Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Milestones or Millstones?

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.
It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.

~President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
When I was in high school, I thrived on being busy. Thrived. I was a good student. I worked after school in a dental office. I took piano lessons and voice lessons. By my senior year, I was taking 5 AP classes, was the drum major of the marching band, attended seminary (release time --wasn't that hard), accompanied 3 choirs, was involved in jazz band (pianist), symphonic band (percussionist), percussion ensemble, S.A.D.D., Tri-Hi-Y (youth government; female club --we had too many interested, so we divided it by gender), drama club, and National Honors Society. I competed in piano competitions (okay, just one or two), was the Laurel President in my church (16-18 yr old girls), accompanied the Ward Choir, was the Ward Organist for Sacrament Meeting, and graduated from High School with a 3.75 GPA. I also hung out with friends, dated, did service projects, managed to attend Young Women's every week, and went to Church religiously (get it? Religiously? Hahaha...sigh). And during solo and ensemble festival for choir and/or band? I usually would accompany 20-30 students on their solos, not to mention prepping and preparing my own (my senior year, I also sang a duet with my brother at one).

I did not burn out. I seriously and literally thrived. I found joy in everything I did and in everything I accomplished.

But that was a long time ago.

In college, I figured I could do the same. But as most of us learn in college, classes are a bit harder. We also are "alone" at college --mom wasn't there to make my meals or buy my cereal or help with my laundry or take my phone messages. I suddenly faced a world where I didn't have time to thrive in the business of my previous life --I had bills to pay, a budget to follow, food to buy/prep, laundry to do, and I alone was responsible for my schedule and classes.

Frankly, dear reader, it was awesome for me. And in all honesty, unlike most of my fellow college colleagues, I was prepared pretty well for the single college life. My parents had already taught me how to cook (although I wasn't --and am still not --very good at it), do laundry, clean bathrooms, and balance a checkbook. I already knew how to balance a busy schedule from my high school experience. The only thing that truly shocked me, I think, were the temptations for late nights and the difficulty of college courses. But I survived.

As a young, married college student, I continued to live "in the busy" --quite often, I would find myself adding to my schedule. I hosted every single multi-level marketing party known to Mormon women (Mary kay, Pampered Chef, Stampin' Up --to name a few). I planned girl's nights out. I was a STELLAR visiting teacher. Brandon and I were great at volunteering for service projects. And throughout it all, we served in callings, worked 20-30 hours a week in our respective jobs, and went to school full time.

This is getting too long, so let me fast forward --I had kids. Things changed. My thriving in the busy started a downward spiral that left me feeling completely depleted --exactly like what Pres. Uchtdorf was talking about. My "busy-ness" became a millstone.

Almost two years ago, I was supporting my husband through graduate school (while he also worked full time). I had 17 piano students. I was an editor for Mormon Women. I was a online marketing strategist and writer for Avenia Bridal. I had five children (the most recent had just been born). I had two callings in our ward (choir accompanist and newsletter editor). I blogged like a mad woman. I accompanied the elementary school choir. I tried to be a good visiting teacher. I tried to be a good friend.

I quickly wore out. Burned out. Plain and simple, I was drowning. My Depression took over and reared it's ugly, ravenous head --I naively believed that my Depression would just go away on it's own if I ignored it and stayed busy. I was, literally, dying inside. But guess what stopped me from, well, stopping? Personal glory, plain and simple. That high school girl who did everything? Her worth was dependent on her talents --her presence and talents being NEEDED by others. Social validation. Peer-induced acceptance.

It was quite humbling to realize that my worth was not --and should not --be dependent on those things. It took a lot of courage and humility to just stop. To re-prioritize. To say no.

Fast forward again: I no longer teach piano lessons. I no longer edit for Mormon Women (just occasionally contribute). I no longer work for Avenia Bridal. I asked the Bishop to reconsider my callings (he ended up releasing me from one, although I currently have two again, but it's easier now). I focused on myself and my family. I focused on my health (depression, exercise, eating). I focused on my children.

This morning, I looked at my schedule for the week: Besides kid stuff, I don't have much going on. There's the normal household things (laundry, floors, dishes, clutter) and that's about it. Honestly. That's all.

And I'm HAPPY about it. Content. I can breathe!

This morning, I've already read two books to #5 and we've watched Blue's Clues together while I've typed this up. I think I'll pick up the living room and maybe sweep the floor before lunch. I should set up some visiting teaching appointments and figure out what we'll have for dinner. And I might read some of the novel I just started ("To Say Nothing of The Dog" by Connie Willis) and take a look at the Sunday School lesson I have to teach in a few weeks.

Good, Better, Best. Simplifying. Priorities. I find it funny that it's taken me 13 years or so to figure this all out (since marrying), but that's okay. The most important things in our life sometimes take a long time to sink in. That's just mortality!

And even though this really applies to me because of motherhood (I'm not JUST a mom --I AM a mom. The most important thing I'll ever do in my life. The greatest blessing I've ever known --the hardest thing I've ever had to do) --it applies to all people in all situations, really. Are you a husband? Father? Wife? Sister? Friend? College student? There are priorities lurking in your life, too. You just have to figure them out.

Quick Side Story:
My friend had five kids, and like me was busy. She ended up in a severe accident where she shattered several bones in her face --she had to literally do NOTHING for weeks on end --just heal. She found the only things she could do were: playing in the sandbox with her small children for hours. Reading books with them. Playing board games with them. This experience changed her life forever; her priorities, her aversion to slowing down, everything. Her only regret? She was forced to slow down. Forced physically. Why didn't she listen earlier? Ah, there's the rub. I don't think a lot of us listen earlier. We usually have to learn the hard way (see my entire experience above).

How have you simplified your life? How did you do it?
Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
~ Lin Yutang


Tammy said...

Cheryl, I really enjoy readying your blog. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughts always give me something to think about. Thank you :)

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

Aah, now you are speaking to my soul. This lesson has also been "forced" on me several times...but I am so grateful for it.

When I start to neglect the "best" things and become overwhelmed with "good" things, I stop myself and think of something my dad said.
My son asked him, "Grandpa, if you could have a super-power, what would you choose?"
My dad replied, "I would ask for the power that the prophets of old asked for: Wisdom. With wisdom, you know what things to do & when."


Mormon Women: Who We Are said...

I think this is a lesson we have to learn and relearn because the dynamics of our lives change, and priorities have to be adjusted.

This may be one of my all-time fave posts you have ever written.

Emily & Co. said...

Struggling with this right now...still trying to get moved in, adjust to life w/baby #5, new calling, new home (and everything that goes with that) and new community, new ward and calling, son with major surgery this week...you know when you look at that to do list and can't figure out what needs to go. You know you just lack the wisdom necessary to figure it out. So, send a little wisdom this way, so I can stop feeling so overwhelmed! :)

Ambi said...

Yeah - you sure were busy!!! And I'm sure your kids keep you just as busy :) I didn't think you were the only drum major during our high school years. I swear there was another spectacular drum major. . . . . . The both of you were amazing . . . . leading the marching band, side by side, as co-drum majors :)
Simplifying life can be so hard sometimes. It always seems that everything has as great importance as everything else. Choice is such a blessing, and sometimes it seems it can be a burden.

Amber said...

I really loved this post. I've been trying to remind myself lately to slow down, to sit on the floor and play, to make eye contact and listen patiently. (Not exactly excelling at those things yet.)

I'm glad you're finding a good rhythm for your life and family. Thinking of you and your baby to be.

Cheryl said...

Pardon me: I was "a" drum major. :)