Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. – Chinese proverb
We live in a world where time has become a scarce commodity, and most people are in a permanent hurry, yet we never seem to have enough time.
I was raised in Eastern Europe, holding a belief that doing nothing was a sign of weakness, a bad habit to be eradicated. Sleep, of course, was necessary, but sleeping too much was pure laziness. Life was something to be lived, not to be slept through. Working hard was a virtue, stopping to catch my breath was not. To me, living life used to mean being in action.
The Desire for More
Going through memories of my childhood, I can see my Mom always busy with something: cleaning the house, shopping for food, cooking several meals a day, taking care of the laundry and ironing. And, as if that wasn’t a full-time job in itself, she had a full-time job at a hospital. I don’t know how she did it and where she took her energy from, to be honest. Even today, when she is nearing her retirement, she thinks that keeping herself active most of the time comes along with personal strength.
Today’s modern society has transformed many of us into doers, performers, and overachievers. Always running somewhere, always busy to get more, and achieve more. Many of us have been conditioned to evaluate our human worth through how well we do in life (based on personal and professional goals, results and achievements), our possessions or job title on a business card. We often tend to want to do more and to get more, and tend to attach our happiness to a projected future: “One day, when I get that job, that house, that car, a spouse or some children, I will be happy.” In reality, the more we have, the more we want. We often call it a need for progress and evolution.
That’s how I lived a high amount of my time. I spent 15 years of my life in the corporate world and used to define my worth through my social status and my profession. At the time, building a successful career meant the world to me. I can recall how I was keeping myself busy all the time, often stressed and always in a rush. I was working ten hours a day as a rule, plus weekends. I couldn’t sleep well, and I generally spent my weekend time recovering from stress through overeating. That felt exhausting. I was a perfectionist, and that used to give me a sense of pride; as if perfection were a strength or some sign of virtue.
How to be ok with Good Enough
One day, I collapsed. I often saw my colleagues leaving the office after the regular working hours, while I was doing overtime on a regular basis. I blamed myself for being less intelligent than my peers, thinking that my brain couldn’t handle my assignments at the same speed. In other words, I thought I was stupid. I had a chat with my manager about my workload, and that was transformational. I told him it felt too hard to handle. I will never forget that manager’s words: “Sara, I do appreciate your hard work, and I’m very pleased to have you on my team. However, I want you to know that I only expect you to run the daily business. I have never asked you for perfection. I’ve only asked for good enough.”
That was mind-blowing. For the first time, I came to understand that ‘good enough’ had never been part of my repertoire. I couldn’t define what that was. I wanted to do everything perfectly so no one could hurt me or blame anything on my performance. I was an overachiever, identifying my human worth through my professional accomplishments.
I was raising the bar so high that my body couldn’t cope with the expectations I had set for myself any longer. Nobody else was responsible for my situation, but me. So here’s what I learned from that experience.
The need for perfection is energy consuming, and it can be exhausting for both body and soul. If this sounds familiar to you, please know that you will never get rid of perfectionism until you learn how to be okay with good enough.
Progress Instead of Perfection
Today I aim for progress instead of perfection. I learned to embrace my mistakes as much-needed opportunities for growth. Whenever I fail at anything, that doesn’t make me a failure because I am not what I do. My job is part of life and not life itself. I am not my profession, no matter how much I might love it. Today I am a life coach, in the same way I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, or someone’s friend. I wear many hats, and so do you.
Many people complain about spending too many hours at work and not having enough time for themselves. But, once they retire, they get the time they’ve always wanted and don’t know what to do with it. It’s not surprising at all, knowing that one of the most common questions people ask when making new acquaintances is: “What do you do for a living?”
The Trap of Busyness
In reality, most of us need to work, and money is a much-needed instrument to survive. However, what is the cost we are paying for staying trapped in this busyness? What if we miss an essential part of our lives? What if we start disconnecting from our true nature?
Practices of being in stillness, like yoga or meditation, have become kind of special nowadays, something we need to learn instead of following a natural need for stopping because we tend to forget how to BE. I’ve been there myself in the past. It took me some years to get rid of the guilt for taking things slow or doing things I enjoy.
To understand that taking care of my own needs, including long sleep, was not selfish–that was a learned practice. Today I know that is a vital part of life–to listen to my body and recharge the batteries of my soul, to set healthy boundaries with the outer world and say no to things I don’t really want to do. To value my time as an asset, knowing that, once gone, it’s never coming back.
According to research, the people who live longest are located in Okinawa, Japan. I visited that place two years ago and wanted to learn more about their lifestyle. People there eat healthily and exercise. They don’t stress much and have a social life, despite their age. That’s what I also got to see during the years I lived in China and South Korea: people exercising, doing tai-chi or chi-gong, dancing or singing in the parks of Seoul or the big squares of Shanghai. They were keeping themselves active and spending quality time with like-minded people in their communities.
I came to realise I am not Superwoman, and that is okay. I stopped trying to accomplish a hundred more things in a day than anyone else, and I ceased comparing myself to others. My life is about me, and I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation or apology for the way I am choosing to live it. I know I cannot be the same each minute of my life. We all have good and bad days. If I am ill or tired, my ability to focus and perform will decrease, and that is human.
Doing Nothing is an Action
I decided to release myself from the ‘do it all’ mentality, and doing nothing doesn’t necessarily mean I’m lazy. As long as it comes from an empowering place of choice–my own choosing–doing nothing is an action! I often need time to relax and recharge: mind, body, and soul.
The sentence ‘I don’t have time’ feels very disempowering to me. It’s like allowing life to live me instead of me living it. If I can’t find time for myself in my busy agenda, I make it. We all have twenty-four hours a day, and my wants and needs are important.
I make sure I take breaks between working hours. I am not a robot.
Sometimes, I go out for a nice walk in nature.
I play with my dog.
I treat myself to a massage.
I watch a good movie or read a good book.
I listen to relaxing recordings, with my eyes closed.
I take a good nap.
I light a candle or some nice smelling incense (Jasmine is my favourite).
I have started to spend a higher number of hours all by myself. It doesn’t mean I’m not a social person or I don’t love the people around me. That’s how I reconnect with myself and get grounded, reflect, and recharge.
I sometimes meet with positive, non-judgmental people who love me as I am.
I make sure I smile more, laugh and have fun. I know that stimulates more serotonin (the feel-good hormone) in my body.
I learned to treat Life as a gift worth enjoying and celebrating. I stopped waiting for the weekends so that I could feel like living. Today, I choose to see every morning as a fresh start (including Mondays), wonderful opportunities for me to learn new things and grow. My life is to be lived, not just about existing, and I choose to live it to the fullest.
You are a human being, not a human doing. Don’t equate your self-worth with how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what you do, then when you don’t…you aren’t. – Dr. Wayne Dyer