I was strong, smart, capable, independent, and could do it all (while wearing 4-inch heels and running on caffeine). I was on top of my game. I didn’t take notes in meetings because I remembered what was discussed. My purse, keys and car were always where I left them. I didn’t need a ‘to do’ list or a grocery list because lists were for people who are disorganized.
I never said ‘no’ to anyone who needed my time, expertise or shoulder. My motto was ‘I’ve got this’ (and by ‘this’ I mean, not just my own problems, but your problems, too). Until one day…I didn’t.
I forgot the password to my computer and locked myself out. (Yup, the one I logged into every morning).
I got lost driving my kids to school one morning.
I accidentally took my 24-hour medication twice in one day.
I went to bed with a headache. I woke up with a headache.
I was getting sick back to back.
I couldn’t think straight, focus, concentrate, or remember anything.
I boarded a cross-country flight, which was a monthly occurrence for me, and ten minutes after I nestled into my seat, I started experiencing heart palpitations. Not one-off flutters, but constant extra beats. I chalked it up to one of the six medications I had been taking to manage my sinus infection, allergies and asthma (or perhaps a combination of them). I woke the next morning expecting to feel better, but I didn’t. I stopped taking several medications that could cause a rapid heart rate, but that didn’t help either.
After I returned home, the first stop I made was to my doctor. She called me into her office. I sat down and she asked, ‘so what’s going on?’. I opened my mouth to answer, but the words didn’t come out. I couldn’t speak (this was a first). The only thing I could do was cry and cry some more, and then I placed my hands over my heart. I felt helpless, powerless and overwhelmed with emotion.
Two weeks passed. One heart monitor, a stress test, two cardiologists and two echocardiograms later, I was relieved to finally get that long awaited call from the doctor who explained that despite the fact that I was feeling these heart palpitations (61 throughout the course of the day to be exact), my heart was healthy.
What I was experiencing was a result of burnout. Physical manifestations of personal and professional stress and fatigue that was not being managed. I was overworked, overwhelmed, exhausted and listless. I had been so focused on being everything to everyone else in my life that I wasn’t taking care of my own needs. I hit a wall.
My family was worried about me. In my head I knew that I had to take care of myself in order to care for those I love, but what did that look like? The health scare forced me to take a step back.
We live in a culture where we pride ourselves on being busy. All. The. Time. I felt like I was being figuratively suffocated. I needed space. Space to think, breathe, reflect, refuel, focus, regroup, space to just be. It didn’t happen overnight, and it was far from easy for me, but I took several important steps to change my habits, my mindset and ways of being.
“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” – Karen Martin
I learned to manage my energy instead of my time
I prioritized what is most important to me– my family, my job, my training, and self-care. I focused my energy on those people and things. If you can’t count your priorities on one hand, it’s time to re-evaluate your definition of important.
I scheduled time each day to do at least one thing for myself. Whether it’s 15 minutes to write in my journal before the day starts, 30 minutes to read a book before I go to sleep or fitting in a 45-minute workout…it’s me time. I made a list of what (or who) drained me. And then I took action.
I found new perspective
I realized that my kids would rather have a fun mom, than a clean house.
I stopped viewing ‘down time’ as a sign of laziness.
I stopped considering asking for help to be a sign of weakness.
Most importantly, I stopped defining my life based on what I wanted to accomplish (or thought I wanted to accomplish), and instead I started living based on how I wanted to feel.
These changes enabled me to get my health back on track, appreciate what’s important to me, get back to living in harmony, and it allowed me to pursue my passion and my purpose. The experience taught me the importance of living authentically and the power of personal transformation.
We are all living through these unique and challenging times amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We are focused on what we need to do to get through this crisis. Washing your hands a little longer, wearing a mask and gloves in public, practicing social distancing, managing work responsibilities, caring for children and parents, putting food on the table, checking in on family, friends and neighbors. The list is endless.
What if we took this time to reflect not just on our ways of doing, but our ways of being?
What opportunities do you see as we operate in times of crisis? What is most important to you?
What do you want your new normal to look like? How do you want to shift your priorities?
What impact could that have on your current and future reality?
Take this opportunity to pause and reflect. What would bring you greater joy and fulfillment?
Less travel? More quality time with your family? A hobby or creative outlet? Flexible working hours, remote working, better work-life integration? Healthier eating, more physical activity? Giving back to your community, volunteering your time? The list is endless.
Just the other day when I found myself complaining about the dreary weather, my five-year old daughter reminded me, “mommy…we need the rain to make beautiful flowers.”