It’s been a rough several months. Unbelievably heavy professional work load, uncommonly stressful personal trials.
I’ve also discovered the overwhelm of amazing opportunities, the invitations to do something awesome — to use my skills to make a difference. The chance to meet great people, do important work, and relish the abundance that exists when you say yes to something great. It’s awesome. Unless your hair’s on fire.
In May I was invited to join a couple of respected colleagues on a new communications venture. This came in the same weeks that I was spending time with my 92-year-old granddad as his life was ending. And supporting my young son in an especially difficult bout of anxiety. At work, I was migrating a massive website, studying for my APR professional accreditation exam and wrapping up a school year. I was so flattered by the invitation, and intrigued by the opportunity to use my expertise to support others. But something was holding me back.
In a phone call with a very wise friend a week or two later, I reflected on how busy I’d been in the past year, even without the stress that May presented. Writing a book. Building a personal website. Working with a new superintendent.
Sitting in my parked car — where I’ve discovered I tend to be unusually productive — I told her that I’d reached the point of busy where I resented it. I was unhappy. I love being engaged in work that challenges and rewards. (And besides, who doesn’t love the feeling of being asked to play a role in something cool? Write a book? Deliver a presentation? Start a new venture? Count me in!) But this was different, I said. This kind of busy was stealing my joy.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that any hair on fire scenario, whether literal or metaphorical, is probably bad. I’m a loyal subscriber to the notion that you make time for the things that are important to you, and I believe there is generally enough time for those important things, even in the finite 24-hour day. Call me selfish, but eating, sleeping, showering and hugging my kids rank high among my most important things.
Doing my best professional work also ranks up there pretty high, but I needed to simplify. The idealist in me is always wooed by the chance to do The Good Work, but I needed to step away from a few volunteer boards, at least temporarily. I needed to think harder every time I was invited to spend a day on the road to deliver a 45-minute presentation.
I’ve found it can be physically painful to turn down an invitation to do what I love — to make things better through strategic communications and collaboration. But that pain is far less than the pain of hair on fire — running around, frantic and desperate to put it out. That’s no way to live a joyful life.
I’m learning to name my top priorities — caring for my family and myself, and delivering professional value to my colleagues — and go from there. If a new opportunity cuts too deeply into any of them, it’s too much. I’ll probably always be working toward that sweet spot, where I can grow and learn, love on my family, and breathe. But as I unhook myself from some commitments, and simply finish up others without replacing them, I’m getting closer.
I don’t seek perfect, continuous balance. It doesn’t exist. But I do seek the calm contentment that comes with knowing that, even when I’m busy, the most important pieces of my life still fit.