Recognizing “enough” in my life and work

Earlier this week I found myself in a nasty mood. My whole disposition to the world was one of irritation and bother. I was drained, unhappy, and frustrated by all kinds of small things that should have never even registered as irritants. I think many of us have days or weeks like this and like most things, they pass. What finally shifted things for me was going outside to sit in my comfortable Adirondack chair and read a book for a bit.

I should have sent myself to an out-of-doors timeout much earlier that day. It was clear I was burned out, tired, fatigued, and needed to rest and process all the chaotic thoughts and feelings stomping through my head. Yet I felt like I could not sit still and rest. There was one more load of laundry to be done, one more hour to spend business planning, one more visit to Facebook that needed to be made. None of it urgent and most of it not really even important to me in the grand scheme of things.

So when I found myself settling in under my oak tree to read my book I had to laugh at my selection: Wayne Muller‘s “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough,” which originally crossed my path through a church book club that I was too busy to ultimately attend. I am not joking.

Wayne Muller's book, "A life of being, having, and doing enough" from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Being-Having-Doing-Enough/dp/0307591395

Wayne Muller’s book, “A life of being, having, and doing enough” from Amazon.

While I am not all the way through the book, it was surprising how much of it resonated with how I was struggling that day. It is as if Muller used my experience that day to illustrate his argument perfectly!

I kept coming back to this passage again and again:

“In spite of any compelling physical or spiritual benefits, we fear we have no authentic, trustworthy permission to stop. If we do stop to rest without some very good reason or some verifiable catastrophe, we feel guilty, we worry about getting in trouble, we feel we are just lazy, not carrying our weight, not a team player, or will be left behind. If we just put our nose to the grindstone, give it our all, do our best, give 110 percent, really put our mind to it, never give up, and work more efficiently, then we can, and should, be able to get absolutely everything on our desk, on our to-do list, on our calendars, finished, on deadline, without any mistakes, perfectly, every time.

Then we can rest.

But this ridiculously impossible moment never arrives and we cannot take that first step back. So we keep going. And going. Without permission from culture, workplace, community, or even our own inner, grinding work ethic, how can we know it is time to stop — for now, for today — and know that what we have done, and who we have been, is absolutely enough? It is time to put it down, let it be, go home, and call it a day” (p. 6).

 

This blog is all about finding, claiming, and living out one’s purpose in life and work. So you might expect me to be an expert in this area, but in truth, I am like so many other writers before me: I write to understand, rather than to tell.

Reading the words from that passage prompted all kinds of questions to pop up at me from the page:

  • Why do I feel that unless I am physically weary or mentally empty I have not done enough?
  • Why do I see each day as a struggle to prove my worthiness through productivity?
  • While I may believe it intellectually, why do I struggle in practice to accept that I am enough just as I am, even without being perfectly productive?
  • Who’s permission am I seeking to be “done enough” to rest?
  • How can I better tune into the cues in my life that I’ve had enough, been enough, and contributed enough that day or week or season?
  • Why is it such a struggle for me to practice self-compassion to myself by recognizing when I have found “enough” in life or work?
  • And perhaps the scariest question of all: If I did finally feel I had done “enough” for a day – What on earth would I do with myself????

Like me, I’m sure reading over the passage I quoted above sparked all kinds of questions and concerns in you. What resonates with where you are struggling? In what ways are you proud to stand in your own truth and know when you have had enough? What strategies or tools do you rely on to recognize when you have found “enough” in your life or work each day? I welcome your wisdom!

Hold fast to your passion

The natural human spirit is irrepressibly radical; it wants the unattainable, yearns for the impractical, is willing to risk the improper. But as we conform ourselves to the practicalities and properties of efficiency, we restrict the space between desire and control; we confine our intention to an ever-decreasing range of possibilities. The choices we make — and therefore the way we feel about ourselves — are determined less by what we long for and more by what is controllable and acceptable to the world around us. After enough of this, we lose our passion. We forget who we are.

Gerald May, from The Awakened Heart, as quoted in Wayne Muller‘s book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough

Attending to wellness.

Graduate school has taught me about tired. Emotionally tired. Physically tired. Intellectually tired. Spiritually tired. Mentally spent.

The good news is that there are resources out there to help disrupt the exhaustion and lead us on a journey towards being in more sustainable service to others.

AudreLorde-Tumblr

Work-life balance

When I worked in the corporate world we talked about “work-life balance” often. In 2008 I left my corporate job to respond to the call I felt to work in higher education. I walked away from a lot in making that decision. I distinctly remember a coworker saying to me that she thought I was lucky to get out before I was making so much money that I could not walk away. (In my mind, that was already the case! Leaving so much on the table  felt crazy).

When I walked away from that world, I thought I was walking towards something just as much as I was walking away. I was saying yes to caring for myself and others in a way that felt more aligned with my values and my gifts. I was trying my best to honor who I thought I was meant to be. I still believe in that promise, but I would not say I have figured out the “caring for myself” piece yet.

In higher education we don’t talk about balance much. I liken it to more of a nonprofit culture. We choose to be here because we are committed to our work as educators and we give every ounce of ourselves to our students. In a lot of ways this is the expectation. I work harder, with more heart, and for less money.

Let me be clear here. I have no regrets. I will just say that I am still trying to figure out what wellness looks like for me. Fortunately, working in higher education we have models we use to help students build these skills and we can apply them in our own lives as well.

Using the Wellness Wheel as a guide 

During my internship at the University of Washington I came across their version of a “wellness wheel” which I offer below:

UW_WellnessWheel

“Attending” to wellness

Like so many women in helping professions, and others, I know I need to attend to my wellness. I get that it starts with attending to self-care. What does it even mean to “attend to one’s wellness” anyway? Let’s go to the dictionary:

attending  present participle of at·tend (Verb)

Verb
  1. Be present at (an event, meeting, or function).
  2. Go regularly to: “all children are required to attend school”.

– Definition from dictionary.com

Attending to my wellness? Being “present” to my wellness? I’m haphazard at best. I certainly do not “go regularly to” my wellness. My problem is that I do not realize I need to attend to my self-care until I am past my breaking point.

Attending in all dimensions

Little by little I am working towards honoring all seven wellness dimensions in my life:

  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Spiritual

There are other forms of wellness I might add if I were feeling ambitious: generational wellness, or community wellness come to mind and I hope to write on these more through this blog.

TIME FOR ACTION: What to do? 

After trying and failing to get the wellness piece figured out, I have realized two things so far:

  1. First, I must accept incremental change and believe it has the power to create waves of change over time.
  2. Second, I need a plan. 

Now I will admit, I have drafted a wellness plan and then failed to follow my plan. It is more the norm for me. But even the act of making a plan helps me to open my eyes to what wellness could look like in my life. It helps guide me in knowing what is right action – for me, for my cause, for my future ability to support others through my calling.

Creating a self-care plan 

If you are like me, and you struggle to even know what “wellness” might look like, I invite you to check out the Self-Care Starter Kit offered by the University of Buffalo School of Social Work. This helped me assess my own situation and build skills in understanding how to apply the various dimensions of self-care in my own life.

As I mentioned, I have not yet arrived with my wellness. However, I talk openly with others about how I am trying to attend to my wellness, even when it is hard. I have the awareness now to realize when I am out of alignment and giving too much of myself to my work, home life, and personal relationships. I am working hard to un-learn the socialization I received around what it means to be a woman who wants to help others in this country. I am beginning to see a middle way where I do not have to give up my whole self in order to be of service to others.

Nothing is harder for me than taking care of myself… which is why having a plan makes so much sense! Just like being tired perpetuates itself, I am learning that making good self-care choices builds momentum over time. This is what it means to “attend” to oneself. It is about being present to my wellness and going regularly to my wellness. It is checking in with myself frequently to assess how I am doing. It is fighting the way I am socialized to ignore my own voice calling out for time, for space, for exercise, for fresh air and sunshine and whole foods and idleness.

Attending is a practice

It is in the act of attending to wellness that the magic happens. Writing up a plan is important. But change happens through small, painful stumbles that begin with good intentions. It happens slowly. It happens each time I choose to hear that small voice inside me instead of silencing her.

Without a plan it is much easier to succumb to the status quo. So while I may feel like a phony for having to revisit the process of creating wellness plans and then watching myself fail miserably at them, this process is actually a way for me to practice attending to myself. Like with any change, it hurts… even when when it is change our very bones are calling out for!

 

  • What might I need to give up in order to invite in more wellness in my life? What would that look like for me?
  • What might I lose in the process?
  • What signals does my body give me when I am approaching my limit? In what ways have I ignored them in the past?
  • What is one thing I can do today to start attending to my wellness? 

Audre Lorde quote and image from http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/audre+lord