A nagging voice in the back of my mind tells me I shouldn't be writing this blog post. As I type, in my kitchen there is a crock pot half full of leftover chicken dinner that needs packaged for lunch tomorrow and cleaned. And yet I'm choosing to let it sit on the counter. It's a perfect reminder of why this post is so important.
I recently read an article about how difficult it is to avoid burnout, especially for women. This may seem like the most obvious understatement, but it got me thinking about what we can to do take back control of our lives in a society that seems determined to keep us whipped into a perpetual frenzy. Here are three habits I'll be practicing in the new year to set a pace on my terms:
1) Stop wearing "busy" as a badge of honor. Think back to your conversations over the holidays. When friends or family asked how you were doing, how often did you reply with "busy" or some variation of detailing how hectic your life is? When we reduce ourselves to the contents of our inbox and calendars, we reinforce the expectation that "busy" is the ideal lifestyle. The more we perpetuate the myth that "busy" is better, the more we add to our own frustrations and stress.
Instead of automatically responding this way without thinking next time you're asked, try choosing a more personal or positive response. How might your outlook on life change if you told others you were grateful rather than bemoaning hectic schedules? These conversations are opportunities to reaffirm the great things happening in your life or share what's really going on rather than the superficial exchanges we've come to accept.
2) Give others grace to slow down their pace. I was recently blessed with a vacation where I didn't check my work email for TWO WEEKS! The last time I got to disconnect like this I was on maternity leave, which is no break at all! What made the experience all the more amazing is that I didn't have piles of work to catch up on since my colleagues were also on break. While we may not all have this luxury of going "off the grid" entirely, we can give ourselves and others a chance to slow down.
This starts with communication and being clear in your expectations of others. Most things we need personally or professionally aren't urgent emergencies. If you've asked someone for help with a project, be proactive and direct in letting them know when you need a response so they don't have to assume everything needs immediate attention. Plan ahead so you don't have to send others into a panic putting out a fire that could have been prevented with prior forethought. It sounds simple, but time spent being patient with those around us will eventually come full circle.
Not only should we give room for others to work at their own pace, we can be vocal in sharing our own efforts to prevent burnout. Did you spend an entire day in your pajamas watching Netflix? Although you might have enjoyed every minute of it, I'm guessing it didn't make your social media feed. Again, communication is key to destigmatizing doing less. Are you leaving work early to pick up a sick child from school? Don't quietly slink away from the office hoping nobody notices you're having to make family a priority. Let others know what is going on and don't immediately feel guilty you can't be in both places at once. Next time you spend a day enjoying a hobby or doing something not viewed as "productive," boast about it! The more we talk about the perfectly natural needs to take care of ourselves, the more normal it will become to celebrate a slower pace.
3) Accept help, even if it means giving up control. This is a hard one for me to follow as a perfectionist. My tendency is to fly from one project into the next, taking all the work on myself and then getting frustrated when I don't feel I have any help. My husband has lovingly pointed out to me that sometimes I don't give him a chance to support me. This was hard to hear at first. Couldn't he see the dishes or the laundry or the homework that to me, clearly needed done? But once I started to practice restraint and leaving things for him to do, he stepped up and took care of them. Sure, the chores may not always have happened exactly how I would have done them, but they got done. CPS didn't show up at my house because I had unwashed dishes in the sink. My kids didn't flunk out of school because their dad helped them with their spelling words instead of me. Building myself into a martyr only hurts me and the people I'm ultimately trying to help. Most of the time, done is better than perfect. If you deny others the chance to support you, nothing will grow except your frustration, stress, and anxiety. Don't shortchange the people you care about by taking away their opportunities to be needed. By giving your team a chance to contribute to your personal and professional success, you are giving them an opportunity to learn, improve, and find meaning.
They say the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing it exists. I'm sure it's easy for us all to admit we're busier than we'd like to be, but it's harder to figure out a solution. As women we often seek permission even when it may not be warranted. I hope that by giving others permission to take care of themselves, I can follow my own advice and set better boundaries around my priorities- dirty dishes and all.