Thursday, February 13, 2014

You cannot run on empty forever

I often feel like I am just barely getting by. And, then even when I do everything I am supposed to do or have agreed to do, I still feel like I have barely done enough.  I have done the bare minimum.  However, I often have people around me surprised (and impressed) that I do so much and that I have so many successes and achievements in life! This reaction I get from people is both flattering and problematic because it tells my brain that this mode of operation (force feeding myself a schedule that is perhaps unreasonable and unsustainable) is a good thing.

I love making people happy.  And, I am usually pretty good at it.  My high achieving way of life reflects that skill and value.  However, it comes at a cost.  I feel perpetually behind, guilty when I watch 2 hours of TV and a general malaise of anxiety at most times.  This is not the quality of life I want. But, how can I do less?

What I have done is equated my self-worth with the worth of my achievements.   If I accomplish a lot, I am fine. If I do not, I am sub-par.

My next step is to untangle my self worth from my ability to achieve.  This doesn't mean I stop trying to do what I want to do in my life. It means that I get to make choices about what I want to do and how much I want to do in a given, day, week, month.  My worth as a human is the same whether I win a Nobel peace prize or just visit with a lonely friend or sit at home reading.

My student asked me the other day, "How do you do it?!?  You always have so much energy!! How do you rehearse til 10pm and then lead a class the next morning at 8am with a smile on your face?!?"  

And, I took that moment to respond because I couldn't let this misperception of me continue. I explained, "I don't always do it well.  I have to really organize my time and energy to pull off that schedule.  I have learned that I can really only do one or two 14 hour days a week.  And, after I manage my way through those longs days, I take huge naps on my off days.   I don't have super human powers! I can't run on empty forever.  No one can!"

My real secret to showing up to work rested and ready to work is a 3 hour nap followed by a nice meal.  No magic. No tricks. No energy drinks.  

People think I am always sparkly and bouncy.  I'm not.  I am only occasionally sparkly and bouncy when I am not passed out on my bed or sitting down to enjoy a nourishing meal.  My students in the spring musical are burning the candle at both ends.  Some may say "They can do it; they are young!"  But, I disagree, no one at any age can push through forever.  There is a cost to behavior that is forced.  So, what do I recommend my students do? They have to complete their school work, likely keep a job, prepare their role for the show, learn their lines and harmonies, recall the dances and be able to focus for 4hrs straight in rehearsals 4x/week.

They really have two options: pull it out at all costs, or make the tough decisions about what behavior really serves them and what doesn't?  When are they most authentic to who they are and the person they want to be? What do they really need right now? More flappy birds? or a nap? or a meal? And, are they willing to give themselves that?

I am learning that being exhausted because of overwork is not an achievement.  I no longer want to live that life. What I decide to do, I want to do well, with energy and focus and clarity.  And, however much that is, however little or grand, is enough.


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