worth limiting to one at a time:
Sports for you or your kids.
Church or community events.
Homework, school or education of any sort.
Rest, recuperation and recovery of the health, spirit, or grief-loss.
Focus on the family/marriage/partner. (It counts and really matters you guys)
Beware of the pratfalls.
*Some people confuse their value as a person with their service or deeds done for others. Service to others is essential to being a good human being. However, the ‘others’ that you focus on should start with self care and work outwards from there. You have nothing to offer if you are sucked dry from giving too much of yourself. The quantity of time given does not equal the quality of human you are.
*Teach people how to treat you. If you are always there, the forever ‘go to’ person, your presence will be taken for granted. Before long it will be assumed by others that you will automatically be there. You deserve to willingly offer your time and energy and give your very best every time without stifling your creativity with over obligation.
*Decisions made in times of stress or over obligation aren’t always the best. It’s really okay to decline and keep yourself free to get through to a smoother path. More is not better right now. In fact, perhaps this is the perfect time to take the initiative and unload that calendar of clutter.
*Be careful of the ‘Switcharoo’. Something that initially sounds reasonable, but then switches into more commitment than you bargained for. Something like: Agreeing to Help with a bake sale when the job description should have been Run the entire Bake Sale. It’s no fun when a switcharoo turns a job into something beyond what could reasonably be done well by one person.
*The idea that serial obligation equals a social life. Giving time can be very social and feel like you’ve gotten out and had fun. And in some circumstances friends can be made. However, by and large, you will run into people who are there for the event and gone. Chances are these are not going to be your friends a year from now. So if you are over obligating yourself in search of friends and it isn’t working, it’s time to consider letting that plan go.
*Ego driven – Some things we give our time to make us feel really good. And that’s where it can get out of hand. It’s nice to feel special, needed and important to the success of a project or group. It puffs up our ego and makes us feel like a bit of a super hero. It’s really easy to let ego driven projects grow to the point where they rob from other aspects of your life. Don’t forget to look around to see if you’ve left your spouse and children/ loved ones behind in the process.
*If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. Yup, I sure have felt that way before. It’s time to pick sanity over obligation. If you are feeling strangled by over dedication, it is not only okay, but necessary that you say No. If it’s important, it will get done. It just doesn’t always have to be you that’s doing it.
So that’s it guys. This is what I’ve been up to lately. My life has gone from being an unattainable list of things to do to a more reasonable balance. It’s not perfect or always graceful, but I’m getting there. The result is that I’ve been sleeping better, having fun, and laughing more. My kids have responded and even commented on having more of me again. Ouch, right? But also strong incentive to keep my calendar clear for myself and for my family first.
Oh, what’s that? You need a coordinator for a jog-a-thon coming up in March? Gosh, that sounds fun! I’m sorry. That really won’t work for me.