At the end of October I told you I was going to take a month to slow down. Then I blinked, and it was January.
Despite my online silence (excepting last week’s depressing New Year’s post – sorry for being Debbie Downer, by the way), my mind has been busy sifting through the rubble unearthed over the past 10 weeks.
I wish I could give you a tidy list of profound life lessons gleaned from my time off, but pinpointing takeaways has proved a challenge. Each time I try, I feel like I’m staring at one of those 3D art posters at the mall, trying to force my eyes to focus on a hidden object. I’ve never been good at those.
A Noisy Silence
I can tell you that what was supposed to be a restful November started with an awful lot of noise, just not the kind I’m used to. As external voices quieted (internet, TV, radio, people), the internal barrage became deafening. All kinds of questions and fears I’d been drowning out with busyness seized the opportunity to be heard.
It wasn’t pleasant, but I forced myself to be still. I listened, pondered, and resisted the temptation to make plans and set goals for change. That was probably the smartest decision I made – ignoring the impulse to do. It wasn’t a time for doing, it was a time for being.
January, on the other hand, is traditionally considered a time for doing. The me of two months ago would have started 2015 with a grand scheme to Fix All The Things, yet here I sit, reluctant to even bend my thoughts that direction. This change is a result of my November slowdown, and it is perhaps the one thing I learned with absolute clarity:
I have to stop all the doing.
This conviction goes hand-in-hand with another lesson that’s becoming ever more clear:
I pressure myself with unrealistic expectations, and they’re ruining me.
When I say unrealistic expectations, I’m not just talking about those I inflict upon myself, I’m also talking about the imaginary expectations I tell myself others have for me. I’ve always been a people pleaser, but I’m only beginning to realize for much my drive to please (or, rather, to not disappoint) others has drained me of time, energy, and joy.
This is true in many areas of life, but I’ll choose writing as an example. I love writing. Books have been my passion since toddlerhood. I spent my young life reading novels and writing stories. I spent my young adult years as a journalist, editor, and author. Now, as I approach middle age, I’m 3 years into a novel project, have a running list of ebook ideas, and maintain 3 different blogs.
I hear writers describe their craft as life-giving, and I relate. Putting words together to create beauty and convey truth is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Why, then, has sitting in front of my computer become such a chore these last few months? Why do I approach my life’s passion with increasing anxiety, even dread?
Of course, most writers will admit to a love-hate relationship with words. (Someone once said, “It’s not writing I love, it’s having written.” Amen to that.) But there’s something more at work here, beyond the standard intimidation factor. My joy in writing is being leeched away by the pressure of expectation.
Fiction has always been my forte, but novels take a lot of time to write well, especially when you’re surrounded by a husband, three children, two dogs, a remodeling business, and LIFE. Sometimes I just want a break. But people know I’m writing a novel, and every time they kind-heartedly ask me, “How’s the novel coming?” what I hear is, “Are you done yet?” Nothing steals the joy like the sense that you’ve failed before you’ve even finished.
Then there’s blogging. I started out in 2009 just wanting to chronicle our adoption journey, and I’d heard these blog things were the way to go. I fell a little bit in love with the ability to journal online and meet up with other adoptive families, so when process was complete, I kept the blog going. I wrote when I felt like it, or when I had something to say. But somewhere along the way I was told that, as a writer, I need to blog well and consistently. Without a blog, I can’t land a publishing contract, build a readership, market books, or wipe my own nose. Blogging is essential, unavoidable, and extremely significant. No pressure, though.
Where Does It End?
I could tell you about my ebooks and the other blogs I maintain, but you get the picture. I’m swamped with (mostly) self-inflicted pressure to do, do, do, but it’s unrealistic for me to do these things as well or as quickly as I (and others?) expect. The reality is that my writing – while a God-given passion not to be squandered – is not my most important job. Not even close.
Wife. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend. I am all of these things, and I am a writer. There will always be more I could do as a writer, as a mother, as a friend. There is no end to all the potential doing, but there is an end to me.
And I think that’s the secret I’m straining to identify in my metaphorical 3D wall art. Where is the end of me? What are my boundaries? And how, within those hedges, do I obey my calling as a wife? Mother? Writer?
Seeking Balance Together
I’ve had conversations with enough of you to know I’m not the only one wrestling with this balancing act. It would be easier to find a solution if the same thing worked for everyone, but the answers are undoubtedly as diverse as we are. Still, we can learn from one another. So, lets talk about it.
What are the roles at play in your balancing act? How do you know when things are off balance? What do you do about it?