Taking back my life

by Kristin on September 16, 2009

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Woodleywonderworks

When I was in college, living in the dorms, we had a field day each fall, involving everything from straight-up sports like softball to crazy relays and mud fights. One of the relays involved running across the soccer field with a partner, probably after doing something crazy at the other end. I don’t remember the crazy part, just the running with Terry, the very tall guy I happened to be paired with.

Terry was lithe and long-legged, full of energy and a competitive spirit. Terry could run like the wind; I, in effect, became one with the wind.

I’ll never forget the feeling of running across that field. Terry essentially pulled me up and along by our clasped hands, his long legs propelling us as my feet pedaled the air frantically, occasionally making brief contact with the earth. I must have looked like a cartoon character, scrambling without traction, ready at any moment to fly sprawling on my face. I was simply hanging on for dear life.

That’s what my life has felt like for the past month or so, and I don’t like it. It’s not exhilarating, it’s exhausting. It makes me feel like I’m running a race that isn’t mine, on legs I don’t control. It makes me feel like I’m always on the brink of a major wipe out. Something has to change.

The practical

This past week, I’ve started to take some really practical steps toward taking back my life—baby steps, not the full speed ahead kind.

I committed to a new gym routine, one that’s regular but not overly ambitious. I’ve been getting in lots of physical activity all summer—walking the dog, biking to the coworking space, working in the yard—but I haven’t had that regular, sustained kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping and makes you really sweat. I need that for physical and mental health, and I’m the only one who’s going to make it happen.

I’m learning to delegate more, and even say no. Last week, at a worship leaders’ meeting at church, I found myself getting excited about new ideas and my willingness to help make them happen. Mid-meeting, I stopped myself, and even spoke up about my hereditary problem of being too optimistic about what I can do with the hours in a day. I scaled back my involvement to something more reasonable, and even pinpointed the most stressful, time-consuming aspect of leading worship for me: the planning. Then, a few days later, I completely delegated the planning of this Sunday’s service to a friend with gifts in that area. It felt great.

I’m devising strategies for doing battle with stress. Stress is one of the things I really need to manage. It comes in many forms, and feeds itself into areas that otherwise don’t need to be stressful. There’s stress about money; Jason and I talked about trying a cash-only budget plan for a month, for groceries and pocket money. There’s stress about a messy house; I’ve been more firm about recruiting the kids to help. On busy evenings, like yesterday, Jason and I have decided to abandon our elaborate meal plan for something much simpler, involving fewer dishes. And I’m making all that overwhelms me around the house more manageable by setting a “cleaning timer” for 20 minutes, tackling as much clutter as possible, then letting go. Baby steps are important.

The emotional

Perhaps the even bigger issue, though—the one that’s more elusive and eats away at my core if I ignore it—is taking back that part of my life that embodies who I am and what I love. It’s the emotional-spiritual-personal part of me that slowly dies when I forget to feed it.

A writer I know, Julie Hammonds, devised something she calls “The Love List.” (She writes about it in her essay in the book Ask Me About My Divorce, which also includes an essay I wrote.) When Julie was recently divorced and at a crossroads in her life, she taped a large piece of paper on her pantry door, and wrote at the top “What do you love?” She was determined to grow her future in the fertile ground of what she loves most in life—what makes her feel very much alive, and very much herself.

I feel like I’ve lost much of that connection to what I love. From time to time, I glance at this race I’m running and don’t know how I got here, or why I’m running it at all. Although I’m certainly not at a sad moment in my life, or a significant crossroads, it seems like the right moment to start making a love list, as the groundwork for taking back my life.

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  • http://www.tjhirst.com/ TJ Hirst

    This has been me. A year ago, I had something happen that made me change. I stopped running through my life. Sounds like you’re right on track to take yours back. I think the biggest change I needed to make was my desire to please other people or prove something to myself. When I took away those motivations for doing certain things or not doing others, I found much more time in my life. The house is cleaner, we’re not in richer, but the mind and body are keeping pace with each other so my emotions don’t take over with all the stress.

  • suzigurl

    Wow. I needed this. In the midst of looking at how to get out of this rut of my life, I am exhausted and need to remember what it is I love. I made “I love” lists in college all the time, it was an exercise from Zindel’s book (I think) My Darling, My Hamburger, where character would write I hate until he’d finally write I hate hating and then he’d switch over to I love. (It’s been 20 years since I’ve read the book, so don’t quote me.) Where is that girl that I used to be? Not that I would go back in time, but can’t I reclaim some of the joy? Thanks for this post.

  • http://mydarlinganodyne.blogspot.com Kat

    I’ve recently discovered your blog. Thank you for making me think about what matters most. I really value your honesty and courage.

  • Michael Van Houten

    Great food for thought, Kristin. I can especially relate to saying yes to too many things. It’s an affliction I’ve dealt with as long as I can remember. To that end, I read something by Derek Sivers (of CDBaby) recently that made me say, well, “hell yeah.” I hope it will resonate with you as well.


  • http://arewehereyet.wordpress.com Katherine

    Thanks for writing this Kristin – the timing couldn’t be better. I was actually up from 2-6am last night over this very issue, specifically in the workplace/ money area. Compromise in that area scares the crap out of me. I think I need to put a “What do I love?” sign on my resume box!

  • Trina

    Love your analogy, and for you, the event being so persona,l it really works, right? Glad you are learning to anchor yourself, I believe its a lesson learned over time, occasionaly with restarts. Some of us need a real belt up side of the head to get the message…yes, me. Anyhow I stepped off the crazy train in my late 30′s, and look back on those days of trying to be everything as a blurr. Learning to say no with out regrets is such a big one. After all if we have too much going on how can we really be doing such a good job at anyone thing? A dear friend shared her philosphy with me some years ago that centres on saying ‘yes’ only as ‘Time and Talent permits’. Wishing you peace, and joy as your pursue both.

  • Nicola

    Wow! I could have written this post!

    I’ve been feeling exactly the same way: a product of having a super great summer, many weekend trips, visitors in our house, etc. and the current state of moving back into a school schedule for both Aubrey and Jerry that means I’m basically a single mom on weeknights. This coupled with a demanding job that is getting even more demanding has kind of made me come unglued!

    I have taken almost all of the same steps as you, Kristin, to restore my sanity. I’m also trying to let go a bit of my need for things to be ordered – to accept that this is a hectic time and that I’m doing the best that I can.

    I honestly think that, for me, the most important thing is kindness to myself. Also, patience – knowing that I’m truly doing an amazing job even if it doesn’t live up to what is inside my head (an impossibility).

    It’s becoming pretty clear to me that it’s time to re-evaulate some things, namely my job. But, I have to put that on the back burner for now until I have a little more time and space to think things through.

    Thanks for reinforcing what I already know, Kristin! It’s good to know that you are out there with the same issues!


  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    Saying no is important. People need to respect that you know your time limits.

  • http://salvagedfaith.blogspot.com Katie Z.

    sigh. This is what I need to do. I especially like the 20 minutes of cleaning thing. Is that a day? or a week?

    I think part of my stress is trying to figure out how to get my hubby on board. It’s been easier for me, for too long, to just do the things that need to be done and stress about the rest, without asking him to pitch in more… it’s that delegating thing.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    I’m glad you’re finding ways to pause, or at least, scheduling time to pause! The regular exercise will be so awesome…I swear, in one week of hitting the gym, my patience has increased, it seems. I have been concerned for you, just by reading your tweets alone. Not for your patience, but maybe your sanity! :)Maybe it’s because my life is usually very un-busy – that’s just the place we’re at, in our family. I know it will get busier as time goes on…but I was frantically busy during my 20′s, out of the house 4 or 5 nights a week (and not having FUN, per se, but much of it church commitments, and work!). Having Thomas slowed me the heck down, for sure.

    And what is it that Anne Lamott says? “No is a complete sentence.” I swear I need that tattoed on my arm! But it’s so hard to say NO when you love to say YES!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    TJ, I think it’s really interesting that you were able to pinpoint the biggest life-taker for you—the desire to please others. I suspect that’s what we each need to do: find the energy suck and squelch it. I also really love how you put this: “…the mind and body are keeping pace with each other so my emotions don’t take over with all the stress.”

    suzigurl, it sounds like you have a really great foundation for starting up the love list habit again. Man, I wish I had known to do something like that in my teens and twenties—I can only imagine all of the wandering it would have prevented. You *can* reclaim some of the joy of that girl you used to be. I’m excited for you! I also have an idea for supporting one another in our love list endeavors, via my blog and Twitter. More on that soon!

    Kat, thanks for letting me know you’re reading and thinking about all of these things. I look forward to getting to know you more (and I’ll definitely check out your blog).

    Michael, yes, I got that “saying yes” affliction from my dad. Who did you get it from? Maybe we should start a support group. :) Thanks for the link. I’m going to take a look at it today.

    Katherine, it’s always so good to know we’re not alone, even when we’re up in the middle of the night worrying and feeling alone. It also sounds like maybe we should find time to meet for coffee or a beer, too, since we have the luxury of living in the same town!

    Trina, what’s funny about the analogy, is that it had been a decade since I had thought about what it felt like to “run” across that soccer field. As I sat and tried to center myself on how I was feeling about my life, the memory just popped into my head. I love how memory and analogies and stories all work together in the craft of writing. (And I would love to hear more about your decision to step off the “crazy train.” Sounds like there’s a story there!)

    Nicola, you bring up some really good points: letting go of the need for things to be just so, and the importance of being kind to yourself. I’m going to throw those into the mix of things I’m pondering. I have to say I really love being able to connect with you here. (Note: Nicola and I grew up as cousins even though we aren’t biological cousins, but haven’t seen each other in a decade!) We always did connect as kids, so it’s fascinating to see our ties even now, in our completely different lives.

    Daisy, I think saying “yes” can be addictive, which is why it’s a hard habit to break. I also think that “no” is hard for me because I don’t want to appear selfish, and because I struggle with feeling guilty about the idea of appearing selfish. That probably come from my mom being one of the least selfish people I know! Oh, what a tangled, beautiful mess we are.

  • Lorna

    By the way, I was thrilled to be asked to plan the service, and thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I just hope you enjoy carrying out the plan!