94 – April 4
“I’d been busy, busy, so busy, preparing for life, while life floated by me, quiet and swift as a regatta.”—Lorene Cary
We’re only in this life for a short time. And none of us knows just how brief it will be. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our busy panoply of obligations that we forget to live.
I was working on the program committee of a women’s business organization with a woman named Joan. Joan, the Program Chair, had her own consulting business and worked hard, long hours. She was very responsible, did every task to perfection—and thus had trouble delegating work to others or setting limits as to what she would do. She always said, “Well, if I don’t do it, it won’t get done or it won’t get done right.” You could always count on her if you needed to get a job done, but I worried about how stressed she seemed. She rarely took time off or a vacation.
One evening, Joan called me for the phone number of a health professional we both knew. She was in terrible pain, and the doctors were having trouble diagnosing her condition. It wasn’t long before she went into the hospital for tests. I went to see her the day before her operation, and she was scared and nervous, as any of us would be. It was the last time I saw her. When they opened her up, she was full of cancer. She died ten days later.
All of her friends and the members of the program committee attended her memorial service. We told stories of her love and courage, hugged each other and cried. The next day, the president appointed a new Program Chair.
That hit me like a thunderbolt. That’s what’s going to happen when I die, I thought. They’re going to appoint a new me the next day. All those obligations, chores, and duties will be carried out by someone else or not done at all. That very day, I started eliminating all the excess clutter from my life: I didn’t have to be all things to all people, respond to every request, fret about every last detail. I wanted bigger, more important moments in my life. I refocused on my dreams and goals and let go of the administrivia. I called the people I loved and made sure I wasn’t “too busy” to see them. Often.
Busses will run and planes will fly without you when you’re gone. Make sure that you live the life that you want to have lived by the time you’re done.
“I enjoy each and every minute of my blissful life!”
My friend and author of Fearless Living, Rhonda Britten, says, “If you don’t have a ‘no’, your ‘yes’ means nothing.”
That really resonated with me, as it was often so hard for me to say “no”. Whenever anyone asked for help, I said “yes”. If people wanted me to volunteer for a board, I said “yes.” I was constantly on overwhelm, having signed up for too many things, rushing around to try and get everything done.
In my senior year of high school, I was the lead in the school play, Worthy Advisor of Rainbow Girls, and Pep Chairman all at the same time. One semester in college, I was in a semi-professional dance company, choreographing and playing a part in the college production, and rehearsed a reader’s theater piece from midnight to 4:00 am because that’s the only time I was available! Oh, yes, and carried 19 units, too. It was all engaging and interesting and a lot of fun, but really. I practically had a nervous breakdown from the stress. Somewhere in my psyche I knew I was nuts.
When I read, “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” by Manuel Smith, I started to understand how to unwind from so many duties and responsibilities. I could just smile and say, “Thank you so much for asking me and I’d love to, but unfortunately I have a full slate of commitments right now and can’t take that on. Good luck with your project, and let me know how it goes!”
One time some friends in a networking group suggested I run for president of the club. I smiled and said, “Thank you so much for asking me and I’d love to, but…”
One man said, “But Chellie, you’d make a great president!”
I said, “Thank you very much. I appreciate your confidence in me, but no.”
“Why not?” he pressed.
“Because I’ve been president of every club I’ve belonged to since I was twelve,” I replied, with a twinkle in my eye. “Time for somebody else to have a crack at it!”
Let me be clear – being an officer in an organization is fabulous. You learn so much from the experience, it’s great for your professional visibility, and the camaraderie is fantastic. It’s just that if you always have to be the one in charge, maybe that stops being a good thing after a bit.
If you’re too rushed, you won’t be happy. You need time to rest, reflect, and enjoy your activities. Make a list of everything you’re doing in order of priority, then chop off the bottom third and resign, quit, abdicate, withdraw from them.
You might find a golden treasure at the end of that rainbow: free time.