Thursday, September 16, 2010

Overwhelmed Much? Here's a Tip...

Yesterday I got a phone call from my older sister Tina, who now lives in Alabama.  Despite not getting too many breaks in life, she really is amazing.  In addition to being a single mom, having given birth to ger first child at the young age of 42, she also has a demanding full-time job and is working on a degree through the University of Phoenix.

I barely got out a “hello” when she started reading me her current assignment, a tinge of desperation in her voice.  Feeling overwhelmed, she wasn't sure she understood the question -- let alone the solution.  Yet, pretty quickly I was to help her break the problem down into manageable bits, find her confidence and realise she actually knew the answers.

I have to admit that it’s somewhat gratifying when Tina calls me asking for homework advice. Growing up, she was “cool.”  Me?  Um, not so much. I was a Glee kid.  It makes me happy when my geekiness adds value.

Despite being considered a few fries short of a Happy Meal when we were kids, the truth is that my sister is smart.

I’ll never forget when Tina first moved down south from Boston. She called home after being there maybe two weeks.   In her quickly adopted southern drawl she explained, “All these years everyone told me I was slow. Turns out, I was just born in the wrong part of the country.”

In our conversation yesterday, she also shared that she's trying to figure out how to best balance motherhood, work, school and her own wellness.

I live for these conversations of course.   (Thus, the blog.  Hello.)

Let's discuss...

- Have you ever felt overwhelmed?
- Have you become controlled by endless to-do lists? 
- Do you worry that maybe you can't do it all?
- Do you sometimes wonder if everyone else around you is completely oblivious?
- Have you ever hoped that someone else might actually appreciate that you are doing it all?

Like with Tina's homework assignment, sometimes we just need a manageable view of what is in front of us and the belief in ourselves that we can do it. (Perspective, prioritization, confidence...yada, yada, yada.)

However, lately I've been really focused on that last question about appreciation. Sometimes the truth hurts. Whether it’s our kids or our partner or our boss; the reality is that they really don’t have a full appreciation for what we do every flippin’ day.  

Hey - it's our own fault. We do way too much for everyone else and make it look too damn easy to boot.   Can we really complain about people crossing boundaries which we've neglected to set?
It's only natural that people take for granted what they’ve come to expect as the status quo.

Oh, they will say they appreciate you.   My husband (and my kids and my boss) might actually be offended at the insinuation that they don't appreciate me.

If you ask me if I appreciate having electricity, I would say “yes.” Of course I do honey.

But the truth is that on a day-to-day basis, I've taken for granted that the lights come on, the fridge keeps food cold and the toilet flushes.

UNTIL 70 mph winds come through and rip down the power lines so all of that is gone for two days, such as happened in my neighborhood this past weekend. Yikes.

Your life balance lesson for today is ridiculously simple:  DO LESS.

This means setting boundaries before your sanity blows away to the Land of Oz. (And, before you become the Wicked Witch of the Western hemisphere.)

As soon as you have the sense that you’re doing way too much and you are losing that precious inner balance – trust that feeling and make a change.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

Whining doesn’t count. (Did somebody call a waaa-mbulance?)

We’re "doing it all" because we’ve created that pattern.   But why?  Why oh why have we gotten ourselves into this unmanageable situation?   More importantly, how do we get out of it?

Here are three myths which get us into trouble at both work and home:

   1. If I want it done right, I have to do it myself. You know that whole confidence = capacity thing I am always blathering on about? That applies to our confidence in others as well. The people in our lives are way more capable than we give them credit for.  Stop being such a freakin' control freak.

   2. If I admit I can’t do it all, they won’t love me. Attention fellow perfectionists and over-achievers: There is no one on this earth holding you anywhere near the standard to which you are holding yourself.  Let it go.

   3. If I don’t do it, nobody will. The main reason nobody else is doing it, is because you are. Unfortunately, the idea of just not doing it and seeing if anyone will pick up the slack doesn't work. (I tried going on "strike" from doing laundry once; my husband just started buying new clothes.)   Sadly, if you want others to take over some stuff, you will need to ask them to do it.  If you're thinking, “I shouldn’t need to ask.” Get over it. You do.

Rest assured that when you start setting boundaries, you may meet resistance for obvious reasons.  Or not. I have definitely been surprised before. (See #1)  

Bottom line is to tune in and know when what you are doing is not sustainable. Although most likely you created it, know that it is also within your power to make it better.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

I Know He's a Jerk but I Love Him

February 2009
One thing you'll learn about me is that I travel a lot for business. On every flight, there’s the part where the flight attendant tells us that if the oxygen mask comes down, to put our own mask on first and then help others with their masks.

I love flying Southwest when they say, “If you have more than one child, now is a good time to pick a favorite.”   But I digress.

We probably all know someone who is living the equivalent of slowly suffocating to death while they hold the oxygen mask onto someone else’s face. They constantly do for others before themselves to the point of exhaustion, frustration or even depression.

A key component of my Personal Strategic Management methodology is that YOU are the central point of energy.

YOU have the find the energy source within yourself and nurture that to the point that no matter what else is going on around you, you will survive and thrive. This is not only possible but absolutely vital if you are going to love this limited and undetermined time on earth.

For my martyrs out there… no matter how much you think your purpose in life is to help everyone around you, what I’m telling you is the absolute truth. If you turn blue, everyone else is screwed.

(** OVERSHARE WARNING**)  Here’s a little story about how I started figuring this out:

It was the early `90’s and I was married to my first husband.  He was an alcoholic with multiple other addictions.  Let’s call him “Jim.”  Admittedly I came into the marriage with a self-storage bin of emotional baggage and no key.  But Jim was also a professional manipulator.  No matter what he did or what we fought about, I’d end up apologizing.  My self-esteem at an all time low, Jim had me convinced that if I left him I’d be alone forever because no one else would want me.

Eventually I started seeking support in a quest to change my reality. To be honest, what I was searching for was how to change him.

I proclaimed, “I know he’s a jerk, but I love him!”

I resisted the unsympathetic feedback I received, particularly from a counselor who often reminded me, “Um, yeah… but he’s still a jerk. Just so you know, that part probably won’t change.”

One day I was sitting in a Friendly’s restaurant commiserating with a friend from Al-Anon about how different my life would be if only Jim would stop doing what he was doing and if only he would go to therapy and if only he would do x, y, z.

I recited scripts of carefully crafted conversations I would conduct to make him wake up and finally admit, “Oh wow – I’m so sorry. I’m SUCH a jerk.”

I was desperately trying to get some sense of control.  I was convinced that my happiness depended upon having a happy marriage and that to have that, Jim would need to get with the program.

My Friendly's friend who was herself a “recovered codependent” patiently listened to me cry and rant and ramble.

Finally she took a last sip of coffee, pointed to a server nearby and said, “Do you see that waitress?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“Do you think you have any control over what she thinks or feels or what she is going to do after work?” my friend asked.

Of course I acknowledged I had no control over the waitress whatsoever.

She continued, “So what makes you think you have any more control over Jim, than you do of that waitress?”

I think about what she said next constantly:

The only person you can control and are guaranteed to be with twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for the rest of your life, is YOU.  You better make damn sure you are happy with that person.  If you’re not, you don't have a chance in hell at true happiness.”

Okay, so I know some of you are thinking, “Take care of you. No kidding. I already learned that from Oprah.”

But just think about it.   What's the external thing in your life that you secretly feel is keeping you from being as happy as you could be?    Maybe your job or your boss is the problem?   Maybe this "difficult economic climate" is the problem?   Your mother-in-law?   Your teenager?

It is possible to get to a place where no matter what our expectations are of those around us or our external situation, we have the ability to be content.  From that place of balance, we are better able to positively affect our own lives and the world around us from the inside out.

True life balance is internal.

Carpe diem,
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Warn the Neighbors - It's Back2Blogging Time!

Over the next several days, I'll be participating in an event called "Back to Blogging" along with all my fabulous SITStahs .  

I am determined to be more diligent with this challenge than the last couple I kinda sorta tried to do. 

In addition to lots of other rules that I am sure not to remember, there is some specified blogging we need to do each day.  In line with my own life balance strategy, I am going to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) and just focus on the writing assignments.  This may ruin my chances to win the Electrolux washer and dryer which is up for grabs, but hopefully the exercise will still be interesting for y'all. 

So... here is what you have to put up with look forward to over the next week or so:

     * Monday, September 13:  I must re-post the first thing I ever wrote on my blog.

     * Tuesday, September 14:  I must re-post a piece I wish more people had read and explain why it was important to me.

     * Wednesday, September 15: I must re-upload a post with a title that I am particularly proud of and explain why.

     * Thursday, September 16: I must write a new post about a woman who inspires me.

     * Friday, September 17: I must write about what blogging means to me. Why do I blog? What purpose does it serve me and how have I benefited from sharing a piece of myself online this way?

If you are a fellow blogger, feel free to play along and leave a link to your post in the comments.   I'll be sure to check out your posts as well!

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Winning the Game (Set & Match) of Life

Did I mention that my work commute is 50 miles each way?  It's a journey that can take an hour or two or three.  It all depends on day, time, weather, and how much the universe wants to screw with me at any particular moment. 

Thank goodness for podcasts.  I have a few special favorites:
     * Get-It-Done Guy
     * Grammar Girl
     * Car Talk
     * NPR Fresh Air (as well as All Things Considered, This American Life, etc.)
     * The Onion Radio News

My fabulous pod friends help pass the time whilst also teaching me how to "work less and do more" and how not to butcher the English language.  (Mind you I am known to break the rules intentionally.  Creative license and all that.)  Thanks to podcasts, I also know what to do when my 'check engine' light comes on and am fairly current on the world around me, both real and satirical. 

It's a beautiful thing indeed.  Particularly since drinking while driving is illegal.  I need something to keep my mind off the long parade of brake lights, horn honking and other related annoyances.

So, yesterday I was wading in an endless sea of cars, all also heading north for the long Labor Day weekend.  I found myself fantasizing about a world where there is a "fast lane" for people who actually need to get home vs. those who are in no real hurry except to swim, cook meat and drink beer all weekend. 

I'll admit it. I struggled to stay in my happy place.  I'm only human ya know.

Luckily, Terry Gross at NPR came to my rescue with a Fresh Air rebroadcast.  Perhaps technically a rebroadcast podcast; a 2009 interview with Andre Agassi.  (I'm tempted to clarify "the tennis star" after his name but seriously, who doesn't know that?)

Although I never read his memoir Open, I remember the swirl around the drugs, the pain and the myriad of relationships, including his overly-driven father and one Blue Lagoon actress.  And of course, the hairpiece which always makes me think of Gallagher, who had a similar pseudo-coiffure.

In retrospect, I may have even heard this specific interview when it aired the first time.  The ol' brain cells just aren't what they used to be so it's hard to say for sure. 

Yet, one piece of the conversation really piqued my interest this time around.  (This is not to be confused with having my interest "peaked" or "peeked."  Thanks Grammar Girl!)  

Agassi was talking about his coach, Gil, whom he described as both his physical trainer and his "soul trainer."  (Love that!)   Early on, Gil questioned why Andre was doing the kind of training he was doing.  Specially, why he was running five miles a day when the game of tennis was about constant starting and stopping; a totally different set of skills and muscle conditioning.   Gil got him to start focusing on working the muscles and skills which were in alignment with the game he wanted to win.

It made me think about the kind of fitness conditioning I do every day.  (Yes, I am using the phrase "every day" very loosely.)  Does my workout routine align with the needs of my life?  I don't play tennis or any sport for that matter but even normal life has physical demands.    For example, I need to have enough energy to work 15 hours straight if needed, be able to sit without back pain for long periods of time and lift / carry a fifty pound child.   Sometimes two. 

I also have this weird goal to live and enjoy said heavy children for as many years as possible.  

To achieve my goals, I clearly need to engage in activities which build endurance, core strength and overall health.

Although Agassi was talking about physical conditioning, you don't have to be Oprah to make the connection about how this applies to the mental, spiritual and emotional as well. 

In my life balance methodology, "Personal Strategic Management" my mantra is that true life balance is internal.

That means that my thoughts, words and actions all need to be in alignment.   For example, if I exercise an hour a day but then look in the mirror and say, "Holy crap, my legs look like cottage cheese!" or "I am SO tired. Look at these bags!"  Not in alignment. 

It's kinda like drinking a diet coke with a donut. 

Tying it back to the Agassi thing... what I say, think and feel has to be working towards the "muscle tone" of my mental health and happiness, in the same way that my fitness routine needs to meet the physical demands of my life.

So, food for thought: 
   Do the activities you engage in every day support your mental, physical, emotional, spiritual goals? 
   Do your thoughts, feelings, words and actions put you in the position to win at the game of life?

Carpe diem,
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