I really hope no one ever thinks I’ve got my life completely together. Because under the surface I’m usually a hot mess, buried somewhere under the planning and lists and chores and activities and tasks… On any given day it’s easier to get consumed by all of the to-dos than remember to schedule some forgiveness for myself.
It’s a problem us A-type personalities have.
Coupled with an indomitable will that makes us believe we can change anything and everything (being a little stubborn doesn’t hurt, either), “superwoman” is a daily pursuit instead of a fictional persona we just chuckle about. And we’re crushed when we fall short. Every day.
The intention is good. Usually it’s from a heart to give our families everything we possibly can. Or maybe it’s self-preservation, just trying to stay afloat with everyone and their schedules. Either way, we trust our resourcefulness and strength to press on and make it all work. The problem is even with the right motives, what we think is helping us is actually slowly tearing us apart.
This started to click on a new level for me just a little while ago. It was a normal Monday evening, and after a full day of laundry, toddler-chasing, errands and cooking, I was getting ready to do my evening work: a long list of social media marketing, web site building and content writing. Somewhere in there I knew I needed to find some personal development and oh yeah, maybe do some research on a topic that had been tickling my fancy for two weeks. But wait, I forgot I had unfinished tasks from last week, too. Okay, tack those on as well…all to be accomplished before getting a few shreds of sleep to wake up five hours later to another day full of house cleaning, errands and toddler-chasing.
Like I said, superwoman.
Well, on that particular Monday evening, instead of making my decaf coffee (a cruel joke while pregnant, but it’s better than no coffee) and skipping off to our tiny storage room with my make-shift desk and laptop, I sat on the couch and stared at the wall as my husband sat silently beside me. I was tired, stuck and all creative juices were zapped. We started to talk, and that was when my wonderful man reminded me that I had to give myself a break.
I had heard it a thousand times. Heck, I had said it to others in my situation. Don’t pile so much on yourself. Give yourself a break. Take it easy sometimes. Let some of it go… And yet somehow, I subconsciously figured I was immune. Until there I was, staring at a wall when I was supposed to be working.
Really, having such a strong drive to accomplish things is an asset. But the problem often lays in making that drive behave.
There is usually a root that pushes us to the brink of our emotional ledge. Maybe it’s a fear of failure or letting someone we love down. Or maybe it’s a competition, trying to keep up with — or beat — the joneses. Either way, eventually it leaves us strung out, tired and unproductive. And we still try to limp along.
After my husband gave me some encouraging — and practical — advice on how to move forward, I was a little recharged and went to the storage room to make an overdue phone call to one of my sisters.
I’m the youngest of three, and we all have the same insane drive to push ourselves to inhuman standards. Lucky for me, my older sisters have a bit more experience handling this issue than I do, so I get to cheat off them. On this particular phone call, my middle sister quickly recognized the issue and made this one statement:
“Don’t forget to schedule yourself some forgiveness.”
See, as a mother of four with a full time job and a hobby farm, she keeps a full schedule. Very full. And she’s learned the value of not getting some to-do’s done. She is good at remembering to forgive herself for less productive days. Our conversation — coupled with my husband’s gentle reminder — helped me realize a few things:
I don’t live to serve my to-do list.
The list is benign. It isn’t my master, the definition of my value, or of mine or my family’s success. It is a tool to serve me, not the other way around.
Be realistic with goals.
I love this quote from William Arthur Ward:
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
I’ve got to be realistic with my goals. Not the goals I want to have in a year, or five years, or ten… The goals I can accomplish today with the resources I have. And when life happens, adjust accordingly. Sure, that might mean some things don’t get done as quickly. But as long as I’m showing up, that is forward progress.
When it comes to your goals, don’t let others dictate your focus.
By all means, have your core group of supporters to hold you up. But don’t open yourself up to criticism from anyone and everyone — that is destructive to your purpose and crushing to your heart. Keep your goals simple and focus intense. So much so that you don’t have time for what others are saying or doing.
Last but not least, don’t forget to schedule yourself some forgiveness.
I think this is hardest for us highly-driven types, especially when we embark on new life changes like, ahem, parenthood. But this needs to be a frequent time-block in our days, whether figuratively or literally. Most often the pressure we feel to perform is self-inflicted. In all reality, no one is putting it on us except ourselves. The sky will not fall if this-or-that does not get accomplished. Most importantly, it means giving yourself a break. A break to rest. To stop thinking and analyzing and planning. To get mentally and emotionally filled up. Otherwise we keep running on empty, which only eats away at the best parts of ourselves that should be protected.
“God didn’t create us to live overwhelmed and stressed out.”
I love it when my pastor says that on Sundays. Because, well…He didn’t. Why else does Jesus encourage us by saying “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30 NIV). Know what happens when we’re stressed out and overwhelmed? No matter how hard we try, we’re less productive. Our ability to learn, problem solve, and handle life events in a healthy way goes out the window.
All too often we think we have to push through, even when we have nothing else to give. However, that is the worse thing we could possibly do. It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you the strain on your mind, body and emotions is acute — eventually something has to give. In my case, it took sitting on the couch, staring at a blank wall and listening to my husband talk me off my emotional ledge to begin to understand. To begin to apply what I already knew.
We all have a race to run.
Each of our lives are an individual path only we can walk — no one can walk it for you. No one can do it better and it has been created individually for you alone. I believe this is an area where we can apply what Paul said in Philippians 3:13-14 about forgetting what is behind and pressing on toward the goal. A goal much more noble than being superwoman and getting it all done. And one way to begin is to schedule yourself some forgiveness on a daily basis.
This can take a lot of mental reprogramming, but with diligent practice it can be done. With frequent reminders and grace. Speaking of, I’d encourage you to make sure you have the right people in your corner to help you remember to put the to-dos down every now and then. Maybe ask someone to help you remember to schedule in forgiveness on a routine basis.