There’s something going around, and it isn’t good.
One friend texted me:
“I’m struggling for the first time in my life politically… I want to be active, I want to be resistant but it never ends! It’s exhausting.”
Another friend told me on the phone:
“I never stop moving. Between the kids, the school committee, the pilot team I’m on at work and trying to help my friend organize her apartment, I feel like I’m never going to sleep again.”
In both cases, these women are highly efficient, passionate, driven and remarkable. They’re also exhausted– physically and emotionally. These two things don’t co-exist for very long… if you keep pushing you’ll pretty quickly lose your efficiency, then your passion will dim, your drive will slow and people will mostly remark on how tired you look. It’s not great.
I am all for being politically active and I certainly know what it’s like to waaaaayyy over-commit. It used to happen to me at least twice a year, until I taught myself the power of raw power of NO. That panic you feel can only be conquered by rolling back your commitments, as soon as possible! And that takes courage.
Here’s how to get out from under the crushing weight of your (over)commitments:
- Acknowledge that you’re in over your head. It’s OK, we all do it. Don’t just push, push, push! You’ll give yourself a heart attack! Take a breath and let’s take some stock.
- Write down the projects you’re juggling on a piece of paper. Write it all down at the level that feels contained. By that I mean “things you could stop doing and other things don’t crash and burn.” Whole projects like “help my friend organize her apartment” might need to go on the list if its something you fit in when you can in an ad-hoc manner. But if you pick up food for the homeless shelter 3 days a week, you could put each day on the list separately because presumably you could cut one of those days and the other two wouldn’t be impacted. Write them all down.
- Put a star next to the things you’re passionate about. If there is something that makes you feel amazing, like yoga, put a star next to it. If there’s something that you couldn’t imagine letting go, like taking care of your mother, put a star next to it. These things are now protected and they will provide the landscape around which the rest of your commitments will compete.
- Ask “How can this project be dumped?” Do you see how it doesn’t say “Ask whether this project can be dumped?” For each and every project figure out what it would take to get it off your plate completely. You may have to think way outside the box to find the solution. For example you may have to imagine hiring someone. You may have to ask for help. You might just have to let something exist in the world un-done (the horror!). Figure out how each and every commitment you have (that isn’t protected by the star) could be ditched.
- Now, choose at least 1, maybe as many as 5, projects to cut. Was there one project that it felt sooooo good to think about letting go? DO IT! Now’s your chance! Ditch that shit. Is there one that feels so mundane and uninteresting and, actually, who cares whether you do it? DITCH IT. Cut as much as you can.
- Tell the people, and let them deal with it. One of the hardest parts of walking back from commitments is telling people that you can’t help anymore. I know. I hate it, too. But remember:
- You are an adult and you are in charge of your own schedule.
- You are responsible for doing a good job at what matters (and has a star), which takes time.
- You aren’t responsible for the survival of everybody else’s initiatives.
- People recover from disappointment much faster than you think. They’ll understand if you tell them that you’ve maxed out. And if they don’t… oh, well.
- Give yourself a high-five. I hear you thinking “Why am I giving myself a high-five for ditching my commitments?” Here’s why: you’ve just taken an amazing first step towards becoming the best possible version of yourself. You CAN’T do everything well (no one can). But with time and focus, you can do something AMAZING! Imagine what will happen now that you have time to rest and recover your curiosity and creativity! And think of what you can accomplish when you put that back into developing your passion!
- Say NO. Ok, we just got your life under control and:
- Along comes your sister asking you if you could water her lawn while she is away. What do you say? “NO. I’m sorry, I’m so busy this week, I just can’t.”
- You get an email from your principal or chair. Someone needs to coordinate birthdays! Could you help? NOPE. Ignore that email and it will go away.
There is a very real and practical truth in all of this. If you want to do anything well, you must FOCUS. To focus, you need to narrow the scope of what you do; you need to cut way, way back.
It’s like a plant that is struggling to keep itself alive. You have to cut it back to its root, so it can focus and regrow into a healthy plant. We did that 2 weeks ago to our gardenia plant– which looked pretty much dead– and look:
If you pull back from the edge of crazy and focus on what matters to you, you will find new shoots of life and growth. And you’ll have the time to admire them, maintain them, and make them amazing. Win-Win.
Free FOCUS guide: Political Activism
Now, you might be wondering whether this is exactly the advice I gave my friend who is struggling to keep up with the pace of political activism these days. You’re right to be suspicious- there was definitely a different bent to it.
On Facebook Live, I walked through how to use this method for life and politics!