A few years ago. I was running myself ragged, trying to excel at work, be there for the 30 people who reported to me, run a massive transformation project, but also pick my kids up from school, help them with homework, get dinner on the table, oh and also have some kind of life. Can you relate?
I had taken 2 weeks off from work for the Christmas break, and a few days before my scheduled return I started having panic attacks. The panic attacks continued every morning for weeks. I remember sitting on a chair in our closet having trouble catching my breath, and telling my husband I just couldn’t do it anymore. I then proceeded to finish getting ready and head out the door…for another. seven. months.
I was unhappy. I felt very much under appreciated and overworked. I felt like I was failing my family, and I had somehow lost myself in trying to be everything for everyone else. I called my husband one day and said “I’m done, I’m quitting.” Let’s be honest, I called him almost everyday saying this same thing. For whatever reason, this particular day it took. I gave my notice without another job to go to. I felt irresponsible, and guilty, but free. The weight I carried lifted the second I told my boss I was leaving.
It took me 2 months to muster up the courage to take another position. I was afraid I was going to feel that way again as soon as I went back to work, and I was terrified. Something broke in me, or perhaps I finally realized the life I was living was broken and had to be fixed.
Since then, I’ve taken to heart what I already knew to be true. You cannot pour from an empty cup. As women we tend to give until there is nothing left, and in addition to that, I have a tendency to say yes, when I should really say no. I learned a lot about the life I want to live, and how to intentionally make sure I am cultivating the life I want and not ending up with a different life because I said yes too often to everyone but myself.
Here are three things I put into practice that helped me learn when to say yes, and how to keep my cup full.
1. I Date Myself
I know, sounds strange but it has been THE most important thing for keeping my soul fed. It’s was easy (and really enjoyable) once I dropped the guilt and made the time.
The first thing to do is schedule time for yourself once per week. PUT IT ON THE CALENDAR! This is a critical meeting, think of it as a meeting with your boss. Your boss isn’t going to cancel or reschedule, and you can’t flake out. Also, this is NOT a double date, do not bring a friend, or your spouse, or your child. JUST YOU!
You only need 15 minutes, but you can take as much time as you like. Start small, and work your way up. The purpose of this date is to get to know yourself again, and to spend time doing things you enjoy. Here are a few ideas to start with if you aren’t sure where to begin.
Take a bath. Kick the kids out of the house, turn on some music, light a candle…you get the idea.
Go to your favorite coffee shop and read a book, write in a journal, or just sit.
Check out the latest exhibit at the museum.
Go for a walk, maybe bring your camera and snap some pics of the flowers.
Turn up the music and dance around the house (again, kick the kids out).
Take that class you’ve always wanted to take (dance, Italian lessons, painting).
Get a massage, or a facial, or both!
2. I Write Everyday
Let me preface this by saying, I AM NOT A WRITER, but I do write in a journal almost everyday. It is an exercise in getting everything that is spinning in my head, out.
Try to write 3 pages every morning, first thing when you get up. It can be in a journal or on loose leaf pages, and there are really no rules at all except to do it daily, and try to hit 3 pages. This is a brain dump, it isn’t meant to make sense, it only serves as a release.
Don’t over think it. I literally have pages upon pages of profanity. I have some pages where I just looped my pen around on the paper and made scratches. Just fill three pages. If you write something eloquent, great. But more often than not it’s going to be garbage and that is just as great. Also, under no circumstances should you EVER go back and read what you wrote. Nope, don’t do it. Burn it (or at least throw it away).
I love this exercise because it clears my head. Once I’m done, I no longer have grocery lists, and to-do’s running through my head and stressing me out because I’m never going to get to it all, and most of it isn’t actually important.
3. I Found my Words
Through my dates, and my journal writings I rediscovered myself, and found what I call “My Words.” They are 2-3 words that describe how I want to feel most often. I use my words to decide when to say yes, and when to say no. I say yes to things that light me up, like 10-day trips to Italy with my family, and living a minimalistic life. I say no to things that feel unnecessarily complicated.
My words are: Simple and Beautiful. Sometimes I add Bold, Adventurous, or Light.
I use these words to make decisions in my life. If the decision helps me to have a simple, beautiful (or perhaps adventurous) life, then I do it. If it doesn't, I don't. Most recently, I've been using these words to build a capsule wardrobe, and I am loving how my style is coming together! Lots of easy to wear, easy to clean, mix-and-match, and pack items (I have a bit of an addiction to travel).
I’m happy to report, I feel more like myself today than I have in many many years! I hope, if you are struggling with all the demands of life, that you find peace and time for yourself. And if no one has told you lately. You are doing a great job!