Moment of truth, you guys.
The other day something happened. It began benignly enough- a small sidetrack during a moment between tasks in which I thought I’d use a spare ten minutes to listen to a webcast related to some business research I’m doing. Ten minutes and then I’d get back to the list of things that I needed to do before the week drew to a close.
That turned into almost four hours. And not four hours of productive and enlightening research. Four hours down a rabbit hole of overwhelm and comparison that culminated with the voice that lives in my head ringing out with the clear phrase, “I can’t do this.” Four hours of feeling increasingly deflated and frustrated and utterly overwhelmed. I had the gnawing sense that all the hours and energy I’d been pouring into these projects was for nothing. That “everyone” was already doing the same thing I was and they were doing it better than I ever could, that I simply wasn’t good enough, connected enough, enlightened enough.
What the what???
Holy heck, Batman, what on earth? In less than four measly hours, I’d totally derailed off of a productive morning of taking care of some end of the week details and barreled headfirst onto a frenetic hamster wheel over in Crazytown. And that hamster wheel was spinning, y’all- spinning fast- fueled by my increasingly illogical thought processes that had me running like my life depended on it.
Here’s the thing about hamster wheels: we can run our hearts out, pour everything we’ve got into them, push harder and harder and harder until we have nothing left, and you know what? They still don’t actually go anywhere. All that running and we end up in exactly the same place, only now we’re exhausted and disheartened and have nothing left to give.
But you know what else? They are the easiest things in the world to get off of. Seriously simple.
We just have to stop.
Stop running and the wheel stops too. At which point we step off with all the grace we can muster, give a little thanks for the workout, and we begin walking to the place we actually want to go. Likely the place we were headed before the siren call of that wheel sucked us in.
Eventually I looked around and noticed that in the midst of all that crazy running, my landscape wasn’t changing. As I slowed, the urge to berate myself for ending up here when I knew better, literally days after publishing “Stop Talking” (seriously?), was strong, but that would just start the wheel going again.
Look. This is the nature of building a life we care about. We invest time and energy. We put ourselves out into the world and we make ourselves vulnerable. It’s pretty intense stuff and sometimes the voices of comparison and fear and overwhelm get the better of us for a minute. This is not failure. This is learning. This is what it means to be human.
The more we practice pausing, the sooner we can see when our landscape stops changing, the sooner we notice the nasty voice in our head that says we can’t do it, and the sooner we stop running on that wheel and step off so that we can actually move forward in our lives. A quick run on the wheel can sometimes be just the workout we need to get ourselves back in shape, to remind ourselves that practicing to pause is as important to our lives as getting enough rest or proper nutrition, that we can’t really be our best selves without it.
And I really do mean pause. Stop. Just stop for one second. The minute I stopped and took a breath, I could see the wheel around me. I could see how I’d derailed. So I took Tessie for one of her painfully slow walks and when I got back to my desk, I picked up my to-do list where I left off and continued chipping away at the things that actually move me forward. I’m grateful for the workout- it had been awhile since I’d really jumped full-on that hamster wheel and I’ll take it as a sign of progress that I only spent four hours instead of four months or four years there, take it as a huge win that I remembered that stopping was an option and took it.
Stopping is always an option. Whether we’re on a hamster wheel or a road we’re not sure is heading in the direction we want to go, we can stop and take a minute to check out our landscape, decide what we want to do next, choose which direction we walk. At best, we realize that where we are is lovely country and we enjoy the view. At worst, we stop going the wrong way and adjust our bearings.
Either way, we win.
A few pics from our hike of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. It's another popular hike, but the experience is pretty amazing and definitely not to be missed.