Over the past few weeks, I’ve been running at full throttle day after day after day. Getting through the holidays was tough. We lost three family members in one week during the month of October so there was the reality of having empty seats at family dinners and fewer voices cheering on the Cowboys. I was frantically working to complete my IWLC certification before the deadline. We endured the complications and stresses of being a blended family during the Christmas season. Friends and family are going through cancer scares and cancer treatments. Our youngest daughter is entering her last semester of high school and preparing for college. I’ve been learning how to edit video and build websites and holding practice coaching sessions.
Some days I just want to run away and live in a monastery. Simplification, solitude, and silence hang before me like golden fruit dripping with possibility. But alas, that is not the path my life is on.
I am in a season of mastery. Transitioning into a new career and mastering the art of being well — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually — this is a season of lessons to be learned and hard work to be done.
I’ve learned some things over the past couple of months that I would like to share with you, dear reader. Perhaps some of these lessons will speak to you during this time in your journey. In your season of mastery.
I’ve learned to cry
I’ve never been big on feelings. In some ways, I’ve always viewed emotions as weakness and so over the past forty years, I have become adept at ignoring them and moving on. Shoving them down and hiding them in the darkness where I was convinced they were being silently processed and purged in some cycle that was too boring, too touchy-feely for me to care about or get involved with.
In the course of my IWLC certification, however, I’ve had to confront emotions and process them for what may be the first time in my life. I’ve used various techniques such as artistic process and release, Emotional Clearing Method, forgiveness techniques and the Grief Recovery Method. I’ve been journaling daily.
Some days, my emotions are so raw and so close to the surface that I feel like shattered glass that is barely hanging onto the backing in a frame. Like if one more thing happens that may just break me completely.
And you know what? It does happen. One more thing happens. One more bang! of stress. Another metaphorical kick in the gut.
More than once I have found myself kneeling on the floor, sobbing and wailing and moaning. It’s happened in the middle of the night while my husband hovers nearby, unsure of how to help me. It’s happened in the middle of the afternoon when I am home by myself working.
And this isn’t pretty crying like I’ve done before while looking in the mirror in the bathroom to see how pitiful I look. This is from the bottom of my gut, the center of my being. It comes out of me like a torrent and shakes the ground on which I stand (or lay or kneel). It is grief and fear and shame and guilt, pouring out of my belly.
And when it’s done, it’s done. I feel emptied and weightless. The swirling anxiety is gone. There is no blackness sheltered in my innermost being. I am bringing my pain and suffering to the surface, facing my fears and sorrows and leaning into them, learning what they feel like, look like, smell and taste like. It’s so scary to be so vulnerable, even with myself. So scary and so worthwhile.
For most of my life, I have ignored negative feelings and emotions, having shoved them down and believing they will just go away. I now know that this also caused me to feel and experience less of the positive feelings and emotions such as joy and love.
Now, I am going all out. I am leaning into the tightness in my chest or the sinking feeling in my belly. I am getting to know the fear and the pain and integrating the learnings from them. And a surprising thing has happened: as I feel more of the tough stuff, I become more sensitive to and grateful for the good stuff. I feel happiness more strongly. I feel love more deeply. I feel gratitude in a new way. I just feel more.
I’ve learned to budget
Working from home this past year has been eye-opening. I have learned that time and energy, like money, are resources to be budgeted.
Moving towards balance in all areas of my self — physical, spiritual, mental and emotional — requires that I prioritize my time and energy in a balanced way. For me, that means sticking to a semi-flexible schedule during the work week.
What do I mean by “semi-flexible”? Basically, I have priorities for the day and sometimes they get done completely and in a certain order and other days they do not. By viewing my schedule as fluid and flexible, I build in space to be kind to myself if things don’t go according to plan.
Since I do work from home, accountability is paramount. One way that I hold myself accountable is by including a Daily Wellness Checklist in my wellness journal. Since I use OneNote to journal, this is really simple. I have a short list of things I want to hold myself accountable for doing on a daily basis and I copy and paste that checklist into each new journal day.
Do I get everything done every day? Not usually. And that’s okay! The goal is to keep my priorities at the front of my mind and work towards balance each day. Progress, not perfection.
Other things, like working, cleaning and cooking I just know I’m going to do so I don’t put it on my list because it feels unnecessary to me. I do, however, hold myself accountable for spending one solid hour cleaning every afternoon. Generally around 3:00 pm I put away my work and get busy cleaning for an hour. That could mean organizing junk drawers, cleaning out closets, scrubbing baseboards…whatever is bugging me that day. I have found this really makes a difference in how calm and peaceful my home environment is.
Another cool trick I use is my weekly to-do list. I learned this when working in corporate America during a time in which I was responsible for a process called Service Management across the US, Canada, and Brazil. I had a million things to do all the time and was drowning trying to keep them all straight. Some tasks were little ones that only I was worried about and some were big tasks that a lot of other people were depending on me for. A colleague shared this trick with me and it’s called Must-Should-Not.
The first part of the task list is called Must Do. Must Do can only be three items long. Ever. These are the most high-priority things I’ve got to get done this week based on urgency, impact or any number of other factors.
The second part of the list is called Should Do. Should Do can only be ten items long. These are things that I really want or need to get done this week but they are not as critical as the three things on my Must Do list.
The third part of the list is called Not Do. Not Do can be as long as I want it to be; there is no limit on how many things can be on this part of the list. These are the things that I know need to get done but I am not going to do them until a spot opens up on one of the other two lists.
The general idea is to graduate items upwards. So if I complete all three things on my Must Do list, I can move three things from my Should Do list up to Must Do. That opens up three spots on the Should Do list. Then I can review my Not Do list, pick out three things and move them up to the Should Do list.
Since I’m a sucker for self-congratulations, every time I complete an item and erase it from the Must or Should Do lists, I rewrite the completed item in a column called Done. That helps me see how productive I actually am each week and is intrinsically rewarding.
It may sound a little obsessive-compulsive and that’s okay. It really works for me. It helps me narrow my focus and reduce my anxiety levels. If a thought pops into my mind while I’m trying to go to sleep, I grab my pencil and add that random to-do item to the Not Do portion of my list. I’ve captured the idea or the worry, it’s on the list and it’s going to get done but not at the expense of other, more important items.
Learning to cry and learning to budget have been two hugely important improvements in my life over these past few months. While my journey towards balance may look very different from yours, I hope that my lessons-learned provide you a measure of inspiration.