Recently I have had the same conversation over and over with different friends. The theme of the day seems to be priorities. That old chestnut. I have so many brilliant, talented, hardworking, principled women in my life who are just bloody great at so many things. And bloody horrible at saying, 'No'. Normally the conversation starts with an admission of exhaustion (common amongst mums), followed by a flare of frustration (at ourselves, our kids, our churches or kinder committees). It's a pretty basic equation. We want to do X number of things and we only have x - y level of energy.
Noble burnout - does that make it right?
I don't think anyone has ever burnt out doing things that didn't need to be done, that weren't important. We use ourselves up and sacrifice the peace of our families and offer a skimmed, depleted, exhausted version of ourselves in too many places because of all the very good, honourable, worthwhile things that we committed to doing. It's not like we're giving up our free time to punch a granny or hand out free illicit drugs at the local Highschool. So of course it's really hard to say no. Of course it's cheek burning in the extreme to have to go to someone and bow out, pull back, lock down. Yuck, no thankyou.
What are you really saying No to?
We've all been asked to join a roster, be the person who runs the thing, or volunteered for that committee. But has anyone ever asked you these ones:
"Would you like to have enough time to hold your children when they get sick?"
"How would you feel about having half an hour or more of face to face connection with your husband each day?"
"Would it be ok if you could get to sleep at a good time so you can get up a little earlier and do something which will give you energy and focus for your day?"
"Would you like to do nothing today and just be a peaceful presence in your own house?"
I doubt any of us will get asked these questions, but for me, these are the kind of things I am actually saying 'No' to when I over commit, when I bleed my life out into the margins and I don't intentionally make space for what I feel is important. Your list may look different but you get my idea.
Because we're hungry.
We take on these things not because we're terrible mums or neglectful wives or whatever. We bite off more than we can chew because we are hungry. At our best we are hungry for a better world, hungry for more people to be blessed by what has helped us, hungry to bring others joy. At our worst (which can be strangely entwined with our best) we want to be needed, we are hungry for significance, approval and to just do something which will be noticed.
What really satisfies?
Initially, realising that you have too much on, that you've said yes too much is quite painful. Then there's the process of going to people honourably (don't just not show up) and explaining that you can no longer do something. Ugh. But after you have pruned away the branches of your schedule that were not bringing life, something happens. You begin to show up. You begin to inhabit the spaces you are in, fully. No longer the harried shadow of a waif personality, but a real person. You may begin to notice others more. You may start to have some truly deep moments with your kids. You will probably feel less like the bark being tossed along in the stream and more like the rock at the base of the waterfall, watching the beauty all around you, receiving it's grace. You'll need to practise the difficult process of saying no regularly. Because like all pruning, it is only temporary, and before long, the tenacious offshoots of busywork grow back. But keep aspiring to grow straight and tall in the direction of your truest callings rather than pour energy and time into divergent and probably life-sucking second bests.
"One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess--the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place." ~Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak