It has been over six months since I largely checked out of the working world to recharge and "fill up the well". I'm back in the saddle, but there's no guarantee that I won't go down the same path of burn out again, given my previous M.O. Photo by tj scenes
My friend, Richard, who has designed retreats and renewal programs for teachers and physicians, astutely asked me this question:
What are you doing to ensure that you won't end up in the same place?
Memories and lessons learned can fade quickly, once we are back in the hunt.
Here are five questions, courtesy of Richard, which I thought would be helpful for anyone who wants to lead a sane life:
- What are my mirrors? In other words, how will I know I'm off track? For me, blogging goes by the wayside. (Ooh....that means you, the blog reader can become a mirror for me when I've been silent for too long. Please. Do. Poke me.) Another sign for me is my body complains. This can be anything from lower back pain to dizziness to feeling ungrounded. And finally, my family, especially my husband and my sister are likely to tell me when I'm off track. Photo by Cea.
- What agreements do I have about what I will do when I am off track? It's easy to get the data and ignore it. While I haven't made an agreement with others, I've made an agreement with myself to step away from whatever I'm doing to take a break. In some cases, the break is a few minutes or a couple of hours. In other cases, it may be a day or two. Jonathan Fields in his new book, Uncertainty, talks about "establish[ing] a set of circuit breakers designed to allow you to come back from a quest that has turned into an abyss, to reconnect with the people and activities that add tremendous richness to life and serve as a source of fuel for even great ideas when you return to the endeavor."
This rings true for me. Getting off track doesn't always mean that my work is going poorly. Just yesterday, I had conversations with people related to projects that I'm excited about. I was ecstatic with what was possible and with seeing a way to fulfill a long time dream. It was a real adrenaline rush. And by the afternoon, I could tell I was crashing. I needed to get out of the office, recharge (I'm an introvert on the Myers-Briggs scale), get grounded again. Trying to do more work, at that moment, would be an uphill battle, because that's not what my mind and body needed.
So what did I do? I took a short nap (you're allowed to do that when you work out of your home) and then went for a long walk with my sister. The work in my office would have to wait. Photo by My Eyes Photo
- What triggers must I avoid? Much like an alcoholic should avoid happy hour, there are circumstances that precipitate an all out frenzy to do more than is good for me. This is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. Fear of failure comes to mind. If I think I'm likely to fail, be embarrassed, be seen as incompetent, I'll work like a dog to keep that from happening.
The opposite is also true. If I can see the finish line, that overriding yearning to complete something will cause me to push myself past a reasonable stopping point. This is especially dangerous as I gain momentum on new projects. The creative juices start flowing, and seeing something take shape and move from idea to reality can be addictive. Photo by ukanda
- What needs are getting met by living in the old way? This, my friend, is a nasty one. In reflecting on this question, it forces me to see where my ego takes control. The old way of living--depleting myself in the long run for the sake of perceived short term gains--is rooted in the need to look good, to be valued by what I get done. I have always had trouble accepting that who I am being is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than what I can accomplish. The paradox is that if I can pay more attention to how I am being, I will actually accomplish more, in less time.
- What of my morning/afternoon/evening have I savored? I love this question, because it reminds me that part of healthy wholeness is experiencing pleasure. I want to remember to enjoy the journey rather than only being laser focused on the destination. A little stress is good but too much stress ruins everything. Again, quoting from the book Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields speaks to this eloquently: "I turned my own creative process into more of a dance than a race." I want to dance. Photo by Aunt Owwee
Last year, I would have pushed myself to get through the to-do list. This year, I step back to see when something actually needs to get done and what things can wait. I'm findiing things that I thought needed to be done today or tomorrow were just mind chatter.
Last year, I had an intensity about executing that was not healthy. This year, I wait until the right moment to execute the right thing, when it feels like I'll be in the flow for that particular activity. I'm finding things take less time than I thought.
Last year, I planned months in advance, in gory detail. This year, I plan a few months in advance and wait for the data about what to do next emerge. I have a "north star" but I don't worry about having a map up front for the entire journey.
Last year, my schedule was jam packed. This year, I work in 60-90 minute spurts and make sure I have lots of blank space on my calendar. Oddly enough, I feel more productive. Photo by xavi talleda.
Last year, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. This year, I'm finding that many hands make for light work. Help is coming from all corners.
Life is not perfect, but I have a new equanimity to deal with situations. I'm more grateful. I make time for a walk each day. I'm happier.
How are you staying sane in an insane world?