I have a confession to make. It may not be a revelation to those of you who know me.
I am pathologically busy.
I have an unhealthy and pressing need to get things done quickly. The rush I get from ticking tasks off my to-do list (which is the size of an encyclopedia) is hard to overstate. But in recent years that has morphed into outright panic during seasons of intense pressure, when the list is too long and my day is too short.
If you come to The Inspiration Lab’s Banner Year Blueprint workshops, you know I spend a great deal of time talking about our limitations and honoring them. As a person who has a really full life (which is the healthy version of me) but often drifts unconsciously into the pathologically busy life (this is the out-of-whack, unhealthy version of me), I find limitations helpful. As the mother of a child with special needs who is medically fragile, my personal life is filled with limits.
I used to fight this and at times I still get frustrated. One specific limitation I’d love to be free of is the inability to host people at my home, for parties, dinner, game nights, etc. Even before the pandemic, it didn’t work because our home functions like a mini hospital on some days: the feeding tube and syringes with medications, bodily fluids to clean up, and autistic meltdowns to manage are just not conducive to hospitality.
Andrew and I also have travel restrictions, which do not emanate from the coronavirus. We haven’t been on an airplane and gone to the same place together in years. We haven’t left the country but one time since Oliver was born — and we assembled a team of five highly skilled adults to oversee that glorious trip to the Bahamas. From the moment the plane landed on U.S. soil and we read the texts from our care team, we knew we’d likely never get to leave the country together again. As a couple that connected over our love of travel, this has been a hard one for us. We feel so blessed we were able to travel alone and together before our lives changed. Travel changes you and that is a good thing for the average American who can easily have a narrow view of the world. What used to be a six-hour or so driving radius for a two- to three-night getaway has turned into 36 hours and a three-hour driving radius. I will tell you I have discovered some incredible places right in our backyard. You don’t have to go to New Zealand or Paris or Thailand to have a sense of wonder, which is good news for everyone with travel limitations.
Maybe you relate?
We all have limitations and this idea that “the only limit to your life is your mindset” is just crap. It isn’t true. I have a super-positive can-do mindset and attitude, but I can’t fix Oliver’s multiple genetic disorders. Positive thinking has power, but it also has its limits.
The personal limitations I have should lead me to build a wide and well-protected margin around my life, but instead I have crammed every waking moment with stuff. Commitments, clients, newsletters, businesses, friends, birthday parties, board meetings, conference calls, Zoom chats, reading books, speaking on stages, cooking dinner, coordinating Oliver’s nursing schedules and supplies, counting and giving his 16 daily medications, weekly communication with the five physicians on his “primary” medical team, leading team meetings, and on and on and on. I also have to shower and shave my legs and fold laundry.
Show me a limit and I’ll find the extreme boundaries. I have stood on the edge of my own sanity way too much. It is scary at those borders, the feeling of being in control and out of control. I hope you haven’t found that place, but if you have, you know what it feels like. It’s hard to articulate, right?
Those are the times when I am saying to God through tears, “Are you trying to break me? Do you want me to literally lose my mind?!”
And now after years of this conversation, I realize the pathological busyness I have allowed (and even welcomed) could break me.
At times over the last year, I found the edges of my sanity once again. Many of the circumstances that joined together to create this level of pressure were out of my control: the timing of Lanier Property Group’s merger with Intracoastal Realty (which is one of the most wonderful business decisions I ever made), the maternity leave of my one and only full-time employee (Lisa welcomed baby Elizabeth in late January 2019 and she is an angel), and Oliver’s mitochondrial regression, which has caused a cascade of doctor appointments, missed school days, and behavior issues. Plus, of course, the ongoing pandemic.
I want to give both you and I grace should we be in a season of circumstances out of our control. It only takes one or two significant things to throw me into a frenzy, because the amount of margin I have is obviously still way too small. What about you?
But what it’s teaching me as I soldier through this season is that I don’t want to be here again. That instead of being surprised next time, I can be smarter. To be clear, a merger of our real estate company won’t ever happen again, but people who work for me will be taking extended amounts of time away from work to care for their families and Oliver will need my loving care for his entire lifetime. Every day, he needs Andrew and I to survive.
I read The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. He is the pastor of a church in Portland, Oregon, so he is coming from a distinctly Christian perspective. This title called my name from Amazon’s “recommended books for you” — LOL.
Yet the book isn’t really anything new for me. The struggle with being busy and burning out my margins is real. At The Inspi Lab, we devoted a whole month one August to a digital detox. I planned for and then gave myself the gift of seven straight days free of all technology one July. I found my biological and spiritual baseline. In our BYB workbooks, I am always talking about finding your baseline, the happy and healthy place your mind/body/spirit are when you are flourishing and not chronically stressed. I fear many of us don’t even remember what that feels like. It’s hard to return to a place you can’t find in the first place.
On my seven-day hiatus from the digital world, I explored Bald Head Island, one of my favorite places on Earth. I found myself noticing the bark on the trees and I watched the sun rise and set like it was my job, paying close attention to how the cotton candy pinks melted into the soft lavender shades. I was reminded each night how fast the sun sets once it is on the edge of the horizon.
One of the ways I have found a little breathing room for my currently busy life is waking up early. For almost two years I woke up early to exercise, at 5:00 a.m., two to three times a week, because every other high-performing person I read about did that. It was brutal for me. I hated every last minute of it and had wimpy workouts because I was exhausted and half asleep.
It is a great idea to copy the rhythms of people you admire, so long as they are achieving the results you are looking for. I should have stopped these early-morning workouts six months in, but I just kept trying to convince myself I was an early riser. I am not — but I am an early sleeper.
I’ve started to go to bed even earlier, which is basically the same thing as waking up early but the way to get the result is entirely different. When I naturally wake up ahead of my alarm, I am excited, knowing I have anywhere from 5 minutes to myself to a few hours… all depending on when Oliver gets up. As I type this, I have had two hours of peace this morning! That is life-giving! Thus far I’ve read about half of a book, had some coffee, said my prayers, sat still for a bit (which is really hard for me), and now I’m writing this. In these early-morning hours, I don’t let myself do any “work” until I feel like my soul has been nourished.
I also keep my phone far away and face down. Who needs me at 6:30 a.m., right? If they need me, they are in this house with me… at least 99% of the time. Nobody expects you to return a text or email this early, so I like that part of this sacred time in the morning. I think we’ve lost the sacred time at night (remember when you wouldn’t dare call someone’s house after 9:00 p.m.?!) But at least in our modern age, 5:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. seems to be the new sacred time and I figure I need to take hold of it.
If you are feeling out of control and overscheduled, I know the traditional advice is to say “no” to more things, but that doesn’t get you the instant relief you need.
It’s like realizing you don’t have enough money and cutting expenses — it takes time to feel the effects. So in 2021, try to be an early sleeper, which will trigger either some much-needed rest for your body (which will help you sustain the pace of your life and not get sick) or you’ll easily get all the rest you need and find those extra magic hours. If you struggle to get in bed early, know this: One, you are sleep training yourself, just like you do a baby; it takes time. Two, probably what you’re doing from 9 to 11 each night is getting dumber when you could get rested and energized instead. If you need to “veg out,” there is no better way to do that than sleeping.
So here are some mantras:
Early to sleep, early to rise = magical, unhurried time just for you.
At 9:00 p.m. each night, ask yourself, no matter what you are doing, “Am I getting dumber?” If you are, head to bed. “Is this making my life more meaningful and peaceful?” If it isn’t, you know what to do.
In the meantime, I’ll be over here fighting against the busy monster — and I’m convinced I can win.