I feel like I have been given the gift of time. A couple of year’s ago, my body and my mind were tired, I felt overworked and stressed out, and I felt like I had no time for myself or others. A typical day would find me come home and make dinner with a glass of wine before collapsing on the couch with another glass of wine and perhaps watching Netflix or Facebook, or more likely, answering work email. I would then drag myself off to bed for a fitful 8 hours of sleep and wake up feeling more tired than when I woke up. Every morning at the alarm, I had a hard time waking up my mind and felt like I was in a fog for the first hour or two. After ingesting my “double double” coffee, my mind would start to “swirl” with all of the thoughts of tasks and projects that were left undone from yesterday, as well as the giant amount of unanswered emails in my inbox. Whenever asked how I was doing, I would respond “busy”. But I definitely wasn’t productive. I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I was drowning in my to-do list and on edge with everything and everyone.
Looking back, it’s hard to really determine what was the one thing that turned it all around. I suffered a burnout quite publicly at work and at the same time went through a restructuring that led to my responsibilities and focus being dramatically shifted. At the time, I felt more guilty about this than relieved. This was quickly followed by a family reunion of 50 relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years. Like any reunion, it is an occasion that has us reflecting on our progress through life and perhaps judging ourselves harshly in comparison. I came back from the reunion with a modified job and new resolve to take back ownership of my life. The first thing I did was set some boundaries at work. Not only would I arrive and leave at the same time every day; no overtime, I would no longer be working in the evenings. I announced this to my team as an accountability measure. It felt a little bit false at first, and like I was letting the team down (to work a regular 9 to 5!) and of course, I felt guilty. Guilt seemed to always be my go-to emotion. I would like to say that is a parenting thing, but unfortunately that has been my go-to for much longer than my daughter has been alive. I think it is more of a perfectionist thing. (See my article titled, “A Recovering Perfectionist”.)
The other change that associated the new work hours was a commitment to exercise. I had a neglected treadmill in my basement and I decided that I would use it every day. Every. Day. Without exception. And I did. How did I do it? I look back in wonder. I had stumbled across the book, “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg and that was really a game changer for me. As a middle-aged woman, I was well-acquainted with how habits are formed and established. But for some reason the way that this information was presented really resonated with me. And motivated me. So my exercise habit started simply with dressing in exercise attire first thing in the morning and spending 10 minutes walking on the treadmill. With such a small goal, it was very easy to accomplish and build up a bit of confidence. Even if I got up later than I wanted to, I could still squeeze in 10 minutes of walking. I wrote down my results and over time, I saw increases in the time and intensity. An unintended benefit of accomplishing this small goal is that I learned how to trust myself to follow through on my commitments. Over time, I woke up earlier and got up to 30 minutes of running. And with that trust, and my growing confidence, I started to change other habits as well. Where prior to my burnout I was working 50 – 60 hours of unproductive time each week, and feeling awful, now I work 40 hours per week that are very productive. It is possible that I now accomplish more high impact items in 40 hours than I did in 60. My body is more fit and I find I require less sleep because the sleep that I do get is of higher quality. So, as a result, I feel like I have been given the gift of time. I have given myself the gift of time. Time to spend on pursuing other passions, and most importantly, with loved ones. It’s almost like suffering from burnout was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It was the catalyst for so many small changes that added up to a massive shift in my entire lifestyle. As a busy mom, I felt guilty taking the time to care for myself. Now I realize that taking that time has me showing up in all areas of my life more alert, more patient, and more present. The present of the present.