For the last few years, I have been feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, dissatisfied, and generally unhappy in my life despite the blessings of stable employment, health, professional achievement, and a loving family. I am still too young for it to be a “mid-life” crisis/malaise, so what gives? When I took a step back to figure out what was going on, I realized what my problem was; I was doing too much and investing too much of myself into other people and activities, instead of remembering to give back to myself. I know many of you are like me, taking on responsibilities, duties, and/or volunteering for things that you don’t really need to do; plus working full-time, maintaining a relationship, possibly raising kids, trying to stay healthy, hanging out with your friends, and on and on and on.
As for me, I was working full-time, on my children’s school’s PTA, on three organizational boards, and in three fellowships that ran simultaneously, went to the gym regularly, was training for races, attending all of my children’s school and extra-curricular events, mentoring and career counseling junior colleagues, trying to write, and carry my weight on the home front. Suffice it to say I was doing way too much and it had to stop. Even though I enjoyed the things I was doing individually, collectively they were making me miserable. I no longer slept peacefully, had no patience, lost my sense of humor, and felt on the verge of meltdown at any moment. I had to course correct and I had to do it fast. Here is what I did to find my way back to me and to happiness. Disclaimer: I’m still working on it but have come a long way and am motivated to proceed along this path.
Letting Go of Unnecessary Responsibilities: The first step I took was to prioritize the activities I was involved in and figure out what I could stop doing. It wasn’t easy but it was necessary. I had to de-clutter my life and to do that I had to let certain things go. I resigned from two boards I served on, but of course recruited and put forward a successor for both. I stopped chasing every shiny new opportunity and decided to “chill” and focus on completing the remaining opportunities I was still involved with i.e. the fellowships. Now, I am only on one board and my term ends this coming summer and all of the fellowships have concluded. At this point I have no plans to pursue in the near-term further leadership positions on neither organizational boards nor new fellowships. I need to be in “chill” mode for a while.
Learning to Say No: I realized that I am a “yes” person, a person who can’t say no. You want a mentor you got that, oh you need me to bake cookies for the class, I’m on it, you want me to serve on this volunteer board of an organization that has absolutely no relation to anything I am doing in life, I am your woman, etc. I also admit that I like to get involved, I’m a doer, that’s just me, it’s who I am. However, there is a cost to always doing and my time is valuable, as there is precious little of it to spare. So I became more covetous of my time by “reclaiming” it and investing it in myself and the people and activities that truly matter. Don’t get me wrong, my inclination is still to say yes and to get involved, but for my own peace of mind, happiness, and energy, I have learned to say no and yes to me instead.
Making Time for Me: With the time I’ve reclaimed I’ve returned to doing things I like doing, things that bring me joy. As a result, I am more stress-free, energetic, sleeping restfully again, and generally happy. I try to carve out at least an hour a day (or more) for myself. With that time I go to the gym, read a book, play with my kids, catch up with a friend, surf the internet, write something, watch a movie and cuddle with the hubby, or any number of things I had put on the shelf prior in favor of doing things for other people and organizations.
I am a reforming “yes” person (because I am doing less, have learned to say no, and have made myself a priority once again), and there is no looking back. I have committed to a path of recharging, rejuvenation, and reclaiming the happier version of the person I was before taking on all of those self-imposed unnecessary responsibilities and tasks. Happier days and a happier life beckon and I am all in and I hope you are able to do the same for you.