Why Sometimes You Need to Have Nothing to Find Something

While flex-schedule working has many benefits, it also has its share of challenges. From the time my son was born, I was fortunate enough to have a work situation that allowed me to work from home as needed. And while I am so grateful to have had that opportunity, one of the challenges that comes with it is feeling like I should always be doing something. Always.

Not that I always am.

Oh, no—if that were the case, I would have much to show for all of that responsible diligence. No, it means that whenever I am not doing something, I feel like I should be, and when I am doing something, I feel like there are other things I should be doing, too. There is a permanent cloud hovering overhead because the parameters of work and life are fuzzy at best—and that ends up equaling no parameters at all.

I know—boo and hoo—shut up, you still get to work in your jammies if you want to.

And while working in your jammies (and for the record, it’s yoga pants) may seem like the cat’s pajamas (or again…cat’s yoga pants), that sense of never being off the hook can be suffocating.

I find myself drowning in “shoulds.”

In this day and age of busyness as a badge of honor, I suspect that most people—whether flex-workers or not—deal with some level of never being “done” or never completely letting ourselves temporarily off the hook.

Perhaps you know exactly what it feels like to drown in shoulds, too.

So…what to do?

Well, in all these years, I still don’t have the answer, but I did recently have an experience that I’m trying to adapt somehow and make repeatable.




A few weeks ago, my family was away for the weekend for my son’s state volleyball tournament. (They won! Yea!) In getting ready for the trip, I made what turned out to be a critical decision: I decided to leave my laptop at home. I thought the likelihood of my getting any real work done was very low, and so I opted to leave the old girl at home.

I didn’t realize it in the moment, but in doing so, I had given myself permission to not work—and also key: to not feel like I could work, so I should work, and if I don’t work, then I’m failing. I gave myself permission to push the cloud away for a while.

It wasn’t a conscious thought until I had some downtime and thought about what I might do with it. Work was off the table. I wasn’t home, so any chore or project was also off the table. I recognized that I couldn’t do anything but be, and so I focused on being present.

I’m typically able to be fully (though sometimes only mostly) present at my kid’s games. After all, it’s action right in front of you—loud, competitive, engaging, and all right there. But it wasn’t until we had this chunk of free time that I fully felt the cloud’s (albeit temporary) departure.

While the boy was off on his own adventures with friends, my husband and I played the “what do you want to do?” game, and I actually had an answer that I felt “all in” on. Our hotel was located in the heart of some sites worth seeing, and so we…went and saw them.




But this little excursion wasn’t the full-on tourist kind. We just…ambled. We didn’t have a plan beyond knowing where we wanted to walk for lunch. Other than that, we just made it up as we went along. It was a beautiful fall day, and that made it all the more delightful. We didn’t feel pressed for time. We didn’t have an agenda of things to cross off. We didn’t feel like we “must” do anything—we just were. And when we had our fill, we ambled on back to the hotel.



It was so simple. But it was so very nice. Nice enough for me to recognize even in the moment how enjoyable—and appreciated…and necessary—it all was.

And how sometimes having nothing allows you to find something.

The challenge is creating those moments beyond the happenstance.

I know living a life drowning in shoulds isn’t healthy. After all, there is the whole “drowning” thing that drops a big hint. Being overwhelmed by all that you should be doing is by its very nature robbing you of your present. If you should be doing something, it means you aren’t currently doing it…so whatever it is that you are doing is getting eclipsed and losing value. Whatever the “should” is diminishes the “am.”

I am watching a show with my family, but I should be working. 

I am taking a walk, but I should be cleaning. 

I am going out with friends, but I should be making headway on that project.

Can you hear it? Each “am” is being undercut by the “should.”

I let the Should Thief steal my present all too often. I’m not sure how to stop him completely, but I’ve at least got to slam the door on him a time or two instead of opening it up, inviting him in, and asking him if he wants a cup of coffee.

I know that willing it is a discipline, and I know that I suck at it. But I also know that I want to be better. I want more ambling afternoons that end up recharging me for the “shoulds” I will ultimately do.

The truth is that I didn’t have another option that lovely afternoon, and I need to convince myself that it’s okay to do even with other options. Work in progress. Nothing new on that front.

And though I may not be able to will myself “there” yet, if my kid’s basketball team makes it to state…



All photos are my own or used with permission.
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