After an unusually hectic seven straight days of nonstop work—CAD, writing, and some paid copyediting—I found myself so tapped out on Monday that I could hardly reason. When, lying on the couch in the late morning (there are some benefits to working from home), I reflected on my condition, I remembered the importance of continuously re-evaluating commitments and priorities.
I have friends—I’m sure you do too—for whom anything less than too much seems to be not enough. These people are constantly on the go, 24/7, afraid, perhaps, that they might miss out on something, or seize up if they slow down. Rather than sipping and savouring life like a fine wine, they seem to want to drink it down like water from a fire hose.
And then there are those people who seem unable to say no. These are often deeply giving, caring people, volunteering for this and that, espousing causes and helping others even at the expense of their own health and the wellbeing of their family.
I understand most of this. We live in a hyperfast, ultraconnected world full of distraction, temptation, need, social and peer pressure—and insecurity. Those of us fortunate enough to have jobs are working more hours than ever before, in many cases for less money; there are the phenomenal demands of children and their own activities, and a mass of good causes clamouring for support.
There’s a Chinese saying that goes, one lake cannot hold all the water in the world. You can’t do it all. You have to prioritise. You have to draw lines.
I’ve always been a little stingy with my time and energy, and I recommend that when you see the wall coming up, you do the same. Just say no. It’s okay. They’ll find someone else to help clean the beach or be the society treasurer. Someone else can usher at the kids’ school play. And however much they want to play baseball as well as soccer, unless you want your kids to be as tapped out and frenetic as you are, you’ll be doing them—and yourself—a big favour by drawing a line. When you exhaust yourself, you’re no good to anyone. Don’t even go to the edge. Just say no.
No is a really empowering word. Used correctly, it’s a kind word, and a thoughtful, even wise one. It’s survival. It lets you live to fight and win the next battle.
A lot of people seem to overload and take on more and more as some kind of validation, perhaps to bolster low self-esteem. Others might have an inflated sense of their own importance, like the workaholic middle manager who won’t delegate and can’t seem to trust anyone else to do anything. These behaviours are, in my opinion, inefficient and even unhealthy, sometimes to the point of pathology. We all need downtime, mental space, relaxation. Without enough sleep we become cranky and our immune systems begin to break down. The eventual outcome is often depression, ill health, or divorce.
Here’s what’s important: time with ourselves and with our loved ones; regular and sufficient sleep; good meals, eaten in comfort with family, not in the car or at your desk. Exercise. Time in nature. Please understand I’m not judging or preaching, but I think we sometimes all need to step back and remember we have choices. They may be hard, but we still have them. It’s easy to forget this.
So I cut out my Saturday blog post, because I realized it was pushing me to overload. I let go of my SF reviewing gig for Tangent (which I rather enjoyed) a few weeks ago because other things were starting to suffer. I politely declined to stand for the board of a new SFF society because I knew I couldn’t do it to my satisfaction without something else important (to me) suffering. I don’t play any MMORPGs anymore because I’d rather have the time in hand and I spend too much of my day at the computer anyway. My own physical and emotional wellbeing requires exercise and time spent preparing and eating good food. And by constantly reevaluating and making choices, when something vital does come up, I can not only say yes, but I’m whole and healthy enough to be both reliable and efficient.
The thing is, the people who are important will understand. They get it… and if they don’t, do you really need those people in your life? I don’t like people who flake on commitments, and I certainly don’t want to become one of them. If I make commitments I can’t keep—to others or to myself—everyone suffers. Better to say an honest no to begin with. They’ll find someone else, or maybe even realize that they’ve taken on too much.
Just say no once in while, to yourself as well as others. You’ll be glad you did.