On Pendulum Swings and Finding Ease in My Work
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately and it doesn’t show signs of changing anytime soon.
I almost feel like I need to lower my voice to a conspiratorial whisper as I confess this to a whole bunch of fellow dogged, hard-working entrepreneurs. Are you ready for this?
Here it is… I don’t really feel like working lately.
After more than nine years of perpetually running uphill with our multiple businesses, birthing three more babies (in addition to the two we already had), backpacking around the world for 12 months, buying a fixer-upper in a new community upon our return, then backpacking around Europe for three months the year after (while pregnant) and then literally moving across the country this past summer, I hit my wall.
And a big whopper of a wall it was.
(Sorry, American friends… is it too soon for a wall metaphor? Ugh… but I digress.)
Here’s the thing: I’ve been running hard and working long and sleeping little for most of my life. I’m not necessarily proud of all of those things, but when I look back and assess honestly, I can see that it’s true.
It started in my teen years as I began holding down regular jobs at the tender age of 13, and by 17 I was taking university-credit classes my senior year of school, applying for scholarships, playing in city orchestra, volunteering at church and working two part-time jobs.
It’s never really changed since then. I mean, sure, life has ebbed and flowed.
University. Living overseas as newlyweds. Having babies while trying to pay off a lot of debt. Dealing with a serious illness. Starting one business, then another (and then another).
It doesn’t seem to matter what the season of life is. I figure out how to push hard and get er’ done. Failing isn’t an option. Neither is stopping.
Until this year. And suddenly, all I want to do is stop.
Stop pushing myself beyond unreasonable physical limitations.
Stop expecting unrealistic things of myself.
Stop living right at the edge of what I can actually get done in any given day or week or month.
Stop enviously watching others do nifty things like rest and have fun and relax, while I bow subserviently to my never-ending to-do list that demands I do the responsible thing and just. keep. going.
But you can’t keep going like this forever. At some point, a rest-less, hectic, too hard-working life inevitably turns into an exhausted, broken-down, weary and empty-souled life.
I didn’t really see it coming, not quite like this. I knew I was burnt out and that I’d been bemoaning it for too many years. I knew this past year and a half had pushed me to the end of myself. I knew that a sea change was coming and boy, did I need it.
I just didn’t expect that when I finally stopped long enough to catch my breath, all I’d want to do was lie down on the floor and keep belly-breathing, trying to somehow make up for years of lost oxygen and this deficit of leisure time and idle moments and days where I didn’t actually do much (horror of horrors!).
This fall, our Q4 goal at Ultimate Bundles (the business Ryan and I currently run together) has been to increase operational efficiency by 20% by the end of 2016.
To that end, we’ve been mercilessly examining our repetitive tasks, processes, methods of communication, and any needless or ineffective practices we find ourselves doing. There’s a lot of eliminating, a little delegating, and definitely plenty of “efficienating” going on (yes, we made that term up – who says “efficient” can’t become a verb?).
It’s working, too. Between these smart work changes we’re realizing are long overdue, and the help of a personal assistant my darling husband convinced me to hire a few half-days each week, my work and home load really is getting lighter.
For the first time in oh-so-very long, I’m feeling my heart rate slow to something resembling normal and in that place of greater ease, I’m able to take the kind of deep breaths that felt too luxurious to even pause for previously.
There’s a wonderful woman at my new church who I’ve been talking to lately. She and her husband have four school aged kids, and they’re in the process of starting a new business. His hours are crazy long and she’s running ragged caring for the family mostly by herself, and when they do see each other they’re like ships passing in the night.
As she related it to me, I had so much empathy because I vividly remember those early days for us and how much we wanted all of this (the big family, the freedom and flexibilty, the business success, the travel and adventure), but at what a cost it came.
It was worth it; don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret what we’ve done.
But now that we’re not in that tenuous place anymore, I’m finding my relentless 100-mile-per-hour drive has petered out and all I’ve got left in me is a leisurely Sunday afternoon jaunt.
I’m ready for big change. Ready to stop and actually taste and savor my beautiful life. Let myself be more human and needy, rather than tough and robotic. Let being present in the moment win out over being responsible.
A wise friend once told me that when people change, they tend to do a full pendulum swing.
All the way from the far side of one way of living, right over to almost the opposite of whatever it is they’ve been doing.
It’s like a visceral, gut reaction. Once we realize something is no longer working for us, we can’t seem to get far enough away from it.
Eventually, at some point, we stop swinging violently to an extreme and usually find our way to a more comfortable middle.
I think I’ll get there at some point. But I’m not there yet.
I don’t want to take a quiet, free evening and use it to work ahead on an important project. I want to paint my toenails with my girls and read a novel by the fire with a mug of tea. I don’t want to discipline myself to get up early, hit the ground running, and use my golden morning hours to squeeze in more time for the book I’m writing. I want to sleep longer and wake when I feel ready to greet the day and then saunter through breakfast and my morning coffee.
And I think that’s ok. I think it’s part of the process of slowing down and learning to just be. I’m working on assessing myself and my worth simply on who I am, and less on what I do or accomplish.
I don’t know who needs to hear this message today. Maybe you’re stuck where I’ve been these last few years and you’re tired and reading this makes you want to ugly cry or maybe throw your laptop across the room in frustration. I’ve been where you’re at and I feel you.
I don’t want to tell you to give up or stop pressing forward or stop being responsible or not to reach for your dreams.
We have seasons in our lives that are tiring, and they’re hard, and they require us to reach deeply inside of ourselves and find what we’re made of. Maybe you’re in one of those seasons. I believe in you and that you have what it takes to make it through to the other side.
But here’s what I’ve learned: you also have to recognize when that season is over and then let it go.
Do what you need to do, yes.
And then stop making excuses for why you’re still there, still yanking on those damn boot straps when they’re already on your feet.
There’s a moment when you pause and say “Wow, I did that. I got through that difficult season. I accomplished that thing that really mattered to me. I invested what was necessary and now I can reap the benefits of my hard work.”
And then do it.
(And I’ll be right there with you, sipping on my tea while my pretty painted toes warm up by the fire.)
Are you exhausted from working so hard? Or have you ever realized that you were still pushing hard when it was actually time to stop?
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