One Thing at a Time

I’ve been pretty overwhelmed/stressed out lately – work, writing, personal stuff, you name it. I have a bad habit of overestimating my…not abilities, exactly, but rather the amount of stuff I’m able to get done in a specific time period. I knew it was out of hand, and that I was pretty much just past the “burnt out” line, but it was really driven home during a trip to our local art museum this past weekend.

We went to see one of Monet’s Iris paintings, which is here until December. You have to understand, I love moseying around museums and such, so I knew I was in trouble (generally speaking) when upon entering the museum, I was so focused on our goal that I was ready to skip the permanent collection and go see what we’d come to see, and then maybe make a quick pass at anything else that looked interesting.

I was in hyper-efficiency mode, which is the mode I have to operate in most days just to get everything done that I want and/or need to get done. Not the appropriate mode for a trip to the museum, and certainly not the mode I want to be in for looking at/appreciating artwork. I was annoyed with myself for immediately jumping to the most efficient way to complete our goal when we didn’t even need a plan at all other than “go enjoy the museum”.

We did go through the permanent collection, which gave me time to relax and remember that we could enjoy the whole museum and still meet our goal without getting all “control-freak” about it. Just take it one exhibit at a time, and eventually we’d see what we came to see, and a whole lot more besides. We had the luxury of not being on any sort of schedule whatsoever, and while the Monet piece was exquisite, the other exhibits were amazing as well. It would have been a travesty to skip them, or even to see them yet not be “in the moment” enough to truly take them in.

Near the end of our time there, we were browsing through the “for sale” gallery and I was sort of mentally bemoaning the lack of ability to afford some of the work I’d have liked to bring home, and I noticed that one of my old art professors had some work up for sale there. “Mindfulness” is becoming trendy again, and I remember that about him – he was always teaching mindfulness – be in the moment, every moment. Don’t focus on the past or future, just be present here and now.

It’s a good way to live, overall. Obviously some planning is not a bad thing, but I tend to get rather attached to my plans, and then when they don’t go the way I’ve envisioned (which is often), it creates more stress. And I’ve been relying so heavily on my plans going the way I want them to that I over-schedule (or rather, just pack things in so tight that there’s no room for deviation), which creates even more stress. None of which allows me to live in the moment, because I’ve created a lifestyle where I am always behind, and can’t hope to ever catch up – it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

There is no room for being mindful and living in the moment when you’re always three steps ahead in your mind, and five steps behind “on the schedule”.

The natural thing then is to step back, clear out the calendar/to-do list and start over, leaving room for deviation and enjoying life moment-to-moment. One thing at a time. Ironically, that also stresses me out, because there really isn’t much on my list that I genuinely don’t want to do. On the contrary, I have many varied interests that cover all aspects of my life from work to writing to hobbies to personal stuff, and I want to *do them all*. Which is why my schedule is so tight in the first place – I don’t want to give anything up, so I try to cram as much stuff in as possible.

Alas, I have to choose. Prioritize. And realize that there is no way I can possibly ever do and experience everything I want to in life, but especially not all at once. I can’t learn and do everything I want to for work projects all in the space of a few weeks, or even a few months. I can’t write all the books I want to write in the space of a few months or years. I can’t work on all the hobbies I want to within a week, or a month, or maybe not even this year.

It’s a little depressing, and a lot annoying, but there simply isn’t time. And trying to do “all the things” is just going to drive me crazy and stress me out. Knowing I can’t do all the things, and that I have to pare down and prioritize stresses me out too. It’s a major source of angst in my life, and I wish I could say that I’ve figured out a way to make it easier, but I’m still working on it. Letting go of something we really want is difficult, especially when the only thing holding us back is the other stuff we want to do. A rather glorious dilemma, when you think about it.

One thing at a time. One. Thing. At. A. Time.

Today is Labor Day here in the US, in honor of the labor unions who fought for safe working conditions and fair wages back when there were no laws against working your employees literally to death for pennies. My situation isn’t nearly so dramatic (obviously), but it is kind of ironic that I’m basically acting as a slave-driver to myself, pushing hard enough to hurt my physical and mental health while not paying myself nearly enough to offset the damage.

I have a few things I need to work on today (since it’s a holiday and I’m at home), and more than a few that I should work on, but one of the things I’m definitely going to make time for is going over my to-do lists and the calendar and revamping my plans into something more manageable on all fronts. Something that leaves time for being in the moment, even when things go awry and my plans are pushed aside for other things. I won’t be able to alleviate all the stress right away due to various obligations I have to others, but I can at least start to take some of the pressure off.

One thing at a time.


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