While sitting on the bleachers watching our daughters’ high school sporting event, I had a conversation with a mom with whom I had recently met. We were bonding on our shared sense of wonder that we had daughters in high school and our desire to savor these next four years. The realization that time is fleeting (just four years until college!) had a profound effect on both of us.
This woman had lost her husband on 9/11 when her daughter was just 7 months old. She shared with me that the first few years after her husband died, she was in survival mode and could not be fully present in her daughter’s life. She was determined to savor the moments she had with her daughter now.
I thought about the tragedy that she had to endure and how she was forced into survival mode because of the horrifying acts of terrorists. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that so many of us live in survival mode voluntarily. We make choices that enslave us to the world of distraction, and we are unable to truly experience all the blessings we have. Savoring the moment is a challenge for many of us, even those of us who have not had to experience such tragedy.
Our culture glorifies busy-ness, and it is not just adults who suffer from this. Our children are suffering from this ailment as well. Just this morning, my daughter told me that she is worried she is not doing enough. She was concerned that she should be doing more—more activities, more clubs, etc. She is a hard worker, plays three sports and enjoys spending time with her friends and family. How much more should she do? Why is the expectation that more is better? The cultural norm in my community is to have kids killing themselves to make it into college. I simply don’t think it is worth it.
Several years ago, I realized that I needed to take a sabbatical of sorts. I was an overworked mom doing too much between part-time jobs, volunteer work, participating in community events, and caring for my family. I articulated to my therapist (and to myself) that I wanted to participate in motherhood like I am swimming in a pool—pure immersion. I wanted to create my own motherhood immersion program similar to programs kids participate in to fully experience a foreign culture and language.
My therapist encouraged for me to do less and participate more fully in what I was doing. I felt like a rebel doing this, yet I needed it so badly. I was constantly challenged with this task. I had to say no to so many opportunities. But I was committed to focus on a singular task: enjoying my life as a mother.
Having a singular focus afforded me the opportunity to feel joy on a daily basis. I found myself prioritizing the mental health of myself and of my family. I was not only physically present for my kids, but I was also emotionally present. By being less distracted and fragmented, I could really listen to them. I learned that the mundane aspects of motherhood like making lunches and driving carpools are much more enjoyable when I was not rushed. When the kids were at school, I took the time to rest, read, and to just be.
What I did not realize at the time is that all of the rest, care, and reflection allowed ideas to percolate. By minimizing multi-tasking and overwork, I was a more creative parent and person. This time clarified for me who I am as a person and what I want out of my life. After some time, I felt ready to expand my world. Upon reflection I have noticed two things that occurred since my sabbatical:
1. I began filling my time more intentionally. With a cultivated ability to say no, and clarity around what I want out of life, I considered carefully how I wanted to spend my time. I appreciated the energy I had enjoyed as a result of my sabbatical and I decided I was only going to choose to do things that revitalized me. While I am definitely much busier now than I was during my sabbatical, I continue to feel energized and fulfilled. My calendar contains hand-picked activities that bring meaning and pleasure to my life. My calendar reflects who I am as a person and consequently I feel I am living a more authentic life.
2. My sabbatical is the reason I have been able to dive into starting a new business. Time off to focus on my priorities allowed me to have the renewed energy to push forward with new endeavors with excitement and courage. I discovered that all of the reading and learning I had time for from my sabbatical sparked a desire to share through writing, teaching, and coaching.
I am busier than I have been in a while, and I love it. I am rested and renewed and excited for my next chapter. But I am going to continue to protect my time the best I can. When I plan out my days, weeks, and months, I am going to continue to guard my “downtime” with a vengeance so that I can fully enjoy today. And I am going to encourage my loved ones, students, and clients to do the same.