“Oh my fur and whiskers, I’m late!
I’m late, I’m late.
I’m late, I’m late, for an important date, no time to say hello or goodbye, I’m late”.
The very first thing the white rabbit says in the “Alice in Wonderland” Disney’s cartoon, before falling into the hole. Always in a hurry, huh, that white rabbit?, no life, no connection, just rushing…
Do you recognize yourself in that fast and furious furry? How many times today only were you so overwhelmed, crazy busy or lost in your thoughts that you forgot something as basic as saying “hello” and “goodbye”.
Welcome to today’s world, where we want to live everything and experience anything out there at 1,000% speed. Between the FOMO (fear of missing out) and the YOLO (you only live once), the never-ending demands of our jobs, and the desire to have a life with family and friends, we find ourselves dragged in all sorts of directions.
Are you exhausted only reading that paragraph? Just imagine the impact it does have on your physical and mental health, when the cycle repeats itself, day after day.
No wonder they call stress the disease of our times.
But here is the irony in all that. It was already a world of stress years before the cell phones, iPhone and other influencers of Instagram / Facebook/ Twitter fame.
Not only have we not learned our parents’ lessons, but we are also now getting a double whammy from the multi-24/7-connected new generations.
How many of you dream of leaving everything behind and settle on a deserted island?
And yet, dropping one thing from your never-ending to-do list can feel excruciating. Isn’t that odd?
When life becomes a slot in the schedule
The Original Sin
Remember Adam and Eve? It’s all their fault. Had they not been punished out of the Gardens of Eden for biting the red delicious apple, we wouldn’t be in that self-created hell called “guilt”.
Why? Let’s do this experiment: how many of you would really volunteer to go on holidays without any access to work emails, no phone calls or text either, no Bloomberg news, nada.
Feeling the pain?.
It’s not all bad though. It’s ok to be anxious because you feel responsible for your job, you don’t want things to go pear-shaped or to let down other people.
Is that only it, though?
Do you genuinely want to help? or do you feel guilty of not being able to over-extend yourself? Do you fear being judged, reprimanded or punished because you are off and everyone is working?
Even though these vacations are part of your contract, even though you know they are important for your personal balance and for your health.
How many think they would be passed up promotions or even fired if they don’t play the facetime game?. And yet, we all have examples of people getting that promotion and yet only contributing to a fraction of what we did.
The game is rigged. You know it, yet you continue playing the good girl / good boy.
Guilty as charged.
I produce therefore I am
We have been wired to need to earn our space on this planet. And this means producing.
To be a producer, you have to be methodical and efficient. You are not productive, equal you are damaged goods.
So our societies educate us from birth to be compliantly good.
As kids, we’re not supposed to waste time watching TV or just dreaming.
As adults, we are supposed to be productive. You don’t work = you don’t bring money = you are worthless.
In societies where we need to justify our rights to exist, guilt becomes the motor that keeps our engines going.
What would happen if I get rejected or even worse, ostracized?.
It’s not a pleasant thought in a world where everything relies on income, wealth, and compliance with the community as the main resources for survival.
And the only way up is more.
When busy-ness is numbing
So what’s a good girl and boy to do? Get into the race, pronto!
We are busy, crazy busy city dwellers. Busy doing all sort of shit (pardon my non-French) that we really don’t want to do and most times, don’t have to do. But we do them anyway, out of guilt and out of fear.
Fear of being judged as a bad parent if we don’t agree to bake 1,000 cookies for the school fair, even if it means spending the weekend in the kitchen rather than with the rest of the family.
Fear of being seen as a slacker if we are not the last one to leave at work, even though the job is done, and we’re not paid extra for that.
Have you ever heard someone being praised for taking their time and do what they want, including not doing anything?
Have you ever praised someone for being “idle”?
Nope, you probably envied them and yet you continued like before, perhaps even adding activities?.
Because sometimes, busy can be very convenient. Because being busy means no space for anything else that might cause any sort of discomfort.
And unlike other sources of addictions, being a busy-holic or a workaholic is something cool. It garnishes you compliment and admiration: “wow, wonder woman! she can do it all!”. “what a responsible family man, ambitious and hardworking!”.
Yeah, right. But at what price?
That itch that needs scratching
The price is the one you get from selling your soul and your brain, and your health and your sanity.
Way too high. Way not worth it.
By now, you know how atrocious “bad” stress is for your physical and mental health. Adrenal fatigue is on the rise. The word “burn-out” is now in the official French dictionary; it must mean something!.
But this busy-ness is also the tree that is hiding the forest of what’s really important for you. Your values, your passions, what makes your heart sing and your face smile, beyond the mere survival and a comfortable lifestyle.
What will happen when you start looking beyond the smokescreen?.
More importantly, what would happen if you don’t?.
It starts by dissatisfaction, discontent. Leave it as is and you get the famous midlife crisis.
When everything that motivated you before has run its course. You have either completed the “what-I-need-to-be-perfect” list, and now what?
Or you have been running on your hamster wheel to exhaustion, and now what?.
Are you ready to take a hard look at yourself and your life and decide it’s time to do and be what you decide to be?. And it’s not necessarily what you have been groomed to be by your parents, your family, your community, your fraternity or your colleagues at work.
This ain’t an easy decision. And I am going to bring you some comfort here. You don’t need to leave what you like to find fulfillment. No need to quit the job, the lifestyle or the sports club.
What you need is to take charge of your own life.
Before the burnout or the bigger health issue or the family crisis.
And the best part?
You can do it right now!. Here is my how-to!
The pleasure principle
Credit Good Old Doc Freud for putting this principle on the map: humans will do anything to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Seems obvious, sure!. But look at what societies and religions do?. They made the word “pleasure” bad.
Deadly sins, glorification of the Hero’s journey and assimilation of sainthood and martyrdom. That’s it, folks!. Do you want to go to heaven? Start living in hell and prepare to die to earn it.
I have to tell you, though, that the keys to said paradise are 1/ not so hard to find and 2/ quite easy to duplicate.
Use your joie de vivre to create your own dolce vita
In other (English) words: find what makes you happy and build on it every day to create your own life, sweet life.
Let’s start by the foundations.
First fire your perfectionist, your syndromic impostor and your inner critic
Seems like a reasonable first step, isn’t it?.
When you give your perfectionist time off, you allow your real self to stop being scared of taking risks and most importantly, you stop caring as much about what other people think.
You have done your job, you have more than kept your end of the contract, work versus salary and then some.
All this extra time at work doing 1/ a job that is not yours to do and you’re not paid for, and/or 2/ nothing because you’re done but you cannot leave before XYZ, is unproductive and most times has no payoff.
Keep the motivation of putting in the overtime when it’s really needed, and, as you know better than me, there will be plenty of occasions for that.
Perfectionist’s close friend, the syndromic impostor, should also take a hike.
First and foremost, stop thinking you are “fooling” people.
If indeed you were that inadequate at your job, you would have been fired a long time ago. Last time I checked, companies are not in the business of charity. So please, stop thinking you are a fraud, once for all. You’re not and you are (likely, very likely even) paid below what you are really producing.
Now that you have sent those two on a long, paid vacation, time to give your inner critic some extra love by allowing it to also relax a tad and enjoy some R&R!.
Next step: learning to say “no”.
Second, learn your boundaries 101s
That’s a tough one. Good girls and compliant boys don’t say “no” to their bosses, friends, kids, parents, or refuse so-called obligations, right?. Time to take a closer look here.
First off, boundaries are not walls, not isolating or becoming a hermit.
Rather, they are what you would call your limits.
Let me give you an example: when you live in Europe, you know how important personal space can be. In the US, we tend to be much more huggy huggy.
Granted you don’t want to make people feel bad, but it doesn’t preclude you from having clear no-no’s. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to be hugged. It means you get to decide whether you want that hug, who from and when.
And the same applies to other areas of your life. Start small. Some “no”s are easier to express than others.
“No” when you don’t want to eat something that you hate or makes you sick, even though Auntie Karen will be upset with you for a month and is still treating you like a 5-year old. But see how this is a very legit “no”; your body is a temple and should be treated with respect; Auntie K. will get over it.
Work and family are a tad more challenging training launchpad. But it is perfectly feasible.
This is the time when you decide to choose your battles.
No, you don’t have to accept every assignment that you are given, especially and because you already have many others on the backburner that have a higher priority, in line with your business.
Delegate when you can. Document the “no”.
“No” to taking the lead for your kid’s school project. You can help your little one. But you don’t have the time for the other 19 ones.
And as you go down through your list, you can see how you have overwhelmed yourself with obligations that have no value added to your life.
Your “no”s will bring more space for what really counts, i.e. doing the stuff you enjoy.
Third, build your own happy toolbox
This one is the nicest step. Now you get to choose, and anything goes.
From spending time with friends you want to see and connect with, or with family, or even more time at work building new skills.
This step is where you are working for you and you only.
You do extra time because you are paying yourself with new learnings.
You bake the cookies because you like baking, it’s making your kid happy and you get quality time together.
And then there is the me-time that is not negotiable anymore. The meditation time, the reading a book or a magazine, the bath or the massage.
Your commitment to yourself is mostly about being more discerning of where you put your time and attention into.
And enjoying more of what actually makes you happy.
It also means identifying early on what is not working for you anymore, and be able to plan an exit, versus being pushed to take a decision when you get into a full-blown crisis.
And some final last words of wisdom: enjoy life like a hedonist
Let’s make of you a bonafide sinner. Seven deadly sins? Bring it on!.
What makes a simple pleasure a sin? the excess of anything, the lack of reverence and the lack of respect to self and others.
And obviously, this is not what’s involved here.
So let’s change the narrative of the guilt trip and make of today the day of really and truly enjoying life’s little pleasures.
From deadly sins to daily Sin-day rituals:
Lust: the pleasure of deep and meaningful relationships and connections. The feeling of being supported and understood when you reach the stage of real intimacy with someone.
Gluttony: the pleasure of enjoying mother earth’s cornucopia, embracing the gourmand/gourmet in you.
Greed: the pleasure of appreciating what makes you warm inside and asking for more of it.
Sloth: the pleasure of doing nothing, nada, the farniente. If God had a sabbath day after working 6 consecutive days, so should you. Plus, your job doesn’t stop after a week and you still have other things to deal with – a good excuse to chill, relax and restore your energy.
Wrath: this is you having enough self-respect to demand that your boundaries be acknowledged, and not fearing voicing out when enough is enough.
Envy: call it your deepest desires calling home
Pride: the pleasure that comes with the sense of accomplishment. It’s a celebration of self, a self-high-five and the celebration of all your successes.