Over the course of my life thus far, I have spent a lot of time saying “it can wait.” I thought I was making “responsible” and “non-selfish” choices, attempting to plan and orchestrate my life. I have realized that it CAN’T wait. The it is me. My life. My happiness.
There is a fine line between doing good for others and martyrdom. As a trained and organic helper, I am often able to sense what others need and usually I gladly provide what I can in terms of resources (financial, social, emotional). Often times at the end of the day I had done nothing just for me.
My wake-up call came in the form of physical and mental exhaustion. Pure and simple. I was empty. My partner asked me what do I do for fun, you know to refill my energy stores, I had no answer. I had taken childhood past-times and new hobbies and made them competitive. I was no longer reading just for fun–it became part of my career. I started planning tennis to have a social outlet and ended up worrying about how to win two out of three courts at states. I started swimming and riding bikes to improve my health, and turned that into a race against my own best time and a foray into sprint triathlons. In the events that I thought I was doing to refuel, I was actually draining myself further as I had framed them as something I had to “master”, not just something to do.
I stumbled across my mental fun block when a friend invited me to her house to paint. As I stared at the blank canvas, I was gripped with fear. What will I paint? What is the “right” way to do it? What is it’s wrong? What if I make a mistake? I pushed through my fear and attacked the canvas ferociously with purple. I immediately regretted my decision as I decided I wanted to do a sky scene. My friend said “paint over it.” I initially starred at her in shock, and then I began to repaint the canvas. As I watched the purple transform into blue I was freed from my own mental trappings of perfectionism and judgment. Who cares what I actually painted? The product was, and still remains, less important then the process of learning to let go.
Those three hours of restorative time allowed me an opportunity to become more grounded and more focused. I realized my life can’t wait. As I result of my mini-epiphany, I have learned the following:
Find your fun. Daily. Laughter and fun are important for the soul. Give yourself time to find the joy in the simple things of life. Taking a walk, feeling the sun on your face, or reading a good book. Don’t put off your fun until…there will never be a perfect time to be imperfectly you.
Make sure you refill your jug. If you are one of those people who continues to give to others, you will find yourself empty if you don’t find a way to refill. Your emptiness may manifest itself in multiple ways–physical illness, sadness, irritability.
Learn the magic of the word “no.” Everything you are offered may not be for you. Learn to say “no” to invitations to participate on projects, go to movies, or attend events. Take your time and consider if these offers align with your goals. Others will always find time for you to help advance their dreams, and that’s all you will advance if you are not careful.
There is no right or wrong path to your happiness and only you know the way; however, walking that path takes determination, strength and conviction. Learning to be free enough to make mistakes, and just simply start again. Commit to putting you first today. Just keep reminding yourself that it can’t wait.