It's December. Take a breath.
I hit a wall in late November, and I hit it hard. I was in the middle of a stretch that becomes brutal for time and task management every year. It is celebratory, but it is overwhelming. Multiple family birthdays, including my own and my three kids’, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve - all on top of the ordinary busyness of work, school, and family activities. Oof, it hurts just typing that out.
The week that I crashed was right in the middle of all this. I was coming off two overnight on-calls and a paper due for my chaplaincy program. These were followed by 3/5 of my family having strep, two road trips, and Thanksgiving. Of all things, in that mess of responsibilities and fun, I found myself resenting…my twins birthday. Party communications, presents, cakes for two…it was all too much for me to handle gracefully. Mother of the year! And that - the fact that a family celebration had become joyless for me - made me incredibly angry.
The good news is that anger can be clarifying, and it has been for me recently. It made me realize that I can refuse the busyness and lost joy. In fact, I must refuse it. That single week was a perfect picture of the life I don’t want to lead, and that truth called me into a hard gut check:
What am I going to prioritize this month, next year, this life?
As both a coach and a chaplain (and as a human), I know that paralyzing busyness is too real for many of us, especially in mid-life. The meeting is tomorrow, the presentation is today, my kids are hungry, mom’s nurse needs Thursday off, the party is Saturday, my team is frustrated about god knows what, and everyone is forming a line outside my door.
It’s exhausting. Even on the good days - when we are engaged at work, we like our colleagues, everyone is healthy, and we’re in harmony with our loved ones - we are tired. So very tired.
In fact, we are even too tired to ask ourselves whether we are happy. Do we like the lives we have created? Do we want this? What must we give up to change? Would we dare? Whom would we hurt? Is that ever okay? These questions are hard. In fact, they are the hardest questions….and we are too tired to give them the attention we know they deserve.
These questions - and this stuff we are too tired for - are at the heart of life. We deserve to experience them fully. But how?
Look, I know this seems a big hill to climb in all your fatigue. (Yay! Yet another thing to do, or feel guilty about not doing.) I’m right there with you. And I refuse to impose the expectation of perfectly evolved mindfulness on myself, much less you or anyone else. That only adds to the heap, which helps exactly no one.
Still, even with all that in mind, we aren’t powerless. Here’s what we can do:
Embrace this breath-catching as a lifelong project.
This is not something reserved for moments of crisis. Think of runners pacing themselves for a marathon, or of swimmers breathing intentionally within their stroke. It’s not a fix; it’s a foundation.
Liberate yourself from the pressure to create perfect moments for finding peace.
Real talk? Your “busy period” is ongoing, things rarely “settle down,” one big project bleeds into the next, and vacations never feel long enough. So, say it with me: Fuck perfection. Seriously, fuuuuuuck it. Feels good, right? This we can do. This can be real.
Play with inefficiency.
The key word here is PLAY. Make yourself do something inefficiently on purpose, and then laugh at how painful that is for you. I recently began making myself place one dish at a time when unloading the dishwasher. It’s ridiculous, and it makes the chore take three times as long. I don’t do it every time, but when I do I marvel at how weird it feels - and then revel in the luxury of that. It feels so naughty! And that’s fun. Fun is good.
Initiate “the pause.”
This is a mindfulness technique, designed to create some breathing room in the midst of busyness, heaviness, conflict, and other stressful situations. I first learned about it in my chaplaincy training. The idea is to intentionally stop what you are doing, lift your eyes from the task at hand, and just…take a breath. A literal deep breath will clear your mind and heart for the most important things when you unpause, just a few seconds later. And the best part? You can do it anywhere, no yoga mat required.
Rest easy in the knowledge that you are whole, and you are good.
Even when things fall apart, you get it wrong, you forget your line, everyone’s upset, and you know you could do better…you are human, and you are enough. To quote one of my all-time heroes:
You can do these things right now.
You, not your boss, or your board, or your spouse, or your team, or some other VIP.
Right now, not when you are on vacation, or no longer busy, or the stars align.
Go. Do. Be gentle with yourself. And know you are loved, by me. For real.