Recently I took some time out to enjoy a gentle coastal walk and the stillness of the ocean. I left the house and workshop in a mess and grabbed the opportunity to walk before the afternoon rain set in.
I was reflecting on how, at various stages in my past, I would not have given myself PERMISSION to do this if I had not ploughed through my To Do list first in entirety.
At uni, when my nerd was at its all time high, I would be pulling all nighters from the first week while everyone else was out boozing or socialising. I used to pray for clear blue skies and sunny days as the ‘weaker’ among us would inevitably cave and spend the day at the beach while I would be head down and bum up with study, never to be distracted by more frivolous pursuits. Even now as a mother, guilt is something that still often plagues me when I take time out from the kids or work or domestic duties. “I should be doing something more…productive!” I hear that little voice inside me berating.
For type A personalities of Gen X origin like me, it is so hard to 'put the pen down' (such an antiquated expression nowadays in the days of screens but you get my drift). There is always so much that can and should be done both professionally and domestically.
As soon as one thing is triumphantly crossed off my to-do list (in thick marker for effect!) another 3 or 4 things immediately take its place God damn it!! I used to feel so guilty if I took time out to enjoy myself or rest or exercise when the list was not fully marked off. The To DO list started taking a life force of its own, haunting me with disgrace and shame if I dared to focus on anything else. I’m sure I inherited much of this mindset from my Greek mother who worked like a Trojan day and night. Pleasure, relaxation and stillness were for the idle.
It has taken me a breakdown in my mid 20s from burnout followed by almost another 2 decades of hard lessons to appreciate that a happy healthy life is a balanced one. One that incorporates relaxation and plenty of sleep as well as a focus on deep breathing and pleasurable activities.
If these things are lacking in our busy modern life where each second of the day can be allocated some productive task, then stress inevitably floods our system and eventually unproductivity ironically is the end result.
Australian ballet legend, Jodie Rose, once said to me a couple years ago when I was whining about ‘so much to do, so little time’, "You know Soulla, passionate and driven people will always feel a sense of urgency". And what I'm learning is that it's ok to feel this tremendous sense of urgency - it's the very fire that fuels our growth - but we need to acknowledge that there's an equally important place for "me time" and to make time for it and to relish in it and to not feel guilty about it. And have you ever found that in those quieter moments when you have created some internal space, often come flashes of brilliance that aid productivity? A never ending TO DO list shouldn't be seen as sense of failure to complete tasks efficiently but an acknowledgement that your time and skills are in demand and you want to see changes in the world! That's a good thing, right?!
Rather than berate myself for failing yet again to fulfill even 1 thing on the dreaded list, can I dare give myself permission to believe that what if whatever I accomplished today and each preceding day was enough? Especially in today's competitive world where it's so easy to compare yourself to the next person who is seemingly more "successful" on every measure with more Likes, more Followers, more sales, a grander house or bank account.
"comparing oneself to others inevitably results in unhappiness"
Even so-called menial tasks like washing the dishes, doing the groceries or hanging out the laundry are important jobs! Trying to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids is the most important job of all. If that's all I achieve in my life I will relish in a tremendous sense of accomplishment because I know it's such hard yakka.
"What I have done today is enough. There's always tomorrow and beyond for pursuing the rest of my dreams!"
This is becoming my new mantra.