When was the last time you took a day, or even a few minutes, for yourself? I mean truly for and with yourself without the distractions of work, technology, or other busyness? I observed a group of women do just that this past Saturday when I had the privilege to co-facilitate a women's retreat. These women gave themselves the gift of self-care, self-discovery, and self-renewal. One participant said it was nourishment for her soul.
There are many of us out there who could benefit from more soul nourishment, disconnecting from the busyness of life and spending some time in stillness and silence. This can be hard to do, though, can't it? Why is that? What makes it so hard to turn off the distractions and spend some quiet time alone? I struggled with this for most of my adult life. As a driven over-achieving perfectionist, I could not tolerate sitting around, doing nothing. Time not working on one of my to-do lists was time wasted! There was always something that "needed" to be done. I didn't like being bored so even on vacation, I was unable to relax. I was always doing something.
My personality traits and natural talents certainly contributed to this behavior. In StrengthsFinder speak, my talents of Responsibility, Learner, Achiever, and Maximizer are all wonderful talents. And when combined together, they are a recipe for hurried-ness and busyness. These, when combined with life experiences, also created some very strong assumptions, beliefs, and stories (such as: people value me for what I get done). These assumptions, beliefs and stories were connected to some very strong fears (such as: If I'm not doing anything, then how can I add value? What will people think of me if I don't do that today?).
In his book, In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré said that "as we hurry through life, cramming more into every hour, we are stretching ourselves to the breaking point" and we miss real connection with people. That's exactly where I found myself. I was so busy completing my to-do lists that I forgot what, and who, was most important in my life. Even though I was surrounded by loving people, I still felt lonely. In the midst of all my hard work, I didn't work hard enough at deepening these relationships.
And I would add that when we are busy rushing around, we also lose connection to our real self. I got so busy accomplishing one thing after another in rapid succession, that I lost touch with who I really was and what I really wanted. I had several people ask me in a pretty short window of time what I enjoyed doing when I wasn't at work. And I didn't know how to answer those questions. I didn't know what I enjoyed doing in my "spare" time. Partly because I didn't have any spare time, and partly because I had lost touch with those parts of me that were outside of the work environment.
It has taken several years to begin practicing the art of restful solitude and rediscovering my true self. And there wasn't just one thing that worked for me. My journey has included many puzzle pieces. I took my first ever vacation by myself at a quiet retreat center where there was no TV or phone in my room, where cell phone service was spotty at best, and where I had ample time to be alone and reflect. And I liked it. A lot. When I became a mother, I realized that there was more to life than running around chasing incomplete to-do lists so I enjoyed quality time with my daughter, playing or taking long slow walks outside. I reconnected to God and am strengthening my spirituality. I read a variety of books that give me ideas about what solitude is and how to do it. When I walk or run outside, I leave my headphones at home now. I reserve one day per month when nothing is on my calendar; it's a day for me to do whatever I feel like doing that day, even if that means doing nothing. I'm releasing old assumptions, beliefs, and stories about how I am "supposed" to be living my life. I am letting go of the expectations that come along with being an over-achiever. I spend time reflecting on what I most wanted my life to look like and how I want to feel.
I'm certainly not perfect yet. There are still some days where I work more hours than I intend to. But overall, I'm allowing much more time for other priorities besides just work. I'm getting better about leaving my desk by 5:00 so I can spend a few hours with my family in the evenings. Sometimes this means I leave unfinished tasks at my desk for the next day, and I'm okay with that. I am getting better about not taking on too much at one time, and scheduling time for those things that have real, not artificial, deadlines. When I need a day off, I take a day off. I've come a long way in my comfort with rest and solitude and I no longer feel "bored" when I'm not doing anything.
I'm also learning more about myself. Through personal reflection, I'm becoming more aware of which parts of me are real and which false parts I've created over time. I'm becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Rather than just rushing along and skimming the surface, I'm starting to go deeper in life, in my experiences, in my relationships. And I'm enjoying life much more.
Find Your Right Speed
In Praise of Slowness, Honoré encourages us to slow down, which does not necessarily mean slowing down in every aspect of life. He suggests we slow down where it makes sense for us, and to do what we need to do at the right speed. He reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for this; everyone must choose the right pace that works for them and makes them happy. "The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections - with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds."
How about you?
What has your experience been with hurried-ness and busyness?
How comfortable are you with stillness, solitude, and rest?
In what ways do you nourish your soul?
How do you maintain meaningful connections with people, with your work, and with yourself?
What is done in love is done well.
The overall intention I set for myself in 2015, which will guide all other intentions, connect to my core values, and move me toward the vision I have for my life, is to Choose Love.
It's not that I've been anti-love, exactly. But as a recovering OVER-achiever, I spent a long stretch of my life putting myself and what I wanted at the center of everything. And not like in a healthy, I-need-to-fill-my-bucket-before-I-can-effectively-serve-others, self-care-focused kind of way. I was on a mission to create a to-do list for every aspect of my life, and then check things off as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, tending to relationships was at the bottom of my list.
In Strengths-Finder speak, my talents of Responsibility, Learner, Achiever, and Maximizer meant that I took on everything. I wanted to soak up every new opportunity to increase my knowledge. I needed to check something off my list every day. And I do mean every day. And my arranger theme helped me keep track of everything. If I wasn't at work, then there were projects to be done at home. If I was on vacation, there were things to do and see. I truly did not know what it meant to relax.
These very talents contributed to success in my career. Add in high expectations, sprinkle in some extra passion and drive, and you had the recipe for a high-producing machine. Because I received recognition from others for getting stuff done and delivering results, I continued building up this over-achieving persona.
I kept receiving praise for my ability to deliver results, AND I started to see a new message woven in to the feedback I received. At different times, from different people, the gist of this new feedback was:
Ouch! Once the sting wore off, I realized the truth behind the message. I started making slight shifts in how I interacted with people. At work, I'd start meetings with a bit of banter instead of diving into the agenda. I started focusing on strengthening relationships and connecting with new people. I began focusing on what people needed and how I could help people instead of only worrying about the task that needed to be done. I began allowing for flexibility and adapting my style to meet others where they were. Over the last few years, I've started to notice shifts not only in my relationships, but also in how I used these very talents.
I've been doing some heavy lifting in the personal growth space. I'm getting more comfortable with the unknown. I'm leaning into fears. I'm becoming more at ease in the uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying space of allowing vulnerability into my relationships.
When you live most of your life with a brick wall around your heart, it takes awhile to begin to open it up. It's literally taking down one brick at a time. But this year, I'm going to knock down the wall.
This year, I am choosing love as the place to start - for everything. I'll put aside hurry, impatience, distraction, and grudges. I'll express love through presence, patience, forgiveness, and service. I'll lead with curiosity, listen with an open heart, and seek to serve.
This won't be an overnight change; it'll be an evolution. I'll try new things. I'll make mistakes, I'll regroup and try again. It's really all any of us can do. We aren't perfect, no one is.
The beauty of setting intentions is that we don't know *exactly* what the end state will look like. But we have a picture of how we want to be living our life, how we want to *be* in life. And we take small steps every day, every moment to move us toward that intention. We know it in our heart and gut when we've done something that doesn't align. We correct it, we forgive ourselves, and we move forward.
What is your intention for 2015?
How do you want to *be* in relationship to others?
What words do you want people to use to describe you?
Be you. Grow with purpose. Flourish in life.