A couple of weeks ago, I hit the wall. I was having trouble making decisions. I felt discouraged. The simplest mental task--reviewing a set of survey questions to be given at the end of a pilot--felt hard. Photo by spoon.
For months, I had been busy doing, doing, doing. And when I forced myself to finally look at the results of all the busy-ness, in black and white numbers, it was enough to make me cry. For all the hard work and great feedback from customers and clients of My Alumni Link, my start-up serving university alumni associations, the financial results showed a different story.
Going harder and faster in the same direction wouldn't help me achieve my financial goals. It would only burn me out more quickly.
The worst, though, was when I spoke to a mentor, shortly after working through the numbers. I asked her, "Do I sound confused?" She replied, "No, you sound tired."
I can still hear those four words in my head. When someone gives you the gift of seeing you truly as you are, not in all your glory, but in a moment you'd rather forget, it's both humbling and a relief. I had been feeling tired for weeks, maybe even months, but wouldn't let myself stop long enough to acknowledge it. It's also why I found writing/blogging/journaling to be so difficult in the last year. The well had dried up.
That night, I went to bed early. I woke up in the middle of the night. Unable to go back to sleep, I went into my home office. I started moving piles of papers off my desk and workspace to a corner of the room. Clearing out the physical clutter felt good, but I knew that was just the start.
I stared at my calendar, boxes representing hard-won appointments with prospective clients. There was no let up for the next few weeks. I wrote at the top of a sheet of paper, "Priorities", and listed the things my heart had been yearning for, but my mind had ignored: quiet time, writing/journaling, naps, no schedule, enjoying the small things in life, cooking. I stared at my calendar again. This time, I knew what I needed to do. Photo by Banalities.
I decided to take a month off. At first, I didn't have much energy except to delete things from my life. I asked a colleague to help reschedule appointments. As I deleted each appointment, I became happier, seeing more space on my calendar. I put myself on a "low information diet", unsubscribing to mailing lists and programming certain types of emails to go directly into a folder, without hitting my inbox. The noise level immediately went down.
Since I started this hiatus, I've discovered that hitting the wall is not just a single moment in time. It's a series of walls, one after another, with a different layer of emotion and insight each time. I remember days in terms of whether I broke down or stayed even keel, whether I took a two-hour nap or a short walk, whether my Gremlins got the best of me ("You're a failure!") or I managed to view my situation from a more objective perspective. Photo by inti
Weepy has become the new version of a coffee break. I know that letting my emotions work through me is better than bottling it up.
I've been resistant to journaling, afraid of what I would discover when I let my uncensored thoughts tumble out onto paper. And yet, in the few times that I have written in a journal since hitting the wall, I've discovered things I didn't know about myself. Take my attitude on failure. That could be a whole blog post in itself (and will probably be one soon.) I take failure personally. In my mind, on some level, failure is equivalent to death. No wonder I didn't want to look at the numbers.
One day last week, my husband suggested some possible ways to re-design my business. I found myself saying something I thought I never would say to him, which was this: "I don't want to think about how to solve the problem. I want to give my brain a rest."
Where am I now? Re-charging, one day at a time, with naps and long talks and yes, maybe even some journaling. Appreciating my husband and sons every single day. Grateful for what I have. Getting back to gardening. Enjoying the feeling of a slower pace, where time is not measured by how much I get done, but by how much I enjoy myself. I'm loving summer. Photo by plastAnka.
It feels as if I'm being re-configured and re-constituted. Which reminds me that surrendering to what naturally wants to happen can be the greatest gift I give myself. Not doing is still hard.
Several people have told me that hitting the wall is a blessing in disguise. It's the only thing that has helped me see past my wishful thinking, to confront reality and wrestle it to the ground. Or maybe what happened is this: Reality wrestled me to the ground, and too tired to resist, I let go and finally, stopped long enough to hear the sound of my own name.