Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

Advertisements

One thing at a time

shutterstock_754946590

I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

How to ask

Buy my book

Well friends, this is the last post in this Saying No series.

It’s not that I’m going to stop writing about this stuff, it seems to be something I love to explore, but I’m going to be writing about it less regularly and writing about other things more, and I’m going to give my artist a break 🙂

And of course, it’s time to write some Christmas posts, isn’t it?

I’m also going to add a little more to the saying no posts, include some thoughts that have been sparked by your comments, and wrap it all up in a ribbon and make it into a book. I’ll let you know when it’s for sale!

I’ve talked in this series about losing the ‘shoulds’, about figuring out priorities, about making rules beforehand so that we don’t have to make yes/no decisions on the fly, about pushing ourselves sometimes, and resting regularly. I want to finish with something that came up the other day when I was chatting to some good friends over lunch.

We were talking about this blog and the conversation moved to discussing methods of asking people to do things in such a way that they feel free to say no. It got me thinking about things from the other side of the fence and I thought I’d explore the idea.

An interesting thing has changed for me as I’ve been writing this series. Now, when people have asked me to do something they preface the request with ‘you can say no, but …’

‘You can say no, but would you like to come to the quiz night on Saturday?’

‘Feel free to say no, but would you like to be a part of this fundraiser?’

‘I know you’ll probably say no, but there’s a dinner on and I’d love you to come.’

It’s been wonderful. My friends are so great. They can see that I’m working on something here and they are trying to help.

Some requests are not so easy to refuse.

I think one of the worst ways of being asked is this, ‘What are you doing on March the 21st?’

This method of asking assumes that if there is nothing booked into your calendar then you are available for whatever event the person is asking you to.

However, what if there is nothing booked in your calendar because you need the day off as a rest day? Or sometimes you even need to wait and see – if the week before turns out to be huge, then maybe you need to turn the event down.

Now this is difficult, because sometimes the person asking really needs to know how many people are attending an event so that they can plan properly. And sometimes people are putting off answering because they are waiting to see if a better offer arrives, and that’s, honestly, a little rude.

Tasmanians have a dreadful habit of booking tickets to things at the very last moment. We’ve had some big name performers cancel their tours because people couldn’t make up their minds whether or not they wanted to come. I guess this is another place where there needs to be a bit of balance.

Having said that, I still think there’s a better way of asking.

How about, ‘Hey, could you check your calendar and get back to me? I’d love to invite you to this thing on March 21st if you would like to come. I need to know numbers by Feb 20th.’

Or ‘I’d really like to get together with you for dinner, I know you’re busy but I’m free on these days, would you be able to make it on any of those? Or maybe you could suggest one that works for you? I don’t mind how long I have to wait, I’d just like to spend time with you.’

Or ‘There’s this really great event happening that I’m sure you’d like. Have a think about it and get back to me.’

I can see a pattern in these invitations, they all give the invited person time to think. This may purely be my introverted nature but I really hate being put on the spot. I like to have a chance to think about anything before I give an answer. So maybe this is what we can do. Give our friends time to think and the freedom to say no without guilt. Do you have suggestions for good ways to ask? Let us know in the comments.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I pray that each of us grows in wisdom about when to say no and when to say yes so that our lives fill up with meaning, joy, and peace. And yes, feel free to say no, but when the time comes, will you consider buying my book? 🙂

Sabbath

Indispensable

When I started working at the university on short-term contracts, I had a plan. I would say yes to as many things as possible, and make myself indispensable, and then they would have to keep renewing my contracts and my employment would be as good as permanent.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

You see the problem with thinking like that is that when the time came this year when I really needed to take a break, I didn’t feel like I could because I had made myself indispensable. I felt like things would fall over if I took so much as a week off. And so I came close to exhaustion.

I think it must be a personality-type thing for me or something. I like being friends with people, but what I really like is being needed. I love being the one people turn to in a crisis. I love it so much … until I don’t. I love it until I am tired and I really need a break but there’s no one else who can take the load.

It’s pride, people. Plain and simple.

None of us can carry that burden.

I’m not meant to be the one solving everyone’s problems. I am not meant to be the sole provider of friendship to people, or the sole dispenser of wisdom. It works much better if everyone does their little bit than if I feel (even mistakenly) that it all depends on me.

One of the things that can help stop me from continually falling into this trap is the practice of regularly taking one day off a week. It’s a discipline that helps put everything back into order. That gives a regular reset of the brain.

When I was working full-time, a Sabbath for me meant a day when I didn’t do any paid work. I would make sure I didn’t do any work at all on that day as a statement of faith that God would either make it ok that the work didn’t get done, or make me cope with the fact that disaster happened.

It was amazing how little disaster actually happened. In fact, I can’t think of one time when taking a whole day off work for the week led to a crisis. What it usually led to was a rested, more competent, more peaceful me. And that was a very good thing.

Now that my ‘work’ consists of two days paid work and the rest of the time trying to get my own business off the ground I think I might find it a little harder to take a break. Harder to trust that it will all be ok. But I want to all the same. Because I want to remember that it’s not all about me, about my business. I don’t want to disappear into the rabbit hole of entrepreneur burnout.

So what does a Sabbath, a weekly day off, look like?

I don’t believe that a Sabbath needs to always be taken on a Sunday. I don’t think that we need to spend the day sitting quietly and reading religious texts. I love the idea of preparing meals and such beforehand and not doing any work at all but I don’t think that is achievable for most of us, and for some of us doing housework and cooking is a way to relax – a different way of being than we have for the rest of the week at work.

When Moz and I were doing missions training (back in the day, before we were married) we took Sundays off. We would go to an early church service and then we would just spend time together, chatting, maybe exploring the neighbourhood. We didn’t even have to cook meals because we were living in a missions community. It was a true day off.

Last Saturday for me the day off meant that I did a whole lot of washing, and went grocery shopping, and spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking up a proper meal for my family. I tried out a couple of new recipes and I enjoyed the creativity. I read a book. And I topped the day off by watching a mindless chick-flick.

Eugene Peterson describes his Sabbath in his book ‘The Pastor’. When he was a pastor he would take a day off each Monday, and he wrote to his congregation to explain what he was doing and why. He and his wife would pack a lunch and go for a bush walk each Monday (or a hike I guess, he was in America, here in Australia we would call it a bush walk). For the morning they would walk in silence, just taking the time to process the week that had come before. But when they broke for lunch they would talk to each other and they would keep talking all the way home.

Kris Rusch just happened to talk about her weekly day off in her blog this week. She writes that she takes the day off from work and that she has a no screen rule with that day off. ‘No email, no iPad, no laptop.’ She writes. ‘Phone with me but set on do not disturb except for the handful of people who call in for an emergency.’ She also writes, by the way, that once she started doing this kind of resting her productivity increased because her stress levels went down.

Perhaps if you are parents of small children your day off would include meeting another family at a park for a play – or possibly taking your kids to one of those indoor play centres so that you can sit and read with a nice coffee. Perhaps it means using disposable nappies for one day a week so that you can take one day off the washing.

There are many options and it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal. But however you put it together, I encourage you to take time off somehow to rest and rejuvenate each week.

How do you take a day off? What would your perfect Sabbath look like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This is the second-last of these posts on Saying No. But the blog will continue afterwards, don’t worry. If you would like to make sure you never miss a post then feel free to sign up here on WordPress. If you would like to read my regular newsletter about my novel writing then drop me a line at rijamos@gmail.com. And the amazing work of our artist Caleb is always available on instagram @deteor42.

When to push yourself

marathon

Earlier this year I was privileged to host a visiting lecturer to our institution. I have been trying for some time to be an advocate for gender equity in our workplace and the idea of a Women’s Lectureship was suggested to me – bringing a role-model down to Tasmania to encourage our female PhD students. I won’t go into all the reasons here, maybe I’ll leave that for another blog post, but I jumped at the chance to organise this visit.

Professor Michelle Coote agreed to visit with us for a week and I dove into the organisation. I had no idea just what was required for the hosting of a visiting lecturer. There were the flights and accommodation of course, I didn’t book those but I did liaise with our office staff to make sure we got it right. Then I had to decide on when to hold the public lecture, when to hold the seminar, when to hold the gender equity forum. And where.

And then things got a little more complicated. After choosing a time for the public lecture, booking the lecture room (and making sure that we’d booked it with a little lee way  so that we could easily get set up), and advertising on all the university websites and Facebook and, well, everywhere that I could think of, we found out that we had cleverly booked the lecture room for 7am rather than 7pm. And that the lecture room was already booked for another group at 7pm, and that the other booking couldn’t be changed.

PANIC

Then try not to let the panic show, and try to calm everyone down, and don’t let Michelle know that anything had gone wrong with the plan, and head for plan B.

We had a couple of options for plan B and we went with the lecture room that was available and closest to the original room. The only problems being that 1) it was a much larger room than we really wanted so our crowd would look tiny, and 2) it was booked right up until our opening time and the group before us would be having wine and cheese in the foyer as our attendees were coming in to our (wine and cheese-less) lecture. But it was the best option so we went with it.

The night arrived. However, the pizza that we had ordered to eat for tea in-between work and the lecture did not arrive so I was fairly hungry. What did arrive was the rain and the bitter cold, which made me wonder if any audience members would decide to arrive. But we battled on.

The lecture happened and it went well. Of course. Michelle is a professional and her research is fascinating. We had a reasonable audience (more than five anyway). We even managed to pick up a couple of attendees from the wine and cheese event. They came and sat in our lecture with their glasses of wine and hopefully learned something about self-healing polymers and solar cells.

The next day was the gender equity forum and I was busy buying cakes and snacks to encourage people to come and trying to fit that in around my regular work. And the day after that was the seminar that I was also chairing, and the special lunch afterwards.

It was a busy week. I didn’t have time to breathe. There was definitely no work-life balance that week. No gaps between appointments. No time to evaluate whether this or that was what I wanted to do or not.

But I am very glad I took on the challenge. Really grateful for the opportunity and the lessons learned.

The term ‘work-life balance’ can sound static. Like it’s a set point that we’re trying to find that we can set our thermostat to and have the same balance all the time. But life isn’t static. Even when our days are good life has its ups and downs. Maybe it’s better to try to find a work-life rhythm than a work-life balance. (No, that idea isn’t my own, but I can’t remember where I heard it first).

As a normal way of being, I think it is right to build margin into our days, to set aside time to follow our goals, to build in some down time, to make sure we have some peace.

But sometimes it is right to push ourselves – to squeeze more into our days, to stretch a little outside our comfort zones, to try to reach a little bit further. Some days bring us an opportunity to work hard and to be busy and go for it a bit.

I guess the question is, how do you tell which are the good moments to push yourself, and which are extras where we should say no?

I don’t know the total answer to this, of course, you are you, and I am me, and what we need to decide are two different things. But there’s a few things we can think through when making this kind of decision.

One is to get a reasonable estimate of the amount of time we have to give to the project. This takes practice of course. I had no idea how much time would be swallowed by Michelle’s visit, but I know now. I was very grateful that my other projects could be shunted to the side somewhat when Michelle was down so that I could give the lectureship the time it required without totally burning out. I think I could have helped myself with the time estimate by finding someone else who had done something similar and asking them for an estimate.

Another question to ask is whether this event will bring you closer to your life goals or whether it’s just busy-work. If you find your day is regularly getting built in by endless tasks that don’t seem to get you anywhere that you want to go, then maybe it’s best to start delegating or organising or somehow getting that busywork off your plate. Easier said than done I know, but if you don’t even recognise the problem then you’re unlikely to find any answers.

And finally, are you doing this out of selfish ambition? Is the only reason you’re taking on this event or project that you’re going to look good? I know that some of my readers might not like the fact that I’m making a distinction here but I’m all about going for it to reach your goals (ambition) but really not into doing it to make you look good to others (selfish ambition). Working yourself to death because it makes you look good to others is a really bad idea in my book.

Anyway, to summarise, yes, I think there are good reasons to push yourself sometimes. But I also think that these should be short-term sprints and not a way of life. And I would hope that they are in service of others.

We’re nearly at the end of this series, just a couple more posts to go though I’ll keep writing the blog don’t worry. You can sign up to my writer newsletter by dropping me a line to rijamos@gmail.com or you can get more of the artwork by heading to instagram @deteor42 

Am I just lazy?

Comparisonitis

I’ve talked a lot about saying no to things. About having days alone where my introvert self can recharge, about saying no to some requests and not even feeling guilty, about leaving some church or work activities to others, about rewarding myself for telling people no, about making sure that I’m not too busy and that I have time to do the things that really matter to me. And all of this is good, at least I think it’s good and that’s why I’m sharing it with you.

But there’s often a bit of a nagging worry in the back of my mind, “Am I just lazy?”

I mean, if I compare myself to my friend Naomi who runs her own tutoring business then I definitely look lazy – she works from 8am – 7pm tutoring and then spends her evenings writing reports and such. She’s amazing! Or how about my friend Megan who gets up at dark-o-clock to go jogging before getting her kids off to school and then going to work herself. She also looks after her elderly mother and helps out at church things.

But I’m sure I could compare myself to others who have different priorities or different health levels to me and think that I’m doing pretty well.

Comparisonitis, Joanna Penn calls it. It’s a deadly disease, sure to stop any endeavour. It’s a seriously bad idea to compare your life to another’s. The very best it can do is puff you up with pride, and that’s not a good thing. It is more likely to destroy you as you try to meet some unattainable ideal.

So, how then do you figure out if you are making the best use of the time and energy levels that you have been given in your day?

I found some very good advice in Kristine K Rusch’s book Goals and Dreams. She says to set a daily goal and try to achieve it for a week:

“If you never reach the goal, figure out if the problem is that you weren’t putting in enough time, that you didn’t have enough time to give … or if the goal is just too hard to achieve in a single day for you. Then, set a new goal and try that for a week. Work until you find one you have to stretch just a little to achieve, but make sure it is one you can achieve.”

I think this is fantastic advice. It requires being honest with yourself but that’s a good thing too.

I am really blessed in that I have a husband who will be honest with me. He sees what I do and what I don’t and he can give me feedback to let me know whether I’m being lazy, or whether I’m taking a well-deserved break from some hard work.  Sometimes it’s just so helpful to have someone else say, “No, rest, you deserve it”.

It can be good to have someone to be accountable to. Someone to whom you have stated your goal and who you will report back to. That may help you keep honest so that you’re not kidding yourself about your energy levels or time commitments. You need someone who can hold up a mirror to you that is not too distorted and can help you to see the truth about yourself.

But even in my incredibly blessed situation I can feel like Moz (my accountability partner) is not seeing the full picture and that I’m just being lazy. So I also need to self-assess, to set goals I can reach in a day, in a week. And to constantly reassess.

I love how Rusch says that goals can be reassessed on a constant basis. What works one week or month may not work the next. If you are reaching goals too easily then you may need to set the bar higher. If you are never achieving your goals and just getting frustrated then you may need to lower your expectations of yourself for this season, and this energy level. Just because you set a goal for yourself doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Just like pilots are constantly correcting their course when flying a plane or piloting a ship, we also need to constantly correct our life course and make sure we’re on track. Reassess, realign, set another goal and try to reach it.

So are you just lazy? Am I? I think the answer is so much more complex than that.

As always, I encourage you to sign up on WordPress to get this blog delivered to your email inbox, or to drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com to get my regular writerly email. And again, the wonderful artwork for these posts is from @deteor42 on instagram. 

Unintended Seasons

Universe says no

You might be saying, ‘Ok Ruth, that’s all well and good, but I had plans, good plans, and I’ve put aside time to follow them, and I’m going fine down the road and I’ve just hit a massive road block. What now?’

What happens when life says no to you? When you’ve done all the right things, followed all the steps for success, held on until the season seemed right, gone for it, and then…BAM. When the amount of flexibility you need to deal with what life throws at you is about the same as a roller-skater going under the limbo pole that’s 10 cm off the ground?

I haven’t really gone through this myself, but you might be able to take some tips from what my mother has gone through.

My mother is a concert pianist. As kids we took it for granted. Didn’t everyone go and watch their mother perform? Hadn’t everyone’s mother been recorded and played on ABC radio? No, of course not, we knew that, but it takes a while for kids to appreciate how special their own mother’s talent is, I think. I found out recently that at 15 years of age my mum won a concerto contest and played a movement of Beethoven’s first piano concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me, and there were many more triumphs to follow.

Mum’s playing sometimes took a front seat, like when she and Dad moved to the USA for ten years to work with the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship, and sometimes it took more of a back seat, like when she was raising us kids. It was always a joint decision between Mum and Dad as to which direction they took their lives.

But some years ago now, when Mum and Dad were in the USA, they noticed an increased stiffness and weakness in Mum’s right arm and hand. It didn’t go away so they came back to Australia to start looking into medical options. Mum was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

It was really frustrating for her. She could still play beautifully and better than most people, but she couldn’t play to the standard that she wanted to. The concerts and recordings were taken away from her and it definitely wasn’t her choice.

Sometimes seasons change for us and we don’t want them to at all. But we still have a choice as to how we deal with that situation.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to grieve when you have something like that ripped away from you. It’s not fair, and it’s definitely not fun.

But, well, I’ll show you what Mum did.

She changed her focus. She still played piano but she chose to use this moment to focus on another part of music that was very close to her heart – choral work.

At the moment Mum leads two choral groups and is part of a third. One choir leads the singing at the church where she is music minister, one choir performs in old people’s homes and regional festivals and all sorts of places, one choir does more semi-professional oratorio works. Mum is still surrounded by music and still giving so much to the people around her.

Sometimes life says no to you. The trick seems to be finding the new thing in the new season that can give you life and fulfilment. Being grateful for what you still have (no matter how small) and being able to reach out to others through that.

I have another friend Mandy who has been crippled with chronic fatigue. She is unable to work, unable to do anything most days but sit in the garden and occasionally walk to the end of her driveway. But somehow she still manages to post little tidbits and photos on Facebook that enrich the lives of those of us who read them.

Nobody wants these seasons. They are no fun. They are not what we planned and not what we’d do if we were in charge. If you are going through something like this I am so sorry.

I hope that you can find a spark to help you through it, maybe a change of plan, maybe a little joy that you can give to others, or maybe there’s another way of coping that I don’t know about – feel free to post in the comments if you have wisdom to share. I hope that I can remember some of this (or that someone will gently remind me) if I become the one stuck in the roadblock.

We have a special treat today – Mandy has given me two of her poems about this roadblock stage in her life to share with you.

So This – Lot’s Wife.
By Mandy Langlois

Like Lot’s wife I stand
Petrified
For an eternity
Looking back at the destruction
Wondering at the enormity of the loss
Caught between what was what is and what might have been…

So this is what it feels like to be
Turned to a pillar of salt.

The sharp sting of it.

The cruel toxic cut
searing the soul’s tongue with acid intent.

Crammed in, rammed in
Enshrined
Entombed
Buried alive

Captured, caught
Mortified, fossilised, immortalised…
A moment becomes a day,
Becomes a year
Becomes eternity.

Night Vision
by Mandy Langlois

Give me night vision,
let me sing in the dark.
When my eyes are closed,
let me sense light beyond my own limitations.

Let hope lead me and be my guide,
even when fear is my companion.
Let me know there is a path leading to a place of peace.
Let me find my way to believe again.        

The night bird is singing alone in the dark,
her song is a melody of life,
of strength
and of beauty.

If you want to read more of Mandy’s work, her Facebook page is called Mandy’s Book Nook. As always, I encourage you to sign up on WordPress to get this blog delivered to your email inbox, or to drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com to get my regular writerly email. And again, the wonderful artwork for these posts is from @deteor42 on instagram. 

Seasons

Priorities

Earlier this year when I was trying to figure out what to say no to I made a mind-map of my life. I divided it up into sections – family, church, work, writing, and health. In each section I put the activities that I wanted to include and make time for and I used that map as a method of saying no to those things that didn’t fit in the segments.

It was a good way of seeing what there already was prioritised in my life and of figuring out what things just didn’t fit into my priorities. A way of looking at what I valued, and a way of testing each opportunity as it came.

It wasn’t that long ago that I filled in this mind map but I can already see things that no longer fit my life. For example, one of the planned tasks under ‘work’ was to apply for a new position that I knew would be advertised at my workplace this year. This position was an opportunity I had been waiting for for years. I thought it would fulfil my desire for permanency and security and I was ready to go for it.

In the, I don’t know, three or four months since I completed the mind-map my ideas completely changed. I no longer want to apply for the job. I wouldn’t accept it if it were handed to me on a silver platter. I’m ready to change direction and so grateful that I’m not locked into a long term position.

I often get sucked into what I call ‘The Enid Blyton Mindset’. The idea that if you get everything under control, get into the right school, job, or relationship, or have a certain amount of money saved, or figure out the right exercise routine, or somehow just get every area of your life just right, then you’ll live “Happily Ever After”.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Things are constantly changing. Your exercise routine might work really well until you get sick, or the amount of money you have for a buffer might be exactly right until your car breaks down and it all gets used up. Life is particularly skilled at throwing spanners in the works. We need to be flexible, constantly changing, constantly growing.

Some seasons of life are particularly hard. One of the seasons of life that I found especially draining was when my children were small. As much as I loved my children (and still do), it was all I could do just to get through each day. I lived in a constant state of exhausted fog. I don’t think that I could have done any writing when the kids were small, even though it is the thing that gives me life and joy now. It just would not have fit into that season of my life.

The thing I’m trying to say is that our needs and wants can change over time. It’s not that we have one perfect life set-up that we are struggling towards and when we get there it will be bliss. No, I think we need to be flexible with ourselves and take the time to have a good hard look at where we are every so often so that we can adjust our list of priorities. What was once so very important may now be dropped off the list. If a new priority (maybe taking care of ageing parents) comes on to the list, other priorities (the morning tea roster at church) might have to be knocked off. Or it might just be time, like it is now for me, to deliberately change your life so that a new major priority can get major chunks of time.

What do you think of the idea of seasons? Is it time for a change in your life? Or are you just hanging on to see a certain season through and wondering if things will ever change?

I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail. I apologise for the lateness of this week’s post. I’d like to blame anyone else, really, but it’s my fault. Life happened. We’ll try again next week!

I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42. Today the artist says the art is very millennial but I’m sure all us older ones can still relate.

Appointment Overlap

Eject the mother

Imagine this: You are at a meeting with your supervisor and your student. The meeting is to look at the student’s past year of work and make a plan for the next few months. You are the person who is responsible for guiding the student through the next section of their work. You need to be totally present, thinking of all the options and issues that may appear in the future.

The meeting starts at 1030am and you have scheduled a coffee with a friend at 1130am. The meeting should have only taken half an hour but things are difficult to understand and nut out, conversations go around in circles, and any time you try to clarify, another option/issue rears its ugly head. As the clock ticks on, you become more and more distracted, wondering if there is a way to get a message to your friend without looking bad. You cease to concentrate on the job in hand, you are now doing bad work as well as feeling stressed.

Or here’s another example. You pick up your mother each Friday morning at 9am, have a coffee with her and drop her off at her church for her prayer meeting at 1015am. That works well most weeks but this week you have a doctor’s appointment in town at 1030am. Once again, sitting in the cafe with your mother you are constantly checking your watch, the problem is not getting from the church to town, the problem is parking. If it all goes smoothly you’ll be fine, but if there are a lot of people in the multi-storey carpark you’ll be ten minutes late for the appointment and who knows? They may just cancel, assuming you’re not coming. You don’t hear a word your mother says as your brain visualises the car park, the parking meters near the surgery, the road on the way there. You hustle your mother out of the car at the prayer meeting, your stress levels through the roof.

These two situations are situations I have narrowly avoided.

Marcia Ramsland, a professional organiser, suggests strongly that we put margin around our appointments. And I agree with her. In fact, this idea of margin is such a great one that I’ll talk about it more next week.

Here’s how I solved my problems:

When I found that I had a 1030 meeting before a regular appointment with my friend for coffee I messaged the friend. I told her that I would be in a meeting and I had no idea how long it would take. I asked if I could have a bit of flexibility as to when we met for coffee – if I could send her a message when the meeting finished and then we could meet up after that. She was totally accommodating. That way I could concentrate when I needed to and I could still meet my friend.

My mother came up with the answer to my second situation. I told her about the doctor’s appointment and she suggested that we go into town and have coffee near the surgery. Then she took a taxi to her prayer meeting – easily done as the taxi stand was near the cafe in town and the taxi didn’t have to find parking.

I try to give my self at least ten minutes between appointments. Half an hour if possible. As much wriggle room as I can. Travel takes time, meetings go overtime, parking isn’t always available close to the place that you need to be.

There are always little jobs that you can squeeze into the half hour between appointments. I take my journal with me everywhere so I can write in it. I also tend to take my kindle so I can read if I have time. Or I’ll take a research article that I need to work my way through. (I have a large handbag – can you tell?) That half-hour can be used to give you time to think about life for a bit, time to ponder and dream.

But overlapping appointments are going to cause you stress as well as annoying the person you are late for. It’s not worth it.

What does this have to do with saying no?

Again, it’s having those rules in place for yourself. If someone asks you to attend a meeting, come for coffee, or do a task that will overlap with another meeting or appointment scheduled on your calendar then the answer just has to be no – or at least not today. Don’t try to squeeze the most possible into your day. Give yourself breathing space. It will make your life better.

I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

Are hard things inherently better?

facebook friends

Here’s the flip side to the last blog in this series: Just because something is hard for you, doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right thing to do.

This may not be news to you, but I tell you, it has been big news for me.

I went to my cousin’s thirtieth birthday party last year. He had invited all of his church friends, and all of his family. He had invited everyone. He goes to a different church to me and I knew many people there on a Facebook-friend basis, but there were not a lot of my close friends going.

The party was held in a brewery, a big barn of a place. It was meant to run all afternoon. There was an open fire, nibbles to eat, drinks you could buy. He didn’t plan many activities – just the cutting of the cake and a few speeches. The rest of the time was to be spent milling around and chatting.

Now, as an introvert, that kind of afternoon is … difficult. An afternoon of unplanned small talk with people I didn’t know well. I didn’t want to go. But this was my cousin, and it was his thirtieth, and I love him and his family. So I made plans to turn up late, and to leave early. And to try my best while I was there.

This is the thing that shocked me: When my cousin got up to make his speech he said that he had planned the afternoon to be what it was because it contained all of the things that he loved.

Can you hear me? He planned an afternoon of pain and suffering because this is what he loved.

For him, the party was pure joy from start to finish.

For me, not so much. Although, I am exaggerating about the pain and suffering.

Still, that was a bit of a breakthrough moment for me.

Somewhere down in the depths of my being I believed that there were types of events that no-one loved. That everyone went to these events because they loved the person for whom the event was held and they wanted to show their affection to that person.

Some parties I really enjoy, and some not so much. I think it’s something to do with the ratio of people I know well to people I don’t, or the amount of small talk required, or maybe even the activities we’re doing.

In the past, there were parties that I only attended out of a sense of love and duty. They were a socially acceptable method of showing my affection and regard to a special person. They were not events to be enjoyed.

Once I realised that people actually go to these events because they enjoy them, I felt released to not attend them if I didn’t want to. Or at least to only turn up for a short time.

I understand this is an introvert issue, but I have put myself through discomfort and exhaustion time after time out of a misplaced sense of duty. There have been many parties and occasions that I just should have missed.

Now, if I feel like I need to show my appreciation for someone, I might find a different way of doing it. I might send a card or a present. I might invite them for one-on-one coffee at another time.

I am learning to take a different stance.

I am learning to think about whether I would enjoy an outing. If yes, then I go. If no, then I need to think about it a bit more. There may be other reasons that I would benefit from attending, or that I would benefit others by attending. But sometimes I feel free to leave it to the people who would enjoy going. The people who actively look for these opportunities.

Learning that other people actually like parties helped me to understand that I didn’t have to like parties. It helped me to learn to say no when I am invited to a party that I don’t want to go to. Other people will be there and will enjoy it. The same with big church activities, or school fairs, or party plan parties, or big science festivals, or the morning tea roster. There are some things I am not going to force myself to attend anymore. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.

There are things that suit me to do, that don’t suit others and vice versa.

An example is the way that I volunteer at church.

The other day I was having a coffee with a friend and I said to her that I had been asked to provide dessert for a particular course our church is running.

She looked at me and said, “Food isn’t really your thing though, is it?”

“No,” I said, “but anyone can help with the serving and clearing up.”

She just shook her head at me.

We chatted a bit more, and I wrote back to say that no, I wouldn’t be helping out with this particular task, and suggested someone else to ask that might enjoy it.

I have volunteered in a few different capacities. I have cleaned the toilets. I have worked the computer to put the words on the screen. I have handed out news sheets and taken up offerings. I understand that serving takes many forms and that being part of an organisation like a church involves serving the organisation.

I know that we should be willing to serve the Lord in whatever capacity he calls us to. That cleaning the toilets is no less of a service than leading the services.

For a while I thought that meant that I should clean toilets, or serve morning tea. Not only that I should be willing to take the most uncomfortable job, but that I should actively seek out the most uncomfortable job.

But now I think differently.

The way I volunteer at the moment is by leading services. Around once a month I stand in front of about 300 people and MC  the morning worship. I give the notices, announce the kid’s spot, pray, generally link the whole thing together.

I enjoy it. It’s tiring, but it’s worthwhile, satisfying, joyful. And it’s something I find I can do. Well, I think I can, I made the same comment to someone over coffee after a service once and she said, “Who told you that?”  Anyway, I find that leading the service is something I am well suited to.  It is more within my abilities to lead once a month than to serve tea and coffee afterwards.

There is nothing inherently holy or worthy or wonderful about forcing yourself to perform activities that you don’t enjoy. I don’t believe that we are meant to be miserable and exhausted all the time. If you are not enjoying an activity, it may be a sign that you should stop doing it. Let someone else take the reigns – it might be just what they are looking for. Some people absolutely love being on the cleaning roster – it fills a part of their love for order and cleanliness and gives them joy. Others love serving morning tea, saying good morning to every single person that attended church that day. Still others get a kick out of running the technology for the service.

It is good to be willing to serve in any capacity but it surely is better to serve in a way that suits your personality and talents. To take that load that others don’t want and to give them the chance to do something that they would like to do. I am not saying that you should put off serving until you get the chance to do the one thing that you would be perfectly suited to. But I am saying that if we all work at the things we love, there’s a good chance that all the jobs would be taken care of and we would all be happier and healthier people.

I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42