We are an achievement-based culture. We value accomplishment. I know I do. I feel I’m only as good as my latest accomplishment, and the more accomplishments I collect, the better I will look the next time I have to sell myself. I like to learn new things and gain a better command of the things I already know. I like to excel, even in my extracurriculars. It’s not just for fun; I am fashioning myself into a modern renaissance man one discipline at a time. Many of us do this; I am not alone.
The problem comes when we overextend ourselves. Even if our pursuit is for enrichment or enjoyment instead of a rat race, our enthusiasm gets the best of us and we find ourselves stressed, anxious, crushed under the weight of commitments. We want to be able to “do all the things!”—but we are human. We have limited mental and physical resources and that can be overdrawn if we’re not careful. We simply cannot “do all the things.” These reminders can help rein yourself in:
- Keep a calendar. Whether digital or pen-and-paper, a calendar provides a visual reminder of what time you have available. It’s easier to see when you’re reaching or exceeding your threshold.
- Listen to your body. If you’re feeling more tired or stressed than usual, those are good warnings that you may be overdoing it and spreading yourself too thin.
- Listen to friends and family. If you hear from people how little they see you or exclamations of how busy you are, that might be a good sign that your dance card is getting full.
- Practice saying “no.” There is only so much time in a day, only so many days of the week. There is only one you to go around. Once you reach the saturation point, you are no longer able to give your best to each commitment. There is less “best” to go around, and what constitutes “best” becomes a diminishing return.
There is no shame in saying “no.” It’s perfectly all right to admit that your schedule will not allow for another thing to be shoehorned in. You’re not saying that you lack the capacity, you are saying that you lack the time. You are placing value on time for yourself and for your projects and others involved with them. It is basic quality control—you’re managing not only the quality of what you do, but also the quality of your mental and physical health. And that is an achievement with long-term benefit.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user yoursecretadmiral.
Contributing writer Gregory Parks is a clown, improvisational actor, coach, and teacher living and thriving in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.