“Slow down. Calm down. Don’t worry. Don’t hurry. Trust the process.” ~Alexandra Stoddard
Heard in the offices across America…
“I’m so busy and have no time!”
“How is it almost 2019 already?!”
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead…”
We’re so focused on the next deadline, getting the next promotion, having the approval of our managers and peers alike that we push, push, push all the time.
Oh, how I can relate! I worked in corporate America commuting into NYC (two hours each way!) as the VP of marketing at a major media company. And I worked… a lot.
When I wasn’t at work, I was running around, checking things off my long to-do list, pretending to be Martha Stewart and always trying to accomplish the ‘next thing.’
I knew my sense of self-worth was way too wrapped up in how much I could check off my to-do list, and I’d do anything for the approval of my colleagues; but I didn’t know any other way. Even though I was getting a lot of things done and getting the recognition I craved, I wasn’t that happy. In fact, I was miserable.
Then tragedy struck—not once, but twice.
In 1998 my sister, Jenny, had a brain aneurysm and suddenly passed away. She was eighteen. It was a blow like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The day after her funeral, it felt like the energy and effort it took to brush my teeth was equivalent to running a marathon.
But somehow I got back in the saddle. I managed my grieving doing what I knew best: working and pleasing people. Getting on the train at 6am to commute into NYC and not getting home until close to 10pm was my everyday. My need to be Martha Stewart went into overdrive. Let’s just say Christmastime meant thousands (really, thousands!) of home-baked cookies. And no one was complaining about that!
Then it happened again.
In 2008, my brother Scott went into cardiac arrest while playing basketball and passed away. That phone call is something I’ll never be able to erase from my mind. He was thirty-three and getting married in a month. I was the one who canceled all the wedding plans. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life.
I don’t need to tell you I was devastated. But I was also really annoyed. Really, I need to do this again?! And so while this really sucked (understatement!), since I had gone through this once before, I thought to myself this is an opportunity to do it differently.
I’ve always been super goal-oriented, but after Scott died, my only goal was to not have any goals. Kinda crazy, right? But my soul needed the time and opportunity to kind of wander aimlessly to heal. I realized I wanted to make my work more meaningful, to have the time to unwind and have more fun.
Slowly, I started to make sense of it all.
I came out the other side vowing to live my life to the fullest—something my sister and brother would never have the opportunity to do. That meant laughing, a lot, having some great adventures (Paris! Skydiving!), and doing something meaningful with my life.
The first thing I did was to leave work at a reasonable hour. I realized I was working those long hours because I felt like I had to put in the facetime to climb the ranks. Can you relate? If I left while everyone else was still at their desks would they call me a slacker? I decided not to care.
I was naturally organized and productive, but now I really fine-tuned those skills so that I could get tons of solid work done during the day. When I walked out the door I was able to pretty much disconnect from the office. Not all the time, but most of the time.
I stopped baking all those cookies too.
Hiring a life coach helped me get to the bottom of what was really important to me (it’s being surrounded by beauty, doing things passionately, and laughing, a lot). While I still love to bake, these days you’re more likely to catch me at the bakery.
Life is too short to be too busy. I learned this the hard way.
You may be thinking, “I know, I know… I need to slow down and take stock of what’s really important to me, but not until I finish this next project.”
It’s so easy to take time for granted, it’s true we can’t make more of it, but it always seems to be there for us. Until it’s not.
So how can you start?
1. Get clear on where you are spending most of your time and more importantly, why.
You may be working many hours because you need the money, and that’s a valid point, but if you look a little deeper maybe the money is going to support a lifestyle that you really don’t want.
No doubt, this is the hard work, so be curious and investigate. This is about self-discovery, not self-punishment.
2. Start to dream about what you’d do if you had all the time in the world.
Get specific. What do those days look like? What’s so great about them? Why do they make you happy. Add visualization, dreaming, and journaling so you can really see it.
3. Figure out how you can put more of your ideal day into your reality day starting now.
Can you leave the office earlier one or two nights a week? Sign up for a dancing class? Say no to a big project or committee? I used to start my week off with a fresh bouquet of flowers for my desk. It made a difference.
What I realized after I made it through the dark days and nights and came out from under the covers into the light is our tragedies are what bring us to places we’d never go on our own. Their gift is making our lives more meaningful and to emerge with more perspective.
But you don’t have to go through this kind of tragedy to figure out how you really want to spend your time. You have a choice, right here, right now. Make it count.