I got a sort of high out of the adrenalin rush of living life in the fast lane: Meet with clients in their fancy westside offices. Work long hours meeting deadlines with creative solutions. Feed, clothe, house and nurture a family. I prided myself in the fact that I missed only one day of work to have a baby, that I was on the phone with clients from my delivery bed in the hospital, assuring them their projects would be delivered on time. I completely blew off my mother’s slowing-down advice. In fact, if anything, I sped up.
And you know what? I was wrong. Of course Mom was right.
Don’t misunderstand — I took good care of my babies. And I took care of my clients. Nearly always in that order. :) I did the ritual late-night feedings and changings, breastfed my babies while I talked on the phone with clients (only somewhat mortified when they burped loudly into the phone!), I rocked them, sang to them, read to them, nursed them on demand. (And I simultaneously churned out stellar gala invitations and corporate brochures.) But I missed lots of wonderful moments with my children, skipped some of the pure enjoyment of these little miracles growing up right under my nose!
The one person I didn’t take care of was me. I was a pretty stressed-out mom. I fell into a deep depression after about eight or nine years of this designer-supermom craziness. It became clear that taking time for myself was not a luxury, but a very deep need.
The refreshingly gritty and original Anne Lamott echoed my mom’s advice in this article from Sunset Magazine last spring:
...The good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.I almost laughed when I read that last line. I so need that perspective — that when you’re stresed and things are crazy you need even MORE time for yourself. MORE slowing down. Yes.
Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.
She concludes, “I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self—unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.”
At the beginning of October I heard this talk, wherein there are echoes of both Anne Lamotte and my mother:
What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road....Slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions. (italics added)
This line in particular reminded me of my mom’s advice: “We would be wise to slow down a little.”
"Strength comes not from frantic activity but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light.” He adds, "too often we attempt to keep the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be."(Doesn’t that sound exactly like what I did, back when my kids were small?)
"Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We can all think of a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedule. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list.”(scary!)
“Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy and too little sense of meaning in their lives." (italics added)
"Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship — the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace."
He then lists four key relationships on which to focus: God, Family, Our Fellowmen, and Self, each of which require spending devoted time. It was that last one that surprised me. Self? But listen to what he says:
The fourth key relationship is with ourselves. It may seem odd to think of having a relationship with ourselves, but we do. Some people can’t get along with themselves. They criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves. May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally. Learn to see yourself as Heavenly Father sees you—as His precious daughter...with divine potential.
I thought of those early, crazy Designer-Supermom years, and what they did to my stress level, to my family, to me, and I knew deep down he was right. (As were Anne Lamott, and my mother.) We somehow need to make nurturing time for ourselves, in addition to everything else. And we need to slow down to do it.
Sorry, Mom. I’ve always been a little slow when it comes to taking your advice. But this time I’m ready to listen. I’m ready to slow down, simplify, and refocus, particularly on those key relationships. I know I could use a bit more time spent in quiet beauty, and the promises of meaning, gladness and peace? Are irresistible.
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p.s. My friend Melanie J (I know her in person, and in addition to her rare gift for witty banter, she has some of the world's most beautiful children and a completely adorable husband) has posted a great review of my book, What Think Ye of Christmas, called "Un-Grinching and Embracing Christmas," here.