I’ve been running into a lot of stressed out, tense people recently. They all seem to be singing that old refrain from The Guess Who, “I got, got, got, got no time.” And these are women who are at home with their kids! Add in office politics for those attempting to do both career and parenting, and you’ve got stratospheric stress levels.
Thank goodness you’re reading this today. Because this is for you stressed out souls – especially all you people who think asking for help is a sign of weakness. Ahem.
OK, I’ll tell you how to live life with no tension, no stress. Lean into your computer screen and pretend I’m whispering this next part, just like Connie Chung.
Know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Let’s look at it in action. In a typical week, Cheryl wakes up two mornings at 3:45am to get two of her kids to swim practice. She’s in a carpool so she only drives the kids to the pool one of those mornings. The other morning, she tries to go back to sleep but usually ends up oversleeping and wakes up just as the kids return from the pool. She wakes her third child, scrambles to get everyone fed, lunches made, homework in backpacks, then tears out of the house to make the early tutoring sessions scheduled for her kids. She has not showered nor has she had anything to eat.
While the kids are at school, she does laundry, walks the dog, goes to the grocery store, returns library books, shops for her elderly mother, volunteers at the kids’ schools (the three of them are in two different schools), and makes phone calls for a fundraiser. At 3pm, she races to school – late, again. One child goes to tennis, one to dance, the other to piano lessons. On Wednesdays, it’s karate, basketball and art. At 7pm Cheryl pulls out chicken nuggets and pasta for her kids and they begin two hours of homework. She checks all their work and corrects their mistakes. On Tuesday and Thursday nights the schedule changes when her oldest child has hockey practice. Dinner those nights is from a drive-thru, eaten in the back of the car. Cheryl’s husband comes home from work around 8:30pm, except for the nights he’s traveling or at his son’s hockey games.
At 10 pm, Cheryl gets her kids into bed and falls, half dead, into her own bed. Her husband, a night owl, stays up watching TV or surfing the Internet until 1am. At dawn the next day, it starts all over again.
Sound at all familiar? Should be. Because most of Cheryl’s friends are just like her.
Here’s something I know to be true: where you put your attention will grow more important in your life. So where is Cheryl’s attention? On her kids. And we will all say, “Yep, your kids should be your Number One priority.” But friends, there’s priority and there’s over-focus.
That’s why having clarity of purpose is vital to living a happy life. When you read Cheryl’s story, what would you say is her priority? To be self-sacrificing, have no life of her own, and do everything for her children? ‘Cuz that’s what’s she’s doing. She’s not eating, not bathing, not really in much of a relationship with her husband. She’s got no time with friends, no hobbies, no passions.
Why would Cheryl do this?
Henri Nouwen, noted spiritual writer, suggested that busyness is our way to quiet the yearnings of our heart. It’s often difficult for women to articulate their own needs or passions — society sends a strong message that doing so is selfish and not womanly. Cheryl would tell you, after her second glass of wine, that she knows that she keeps busy so she won’t have to think about it. “If I look at why I do things, I might have to change something,” she’d acknowledge.
And we all know change is scary.
So, Cheryl stays purposefully busy – so she doesn’t have to think about what she wants, and nothing has to change. “Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty” wrote therapist Virginia Satir. And Cheryl would agree.
When Cheryl coasts, she takes the path of least resistance. She doesn’t have to ask her husband to be a partner (he might say no, he might think I’m not capable, he might leave, we might get divorced, what would people think?). She doesn’t have to give her children boundaries and limits (they might miss an opportunity to find something they’re good at, they might hate me, they might ridicule me, what would people think?). She doesn’t allow her children to be independent (it’s faster to do it myself, they won’t need me, I’ll have to get a job, I haven’t had a job for 12 years, I have no skills).
Cheryl’s decision tree goes something like this:
If I acknowledge what I feel, people will be mad –> they will leave me –> I will be all by myself –> I will die all alone –> I am not good enough for anyone to love –> I do not matter.
At the core of many of our actions is this thought: “I am so flawed that no one can possibly love me (I can’t even love myself).” So we attempt to cover our “flaws” thinking that if we move fast enough, and produce enough, our flaws are not going to be noticeable. Even to ourselves.
This is where coaching can really help. A good coaching relationship allows all you Cheryls (and Toms and Susans and Harolds) out there to take some time to look at who you are and why you do what you do. Unlike therapy (which I am a huge fan of, having logged plenty of my own couch time), coaching will help you take specific steps to move forward toward a new way of living. A therapist diagnoses and treats psychological problems, often looking at the past as a guide. It’s very important and life changing work. As a matter of fact, I often work with clients who are simultaneously seeing a therapist – and it’s great! These people are usually very open to change and make terrific progress.
And, guess what? People have successfully changed their lives without alienating their children or divorcing their spouse! People get balance in their lives without losing anything important – just by focusing on what’s really important.
Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing sounds so simple. But it requires honesty, openness and a willingness to change. You have to understand yourself so you can say no to that which keeps you stuck in a rut, and yes to that which brings you joy and allows you to grow.
What does it take to get out of your hectic and purposefully busy life? Again, it’s simple.
It’ll start when you say to yourself, “I can’t go on like this anymore. This is not a fun, happy life” – that’s when you know it’s time to start making changes.
That, friends, is when you ask for help. That’s when you call me.