On Doing Less
If there’s ever a time in my life to be all the things and do everything I set my mind to, it’s now, right?
I leave for work at 7, so if I want to go to the gym, I’ll go at 5 am. But I don’t want to neglect my spiritual or emotional self either, so I bought a nine-week Bible study to take a crack at. And I still want to be a writer, so I carry a notebook in my bag, and I’ve signed up for panels and lectures and events to get inspired by other writers. I’m still a little lonely, in the post-grad way where college doesn’t feel far away but I’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to the distance of my friends—so I think I should get involved with something, dance classes maybe, just a few times a month. And I should also save money to travel with friends, too, visit people in their new homes. Don’t worry, I’ll still respond to your text and do my laundry and remember my grandparents’ birthdays and stay late in the office to catch up on reading. And yes, of course I’ll get seven hours of sleep every night.
Then a week passes, then two, and then I realize I haven't cracked open to Bible study book, and I've double-booked my calendar more than once, and I'm wiped from waking up early but not adjusting my bedtime. Almost without my noticing, all of the balls in my court have dropped and rolled far, far away.
Suddenly—or not so suddenly—I just want to shirk it all and sleep.
I’m getting really tired. This isn’t the first time.
I remember one semester of college in particular when I felt inside-out tired. If there was ever a time to be all the things, it was then. I was a second-semester junior gunning for good grades and an internship; I had friends to catch up with after being away for a semester abroad; I had started to take on leadership roles and bigger commitments. There was so much going on. But I could totally handle it.
Except that I couldn’t. Exhaustion thickened behind my eyes. I was tired and listless and different, in a way that even now is hard to articulate. It wasn’t depression, not to the degree I’ve seen in friends and loved ones. But I know that I found myself saying “I miss you” to my best friends, my support network, because I hadn’t made time for them in weeks, because I had stretched myself too thin just trying to keep up with the image of the person I wanted to be. I had standards for myself that were too high for me to keep at that phase of my life.
Right now, I am still ridiculously happy in my work. I quite enjoy living at home. I have wonderful friends. I miss college, but I love where I am in this chapter. But I want to push my limits, be more than I’ve always been, take advantage of being young and uninhibited and post-grad. I have so many big dreams and a ton of privilege and opportunity. Why wouldn’t I take advantage?
Because I am tired.
I think it takes a certain type of person to be able to successfully strive for every goal she dreams of. I think it takes another type of person entirely to give up and just say, “Well, I didn’t need that anyway,” and refocus on just what’s in front of her. But I want to be in the middle. I want to be able to successfully put some of my goals on the back burner.
It’s not giving up. It’s not an inability to prioritize. It’s a reassessment of those sky-high standards. It’s looking really closely at myself and saying, “I believe in me. But today, I will just do what I have to do. I will wake up, and get to work on time, and do the important things that need to be done, and take a deep breath if the to-do list isn’t all crossed off by tomorrow. Tomorrow, if I just need to do what I have to do, that’s okay. And the day after that, and the day after that. I will do what I have to do, until I can handle doing it. And until that’s done, everything else can wait.”
If I really did all the things I wanted to do—a workout regimen, a religious commitment, a serious writer, hip-hop dance—I would be so thrilled. I would be fulfilled. Doing all those things, to me, looks like endless success. I can picture, I can feel, what my life would be like if I brought all of my goals to fruition, and it would be awesome.
But right now, if I tried, I would run out of hours in a day. I would find myself in that gray Boston winter again, stretched thin like a hair tie that’s going to break any second now but you know you can twist it one more time. Sometimes, if you twist it one more time, it snaps.
I am learning what I can handle in this new chapter. Too often, it’s less than what I want for myself. But when I look at myself and evaluate the demands on my time and on my heart, I know there are choices to be made. And I make them, and I say a prayer they’re the right ones in this moment, and I keep the back burner on those big dreams for when I come home again.
I’m listening to A Chorus Line right now:
Kiss today goodbye, and point me towards tomorrow.
We did what we had to do—
Won’t forget, can’t regret, what I did for love.
I’m doing what I have to do. I’m waking up early to get to a job I love. Sometimes I don’t work out, or skip a day of Bible study, or make exceptions to my rules. If there’s ever a time to not be all the things, and do only what I can bear to do and call it self-love, it’s now.
I won’t forget that. I can’t regret that. Because I am happy.
And guess what? One day, I’m going to write a book. And I’m going to be able to run for miles without stopping. And I’m going to know God even better. And I’m going to get older and pray I get wiser. For right now, I’m going to do what I have to do, until I’m ready to go after everything I want out of this life.