“Hey Cindy! Dinner’s ready! Do you want to eat at the table or do you need to eat at your desk again?"
It was November of 2014 and I was a week out from shooting my last wedding of the season. It was the first year that my business broke six figures and everything was finally falling into place. Except that it wasn’t.
Justin’s yell up the stairs that dinner was ready was the proverbial "straw on the camel’s back." I just started sobbing and couldn’t stop. The voices in my head were all yelling at the same time and none of them had anything nice to say:
I don’t have TIME to stop and eat!
I cannot handle one more decision- not even about where to eat dinner.
He had to make dinner yet again even after a thirteen hour day saving lives in a hospital- I am the worst wife ever!
I am the worst photographer.
I am the worst friend/ daughter/ sister.
I have no business owning a business.
I am failing at everything.
I am so. damn. exhausted.
Poor Justin stood slack jawed in the doorway to my office staring at me with a plate of spaghetti in his hand and I couldn’t stop crying long enough to tell him why.
“Did you want something else? Ummm...I can make something else.” (To quote my college boyfriend’s west Texas mother, bless his sweet heart...)
Here’s the thing- I was a hot mess. Seriously, the hottest damn mess you can imagine. I mean, I was a MESS. I was overwhelmed and overworked and under rested and 100% at my breaking point. As it turns out, working nearly 100 hours a week and sleeping less than four a night is not actually sustainable. Who knew?
And I was basically doing every single possible wrong thing to fix it.
Mistake #1: I thought I was too busy to stop and take a breath.
Here’s the bald truth: if you ever, ever, hear yourself say any variation of “I’m too busy to stop,” take it as a surefire sign that you need to stop IMMEDIATELY. That lie is a sign that you are already drowning. And drowning people do not make good choices- they grab whatever happens to be floating by, even if it will actually drag them further out to sea and sink them even deeper.
Look. We get busy. It happens to everyone. But unless you are a neurosurgeon with a scalpel in someone’s brain right this minute, it is unlikely that anyone will die if you take a minute to step back and re-assess your situation. Something isn’t working. You drowning probably isn’t going to fix it.
So just stop for a minute, mmmkay? Give yourself enough time to look around for some actual life rafts. They are there, but you need to see them before you can swim to them, before they can do you any good.
And in case you were wondering, this also goes for the phrases, “I’m too busy to get a full night’s rest” or “I’m too busy to eat a real meal” or “I’m too busy to go for a 10-minute walk around the block.” These are all lies. They should all be met with you immediately doing the exact thing you just said you don’t have time for. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Go do that thing right now. If you think you don’t have time, see the above paragraph.
Mistake #2: I thought everything I was doing was suuuuuuper important.
Aaaaaand again, the truth: I was editing wedding photos, not curing cancer here. I’m not belittling my work nor am I saying that it didn’t matter at all. What I am saying is that my clients have lives and while they were, of course, looking forward to their wedding images, they were not, as it turns out, spending every waking minute refreshing their email to see if they were ready yet.
I have always been careful to work with seriously awesome clients. So instead of making myself a total insane person crying over her spaghetti dinner, a better option might have been to do that whole stopping thing I mentioned. Then, when I realized I was in over my head, I could have sent a proactive email to the clients who would be affected by slower turnaround and come up with solutions that would get everyone what they needed while buying myself some time and sanity. Because wedding photos are actually not the most important things in anyone’s life, not mine, not my clients’, not the publications to which I planned to submit them.
When we keep a bit of perspective on just how truly important (or not) whatever has us drowning actually is, we are more capable of doing the stopping necessary to get ourselves a bit of wiggle room in which to save our sanity.
Mistake #3: I thought every plate I was holding up in the air was of equal importance.
Are you ready? They are not.
All those plates we’re all juggling all of the time: our rest and nutrition and exercise and time with family and friends, our work and our plans and the small-but-precious dreams we hold for our lives, our to-do lists and their litany of errands and emails and things that people need from us. They are not all of equal importance. Some of those plates are balanced on tall skinny sticks and piled six deep and after awhile we get so caught up in the task of keeping them all up that we forget that they aren’t all worth that kind of effort.
Let some plates hit the ground.
Let them smash to smithereens and relish the sound of the shattering…it is the sound of freedom. And choice. You can choose which ones you can live with breaking, or you can take your chances with whatever slips. Never forget that not choosing is a choice all its own.
Look, this isn’t just about work. I use this example because that night spent snot-crying in my office was a rock-bottom moment for me. I didn’t realize it right away, but that was the night I began to change the things that were not working.
Everything I was doing that left me drowning in my work were the same things that were keeping me under water in my personal life. Feeling like I couldn’t stop to rest or evaluate or make sure I was making sustainable choices that aligned with the things I knew to be important to me (like eating dinner with my husband and actually being with him instead of thinking about my to-do list). Thinking that things were suuuuuuper important when they weren’t, and not choosing which plates I could live with hitting the ground. These lies were at the heart of my poor self-care, my constant feelings of not-enoughness, and being spread so thin that things like my relationships and my health began to fall apart in real and tangible and very painful ways. My work was suffering, but even more, my life was suffering.
We are approaching the end of the year and I know I’m not the only one who has felt like the last few months come at us like a storm surge, leaving us reaching for anything we can grab onto to keep us afloat. If you feel like this, know that you aren’t alone.
I hope you'll join me for my free Uncrazy 2018 Challenge where we will dig into what it can look like to stop, how to feel good about watching those plates hit the ground (and how to stop picking so many of them up in the first place), and how to take a big step back from the craziness to end the year on terms that you choose.
I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t float through life on a gauzy breeze of unflappable calm (c'mon…does anyone, really? I mean, anyone who isn’t high as a kite?), but my life and my work pretty much always feel handle-able these days, which is a big leap from crying over spaghetti. It wasn’t huge sweeping changes that brought about the shift. It was small daily practices returned to over and over and over that saved my sanity.
Come join me and let’s see if they can help save yours as well.
I finally got around to finishing my editing from *cough* May and our time in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks…