For months I have been juggling a staggering multitude of projects, initiatives, and travel – at a level more than my usual hectic rhythm – to my own dismay, a couple weeks ago, I danced dangerously near the edge of my personal limits.
Even though many friends and acquaintances often remark that they have no idea how I do all that I do, I often feel that I am still just not doing enough. That somehow, I must do more, better, faster. It struck me today that my life goal of helping others succeed is merely the replacement of my previous quest for perfection. *Crap* And to think I was so proud to let go of perfection. It now seems I have just swapped one endless mission for another. So here I am again, back at Square damn One, hopelessly chasing down yet another horizon – I am bummed, to say the least.
So what does it look like this time around? My new mission is to help and uplift as many people as I can. Though impossible to attain fully, it is much more altruistic than perfection – which was just about me and my ego. Helping people is much more seductive and harder to limit due to the possibility of so many positive impacts. It makes letting go of perfection seem easy (and god knows that wasn’t easy). Reducing my efforts to help others is difficult because now there are faces and names to the things I can’t accomplish or fit into my schedule – perfection only impacted me. I must admit that helping and uplifting others gives me and my ego a boost, so it is a win-win scenario… when balanced. However, as someone with an “all or nothing” personality type, I often prioritize others’ needs to the point where I become blind, losing sight of my own voice and needs. This is the dark ugly side of my desire to help others succeed. Can you hear the pendulum literally smack the side wall of the clock? I need to remind myself that “overdoing it is just as ineffective as underdoing it” as said in this HBR article. I am learning. Albeit slowly.
Recently, I confided in a friend that the “present me” has to give the “future me” a break. Mainly because I realized that my “past me” was the culprit responsible for my over-scheduled life. He told me to tell PresentKaty that FutureKaty needs a favour. That way PresentKaty can still follow her tendency to put others first.
At first, I found his response witty, funny even, but when I started to contemplate the truth behind his simple reframed statement – his reply really hit home. I started to think about how seldom I practice what I preach with regards to putting time aside for oneself to think. To breathe. To reflect.
I often tell those who come to me overwhelmed or exhausted that it is not for naught that the emergency oxygen instructions on an airplane tell you to put your mask on first before helping anyone else. Can you imagine trying to help 3 children and passing out after helping the second one? Not cool. Yet strangely, I do not apply this to my own life. I know intrinsically that I can help more people by taking care of myself but my twisted ego wants to prove that I am unlike others, that I am special and can save not just the 3 children but the whole damn plane without the mask – this belief is a lie and it is hurting me.
It is pushing me past my limits too often. This lie feeds the second lie my ego tells me which is that by continuing to do more, my capacity will increase, that it’ll stretch almost infinitely. This is a sexy lie for someone like me who wants to be better all the time. Together these lies made it so that a couple of weeks ago, I hit a wall. Luckily, not the burn-out wall but it was the closest I had ever been. Like circling the sun, I got too close and singed my eyelashes. That close encounter scared the shit out of me – I have since recoiled and am taking stock.
So in order to start helping my future self live a happier and more balanced life, I have decided to write an instructional letter to my present self (the one in charge of the controls). I hope it will inspire you too to write a letter to your Present Self; one that your Future Self will ultimately be grateful for.
So here goes….
My dearest PresentKaty,
Please learn to say No more often. You need to think more about FutureKaty’s well-being. You know how awful it is when she is exhausted, tired, running on fumes from 7am until midnight and not seeing the people she loves nearly as much as she would like. I know it will be hard to turn down many of the incredible opportunities that will inevitably cross your path in line with your desire to help people succeed; but you need to rebuild your strength, rediscover your own voice, and integrate pleasure and your needs back into the curriculum. Know that it is not selfish to do this, so please go ahead and prioritize yourself more and tell your ego that you are not always going to be stronger, better, faster or more nimble than others. This is a lie that isn’t even worth measuring yourself against. It is ok to not always do everything under the sky for others – they too are strong and will figure shit out. Have faith in them, they will succeed.
You also need to stop putting so much weight and pressure on yourself regarding what you can contribute to the world. You are enough, you DO enough and even if you did a little less for others, it will still be awesome! So please take care when scheduling stuff for FutureKaty, make sure there is pleasure and space for her to relax and enjoy life – it really is too damn short for so much stress, and hell, you did not go through 49 sessions of chemo to be sitting here like this now did you? Let go. It’ll be ok. I promise.
With love and gratitude,
P.s. Stop telling people that you don’t have a life besides Work & TEDx. You do. Please put in place a task selection criteria that asks “Does Katy want to do this for Katy?” and when the answer is yes, say YES!! and do it!