During my senior year in college, I had two and a half jobs.
Between my classes, I worked in the marketing department for a local performing arts venue. On nights and weekends, I worked in the development department for the same organization. My position as a teachers assistant was the “half” because I only had to attend an extra class once a week. But, after the class, I had to teach my own group of students for an hour and grade their papers during my off time.
In addition to those jobs, I attended a weekly Bible study, volunteered at my church in the kids ministry and the bookstore, participated in volleyball games for an adult volleyball league, and of course, I had to complete all of the classwork that comes with being a full-time student. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to somehow work in the basics of life like eating enough veggies, spending time with my family, and sleeping 8 hours each night.
My body began to let me know that it was not okay with such a chaotic schedule. I got sick at least once a month. Sleep was the only thing I could ever think about. I could barely perform simple tasks. My brain was always fried. One day, I found the almond milk (that belongs in the fridge) in my pantry.
The worst part was that the things most important to me began to suffer. Adam and I would go to a movie, and I’d fall asleep 10 minutes in. I dreaded church on Sunday mornings because all I wanted was to sleep in. My weeks were packed and so were my weekends. I’d get to Monday and wonder why I didn’t feel rejuvenated after having two days “off.”
I kept thinking my exhaustion was from lack of discipline. I convinced myself that I could do it all if I could figure out how to work harder and maintain motivation and stay productive.
One day during this crazy season, I met with one of my mentors. Right when she saw me, she knew something was off. “I’m totally fine!” I said. “Just a little tired today is all!”
She replied, “Okay – but how do you really feel?”
For some reason, this sentence was my breaking point. For so long, I felt like a balloon, slowly filling up with water, always ready to burst, but somehow keeping it all in. But, for whatever reason, this moment was the needle that popped the barrier.
I let it all out. I expressed how overwhelmed I felt. I shared how, even though I was doing so much, somehow I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I didn’t need to say that I was regularly sick and sleep deprived. The seemingly permanent bags under my eyes said that for me.
I asked my mentor what the secret was. I needed to know how to do it all and do it all well.
“You don’t,” she said.
But, she didn’t understand. My commitments were incredibly important, and people were counting on me, and I really couldn’t cut anything out. I also enjoyed all of the activities I was committed to. (Well, I would have gladly cut out the endless hours worth of homework I had, but that wasn’t a realistic option.) I certainly couldn’t stop going to Bible study with my friends or volunteering at church because, you know, that would basically be quitting on God. I couldn’t leave my jobs because, bills. Volleyball had become my only form of exercise, and I paid my share to be on the team, so I definitely didn’t want to let that go.
A few months before this, when I first started meeting with my mentor, she had me write out a list of my values. These values were my top priorities in life. The things that come before everything else and are the foundation to me living a happy life.
Well, I forgot about that list. That is until she pulled out a piece of paper with my handwriting on it:
My relationship with God
My relationship with my family & friends
My relationship with myself & my wellbeing
“How is your current situation lining up with these values?” she asked.
Then, I realized that my chaotic schedule wasn’t serving me. My busyness wasn’t making me more successful; it was damaging what was most important to me.
I believed that my busy schedule allowed me to claim the titles of “Good Christian” and “Overachiever” because each day I was going through the motions and checking all of the boxes. I was doing everything necessary to be “successful.” But, in reality, I was failing at being a loving girlfriend, a caring daughter, a supportive friend, and someone who has a genuine and sincere relationship with God. I was failing to nurture my soul and the relationships that make life worth living.
That day, my mentor and I figured out how to simplify my life. Even though it was challenging, I cut back on how much time I spent volunteering at church. I only went to volleyball games when I absolutely could. I worked fewer hours at my jobs. Most importantly, I created space for me. I spent the new hours I had during the week reading, journaling, or watching Gilmore Girls. I began to feel recharged on Mondays. Cutting things out wasn’t easy. I had to disappoint a few people and make less money. But, I realized that if I didn’t slow down and start taking care of myself, I wouldn’t be able to serve the relationships that were most important to me.
So, my friend, I’ll leave you with this: “How do you really feel?”
Are you running yourself ragged trying to do it all? Do you find yourself wishing that you never had to sleep so you could get more done? If so, how is that working for you? Are the things that are most important to you suffering or benefiting from you operating at this level?
Be honest with yourself. Maybe you don’t know what your values are. If that’s the case, I encourage you to establish some. Write them down and put them in a place where you regularly spend your time. Once you discover your values, evaluate whether or not they are being fulfilled.
I put my values on my fridge. I’m constantly evaluating whether or not I am living a life that revolves around those values. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed, I cut back, eliminate, do whatever I have to do to get back in line with my values.
I know you want to do life well. I know you want to get it all done and be superhuman. But at what cost? Being overworked and overcommitted doesn’t get you anywhere. The busyness of your schedule does not make you more accomplished. What is important is that you are rested, healthy, and strong so you can serve that which is most precious to you.