Posted in Soapbox

Part 2—Can We Crack the Culture of Overwhelm?

In last week’s post, I hit on a few key points from Brigid Schulte’s New York Times bestseller, Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time that touched on why so many of us feel overwhelmed. This week, I’m focusing on some key strategies that will help “crack the culture” of why we feel this way.

Before I go any further, though, I want to take a moment to clarify something. This book is about helping both women and men make better choices for a more fulfilling life. There is no bias against either gender—just an examination of what is and why, and then ways to help everyone make better use of their time. Translation: Men, this book is worth reading for you, too.

I want to offer some takeaways for you to chew on right now, but I can’t stress enough how worthwhile it is to read the entire book. And as I said in last week’s post, this is not a paid endorsement. I just want to share some of what I found so valuable and maybe motivate you to do your own thinking and searching…and changing.

So…where to begin? As the title suggests, the book is broken down into the three areas of work, love, and play, and Schulte examines and offers help in each.

Apparently I can’t be that structured today, so…in no particular order…the takeaways…

Find your pulse—I keep thinking that if only I had large blocks of uninterrupted time to focus, I would be much more productive…but we aren’t actually built that way. There is a rhythm—a pulse—to our lives. We inhale…and exhale. And we need to spend time working…and recovering. It’s how we will do our best work. Schulte shares research that shows that working in 90-minute stretches and then getting up and shifting gears entirely for a short period of time will greatly increase productivity. Find the pulse that works for you.

Choose your priorities—figure out what’s truly important to you and then live your life accordingly. Realign your time to focus on those choices. If you were to pick only a few things to focus on, what would they be? For instance, if spending time with your family was one of them, does your time focus reflect that?

 

priorities

 

Push yourself to play more—active play is actually a necessity for your brain. By giving yourself leisure time—time to explore, laugh, try something new—you are allowing your brain to reenergize and function better. Both historically and currently, women need more help than men in this area. We all need leisure time—and we don’t have to earn it first. Do not feel guilty about making time to have fun. If we can knock that stigma off its ridiculous high horse, we will lead healthier lives.

 

Yeah, that's me surfing
Yeah, that’s me surfing

 

Denmark isn’t rotten after all—Schulte spent some time there learning what the Danish culture can offer those of us who are struggling with overwhelm. Let’s just say it is indeed a world away from American culture. The government there offers excellent formal child care, awesome paid parental leave, six weeks paid vacation…you get the idea. In Denmark, every day is meant to be lived well. You don’t live to work, you work to live. So…what if you don’t live in Denmark?

I concluded that while I don’t have the governmental realities of Denmark, I could still strive for my own private Denmark. What does that mean? As Schulte illustrates, gender roles there are very egalitarian. Women and men share responsibility in work, care of the home, and the raising of children. Work is necessary but not everything, and life shouldn’t be consumed with it. I know I am blessed that my husband already sees our marriage as a team, so our goal is to make it be even more that way. When that happens, both partners win. There is also the Danish idea of hygge, which is a lovely approach to life—and something that you can create wherever you live. (Learn more about hygge here.)

On parenting—Yes, this is the generation of the “helicopter parent” as well as the over-achieving parent. We are not doing our kids any favors by giving them so much or doing so much for them. I just love this piece of wisdom that Schulte shares from Kathy Masarie: “Love your kids. Keep them safe. Accept them as they are. Then get out of their way.” Parenting in a nutshell.

On mothers—Mothers need to stop making it so hard for themselves and each other. Stop the cult of “intensive mothering” and stop judging women—including yourself. Support each other rather than compete with one another.

On fathers—Fathers need to be connected from the very beginning to climb out of this culture of overwhelm. Schulte offers some wonderful insight about how important it is for dads to bond with their newborns—creating a foundation for lifelong engagement—and how too often gender roles get solidified when dads can do just as much as moms—and need to. One of the keys for this to happen is that new moms need to give new dads a chance to engage fully—not scoop the baby as soon as it fusses in dad’s arms.

And, finally…

 

hibiscus

 

Be still—pause. In the midst of the racing, remember to stop. Breathe. Remember the beauty of the small moments. Remember that life is short and this is all we have.

 

clock of life

 

I hope these ideas I’ve shared from Schulte’s book get you thinking about some changes you can make. I know not all of us are married or have kids, and a lot of the content seems to focus on those “traditional” roles, but no matter where you are in life, you can strive to stop the merry-go-round of overwhelm that so many of us are riding and learn to live a more fulfilled life.

Of course, that having been said, as I write this I am mired in a day of overwhelm. But I am making progress. Every revolution starts with a first step, right?

Posted in Soapbox

Can We Crack the Culture of Overwhelm?

We have a cultural epidemic on our hands. Past the auto-response “I’m fine,” ask the average person today how he or she feels about daily life, and see how many answer that life is coming at them at just the right speed. I doubt you’ll find one—especially if you are asking a woman. Most of us would probably have the word “overwhelmed” somewhere in our answer.

 

dogs-91536_640

 

How did life spiral out of control on us?

I read a book over the summer that I feel compelled to write about. This is not a paid endorsement or formal book review. This is just me wanting to share some thoughts on what I found to be a powerful and timely book. It’s not my typical type of post, but I ask you to indulge me—I think this will resonate with you and be worth your time.

Bridgid Schulte’s Overwhelmed—Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time was one of those reads that offered me new insights while at the same time found me shouting, “Amen, Sister!” on several occasions.

Schulte is a reporter for the Washington Post, and when she recognized her life was leaving her breathless and constantly stressed, she did what any good reporter does—she researched the heck out of it, and then shared her findings.

And just what are some of those findings? Well, the book is a meaty read, and there is so much more to it than I can summarize, but here are some key points:

  • Current society values busyness almost more than wealth. Think about it. If we don’t have ourselves—and our kids—fully booked, then there must be something wrong with us. We wear our badge of busyness on our sleeves, and the idea of having free time for fun or relaxing is almost shameful. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, I don’t have time to watch TV…” as a response to my asking someone if they watched a particular TV show, I could go on a really nice vacation (if only I weren’t so busy…) We need to stop fostering this attitude and recognize the importance of leisure (more on that later).
  • Our time—again, particularly for women—is all too often what Schulte defines as “contaminated time.” For many moms, no matter what we are doing, the thought process in our head is swirling around what else needs to be done. It’s a form of mental pollution that muddies our present and keeps our stress level higher than it should be. We also need to acknowledge the reality that multi-tasking does not help our stress level and actually lessens our productivity, much as we might like to think otherwise.
  • And on the topic of stress, Schulte offers this upsetting research: when stress is prolonged or constant, it actually shrinks the prefrontal cortex of our brain which can affect the way we think and knock our immune system for a loop. So if you’re like me—frequently asking yourself, “What is going on with me?” or finding it hard to think clearly, then it’s time to assess how much stress is in your world and do something about it. The good news? Reducing the stress can result in better brain health—we can actually undo the damage to the prefrontal cortex by managing and reducing our stress.
  • Even with our ability to work from home and have flex time, the notion of the “ideal worker” hasn’t changed much since the 1950s. Bosses still see face time as critical and billable hours as the mark of success. The US treats its workers a lot worse than almost all of the rest of the world with sparse vacation time and no paid maternity/paternity leave laws. This poses a big problem for both mothers and fathers. As Schulte’s research shows, women suffer significantly—particularly once they have children. Moms are seen as less committed to work than non-mothers. That’s probably no surprise. But here’s something that might be: men actually benefit from becoming fathers…unless they have the audacity to voice that they want to take leave for family reasons. They then get stigmatized and frequently suffer in the work world because of it.
  • The cult of intensive motherhood is a somewhat recent phenomenon that puts amazing and ridiculous pressure on mothers—and it’s pretty much created by moms. We actually give more time to our kids than back in the 50s and 60s (and that includes mothers that work outside of the home), and it’s still not enough. We need to be Pinterest moms and show how super we are. (Seriously, do you remember having themed birthday parties or mani-pedi afternoons with your mom when you were a kid? I bet not.) Intensive motherhood runs on guilt, fear, and ambivalence. A self-sacrificing mother is an ideal mother.

How’s that for a little food for thought? And I’m only touching on a few central points…there is so much more worth delving into. But even with these few facts provided, you can see how it all adds up to overwhelm.

So…is there anything we can do about it?

In next week’s post, I will take a look at some of Schulte’s findings on how we can improve our situation. Yep, it’s my first two-part post…try to contain your excitement…

…and remember to tune in next week for some ideas on how to change this current culture of overwhelm and perhaps stop the madness (or at least put a healthy dent in it.)

Posted in Life As I Know It

The “Yo” Man

hourglassI’m never enough. Each day passes and I feel I have not been enough in any aspect of my life. I could have done more as mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, worker, writer…even pet owner.

Even though my days are consumed with doing, I feel like I should have done more. The “shoulds” are never-ending.

I’m thinking you might be nodding your head in understanding.

Life can be overwhelming—some days more so than others. But it is during those overwhelming times that I try hard to step outside myself and remember that just a little can go a long way.

 

Moments count. They matter. In fact, they are often what matter most.

 

When I remember my dad, lots of memories swirl in my head, but there are these little things that come to mind and mean so much more than one might take at face value.

My dad was the “yo” man. This was a greeting that he used…and one that I still use to this day. It was just a part of who he was. But my fondest memory of his use of this word was a little something that he did that my sister and I found hilarious.

We would be in the car driving with the windows down and my dad would call out “Yo!” to some unsuspecting person walking down the street, and then we would all look innocent like we didn’t say anything. The person would look all around like “who’s calling me?!” and we would just look straight ahead. Oh, my, that sent us into major giggle fits. It was silly. And small. And something that is a loving memory of the goofball that my dad could be.

Maybe we were on our way to run errands that might have taken up a great deal of our day—but it was the “yo” man that stuck with me. Not the errands.

 

driving

 

Joy in the twinkling of a moment.

We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to carve out experiences for our kids that are momentous in a big way…when it’s often the little ways that stick around.

A few years ago we were fortunate enough to travel with some friends to Florida and go to Walt Disney World. It was a great trip and we made lots of wonderful memories, but recently when my son wrote a story about it for school, the thing that was his most powerful memory was his finding a frog, picking it up, and learning that it was petrified dead.

The Magic Kingdom? Oh, yes…we had a blast. Beach and pool time? You bet. And while he remembers all of that with a smile, his face lights up when he talks about that damn frog.

 

frog kingdom

 

And while the “big trips” of life should happen for sure, they simply can’t be a measure of our success in how we care and provide for our loved ones.

As a mom, sometimes it’s taking twenty minutes to shoot a game of Horse in the driveway, or snuggling during a Full House rerun, or even making lunch together. As a wife, sometimes it’s making sure to carve out a few minutes of real “face time” or watching our favorite TV show late at night after the rest of the world has gone to bed. As a friend, sometimes it’s texting a simple “how you?” to let them know you are thinking about them at whatever hour of the day.

 

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That’s what I need to remember when I am in the swirl of a day that is getting away from me. A day where nothing is working the way it should. A day where my ToDo list seems to grow like the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.” A day where I look at the clock and realize I’m way behind schedule. A day where I feel I have let everyone down once again.

Stop.

And take a moment.

To be the “yo” woman I know I can be.

Just maybe she’s enough after all.

 

ToDo Graphic2

Posted in Soapbox

I Envy the Box Lady

green eyeI had a conversation this weekend that I must admit brought out great envy in me. Like if envy were people, I’d be China.

The green-eyed monster flared up when I was having a conversation with a woman I work with part-time. She was explaining to me how she had been working creatively…for hours and hours. Hours and hours, people. In the brief time that I’ve sat down to write this post, my son (home from school today because of the damn polar vortex) has interrupted me somewhere near 97 times.

Granted, she is retired (though very active), so her life tugs are understandably much different than mine. But she was explaining to me how she “needed something to do” with her time, and she ended up discovering this passion for designing beautiful boxes that are then used for care packages at the organization she and I are both part-timing at. [The place is called Phil’s Friends, and its mission is to bring hope to those affected by cancer. If you’ve got a hankering to do something with a few bucks and/or your time, go to their website and learn about the wonderful things they do.]

The work she does is lovely—fun and colorful, and just the right spirit to add to the loving care packages.

A sample of the Box Lady's work.
A sample of the Box Lady’s work.

She described to me how her kitchen table is splayed with boxes and she just gets lost in her work for hours at a stretch. I am amazed at the effort she puts into them. It is clearly her passion, and it brings her great joy.

I want to be like the Box Lady.

In my juggle-struggle world, I have forgotten what it is like to have time to fill. And if I do decide to wrap things up on any given night, about the most I can muster is watching TV and wiping the drool from my chin. Something tells me you might be able to relate.

I realize that the seasons of life offer different opportunities, but I could really use some focus time in this current season of my life. I want to have Box Lady experiences now.

I want to have a “snow” (aka “extreme cold”) day where instead of thinking of the HaveTos that need doing, I can immerse myself in an endeavor that brings me joy. Even if only for a little while.

And though I do make time to do things that are not just “on the list,” one of my biggest challenges is how I feel while doing them. For instance, as a writer, I do make time to write this blog. I could have more time for other HaveTos if I didn’t, but I need to write, so I do. But while I’m taking the time to do so, I keep battling all the other HaveTos that keep poking their way into my thoughts and making me feel like I need to stop. “Hurry up, Lisa. You are wasting your time. You need to get back to _____ and ____ and ____.”

I’d like to take that nasty little voice of harping and guilt and choke the life blood out of it. Yeah, I’d like five minutes alone in a room with that little voice. I’d really give her a what-for. Oh, wait. That voice is inside my head. All. The. Time.

I need to find a way to create Box Lady experiences without that little voice squelching the good that comes from it. Now.

My soul needs it. It craves it.

The clock is ticking.

“Someday” isn’t good enough—because there is no “someday” guarantee. There is only today. (As cold and claustrophobic as this one might be.)

There is only today.

Seuss Today quote

Posted in Life As I Know It

No Wonder I’m Crazy

SpreadTooThinI keep thinking that if I can come up with “the right” schedule to live my days by, I’ll find some sense of clarity. And then I keep laughing hysterically at myself. Creating a successful schedule has been on my ToDo list since about 1996. I’ve taken several runs at it, but none are the elixir to living my juggle struggle.

By the time I find a quiet moment to gather my thoughts—and all the things I need and would like to schedule, I have no energy for the task. This is the reality of many things in my hopper. By the time the day-to-day mundane is addressed, my tank is often empty. I bet you can relate.

This is the lament of the Crazy Lady.

Today is an all too typical day in this realm. Because of the extreme cold in the Chicago area, school is canceled. My family is all nestled in bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, right? Of course not—Christmas was a couple weeks ago. There are no sugar plums in sight.

So instead of this day being the first “normal” day of 2014, it’s an abnormal “bonus” day. But see, there is no abnormal. Abnormal is normal. Every day brings a swirl of things that need attention. Many repetitive, some brand new—but all time-sucking.

If it’s not a school cancellation because of the weather, then it’s something else…As the wacky Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it’s always something…if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

[For those of you not familiar with the great RR, watch below. Her famous line is at 4:11.]

Of course, there are the “musts” of life that fill the morning…and afternoon…and evening…getting breakfast/lunch/dinner ready, taking care of my 87yo mom’s care needs, laundry, emails, dogs, working from home…

And then because this is a “bonus” day, my son has extra time to catch up on his big research paper…yea for him! And I can help my mom do some of the things she wants done in her room…yea for her! And the house can be cleaned up after taking down the Christmas decorations…yea for it!

But then there’s the freelance work that I’m already behind in, and another project that I have not been able to finish, and oh… this little blog that I like to keep myself accountable to…

Back when I worked as a communication director, I frequently dealt with people who needed “just a little something” from me. I would always try to help them see the math of the “little somethings” resulting from their needs (and lack of planning). If my day is already full, and three or four people need 30 minutes each for a little something…my day gets bowled over. Perhaps they could plan with more lead time from now on?

You know what? It didn’t really matter. They needed it anyway, and the same for the next time, too. And it’s just the same with the various hats I’m currently wearing.

Life is full of “little somethings” that are bowling me over.

The header of this blog says exactly what I feel most days: trying hard not to drop the balls or smash the plates. It is precisely what living the juggle struggle is all about.

I remember fondly the plate spinners on The Bozo Show from my childhood. I never knew then how this particular activity would so resonate in my life as an adult.

Since they sadly don’t do that kind of TV anymore, it’s a bit of a lost art. But thank God for YouTube, so that we can still go back in a time machine to enjoy things like this:

Notice how at 1:58, this master plate spinner drops one…he catches it before it shatters, but…he drops one. On The Ed Sullivan Show.

It’s no easy task, is it? Every day we are running to and fro spinning those plates. I sometimes find myself doing a stutter step in my hallway because I’m remembering several things that need doing. My mind no longer seems to operate at full capacity because, like a computer, there are too many operations running at one time.

And as life would have it, too often when I do have a thought of import, the dogs see the UPS truck and bark like raving banshees at the damn thing, blowing my head wide open and letting the thought shoot right out of my head. And so it goes.

Well, I have to get back to my plates. I’m sure you do, too. My wish for you is that all your plates keep spinning…but if one should drop and shatter, remember that even the best plate spinners weren’t perfect, either.

Posted in Life As I Know It

936 and Counting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATime flies. We all know this. The only case where time does NOT fly is instances like when you’re stuck in a boring workshop where they have the thermostat set so cold it just may crack off a body part and all you can think about is lunch. Then it’s slow. But typically, another week comes and goes and it feels like a blip on the radar.

Recently, I had a 1-2 punch that was the kind of coincidence that makes me stop and think. I saw a framed graphic at a family member’s house that said something along the lines of “940. The number of Saturdays until your child reaches 18.” Me being me, I checked the math (52×18=936) and wondered why they added the extra month. Googling it, 940 is the number used again and again, but I like the number 936 better than 940 anyway, so I’m sticking with that. (Why the extra four? Anyone know?)

The very next day I was speaking to a friend, and she said her pastor’s message that Sunday was on pretty much the exact same thing. He had a jar of marbles that visually represented how many weeks were left before his daughter turned 18. The emphasis being, of course, that we use our time together wisely. It is fleeting.

So there I was, with two totally different avenues leading me to the same wakeup call: we only have so much time with our children before they are off and running in the world.

Of course, I know this. But when you put a finite number around it, it drives it home even further. Tick…tock…and another week is gone. Another marble leaves the jar.

I have issues with time management. I just do. I aspire to knock the hell out of each day, and before I know it, I’m brushing my teeth before bed.

But the clock of life is wound but once…

My son had his feet resting on my lap the other day, and…they were huge. What happened to the teeny ones that I nibbled on and made him giggle?

He was just sharing with me his fascination with the circulatory system that he’s learning about in science class. Only yesterday he was learning the alphabet.

I tell him—like my dad always told me—there will always be room on my lap for him. But the last time he tried it, we laughed together at how comical we must have looked.

936.

If my math is right, we’ve had 541 Saturdays together…and only 395 left before he turns 18.

395. 3-9-5. Holy crimony.

Thankfully, I am wise enough to know that these days do not need to be chock full and supercharged to be meaningful. I think back to my own childhood, and I realize that while there are some “big” memories of trips and special events—the real things that stick are the small things. The moments. It didn’t have to be anything special—just a time where I felt that I mattered. I don’t even think those thoughts typically cross our minds when they are happening—it’s like they just go into a special reservoir of love, where for some reason, we feel it and cherish it.

So, before I “lose my marbles” with my son, I need to remind myself that the moments count. That just because we may not be able to carve out the better part of a day to do something significant, I can still get out and play touch football with him and his dad.

I can genuinely listen to him catch me up on the first part of the “Full House” episode that I am sitting down to watch the rest of with him.

I can make time for a bike ride on a beautiful fall day, even if deadlines are looming.

I can share in his joy at the occasional 49¢ McDonald’s ice cream cone.

While we still do need to hit the “big” things and make those memories, it’s important to remind myself in the swirl of the day that not all is lost as long as we remember the moments, too.

Because that is what he will remember. The moments.

936 down to 395.

It’s not about us putting more stress on ourselves because who needs more of that? What it is about is keeping the perspective that we do have a finite time with our children, and it does matter—to them and to us—and it is all a blessing of unknown impact and meaning.

So amidst the flurry and chaos of everyday life, I’m going to strive to remember to jump in the leaves. Even if it means we have to rake them all over again.