Break on Through (to the Other Side)

Remember, remember… not only to make things happen, but to also take time for yourself once in a while!

I took a break from writing. Even writing these words momentarily attempts to fill me with guilt, for that (once impeccable) monthly publishing sequence now lying there interrupted. I took a break to redistribute my focus. I went up the mountain of responsibilities, took one supper attentive good look at everything around me, and rose above all that experienced inner suffering into a new plane of awareness.

For the past few months (or was it years?) my plate has been getting increasingly filled with stuff, so much that bits have started to fall off the wagon. Full-time passionate work at a frenetic pace of development. Our beloved toddler experiencing one illness after another while building up his immune system. Juggling ongoing household-related commitments. Finishing up one coursework after the other on my way to my Master of Arts Degree. Keeping up my community work with the Working Moms of Athens. All that while securing precious fragments of time for my husband, and remaining connected to not only my loved ones but also my creative passions. I believed I was thriving. I really did! Until the day I collapsed. I wish this was just another one of my metaphors, but it’s not. One Saturday evening I actually ended up on the floor of our corridor, at our house.

It was mid-day on a Saturday, while both Jason and Hubby were taking their siestas, and I was skipping weekend to finish up an urgent proposal for work. One minute I was standing walking my way to the bathroom, the other minute I found myself lying on the carpet. Disoriented, and with an acute pain resembling a migraine, I got up some seconds later. I was a mess. The old Arianna Huffington story manifesting at my doorstep: the one you read and say “poor lass, thank god such things don’t happen to me” (until there comes a day comes when they actually do!)

The doctor found no severe medical condition: only a sinusitis I seemed to have had for at least 2 weeks without taking action. He asked if I had kids. He even went on to inquire how many hours I worked. I grinned. He nodded. “Let’s not go into that”, I said. He responded that the antihistamines would take care of the sinusitis, but the mental and physical rest I desperately needed, I had to take up by myself. “You are clearly at the edge of burn-out, young lady!” (calling me a young lady made him the best-doc-ever!)

I had been pushing myself too hard to make it all happen. Trying to be perfect at everything in my life as a Working Mom, while letting go any sense of fulfilment. Ticking away to-do lists, finishing up tasks, and utterly ignoring any notion of energy maintenance. I said yes to everything. Literally. Convinced I could do it all, I had no boundaries. Work my ass till 11pm daily? YES. Take up a new Mentee? YES. Write that new piece for the blog? YES. Work for the Community? YES. Deliver that essay for Uni? YES. Keep the kitchen sink bright and shiny? YES. My can-do attitude would eventually bend time and invent extra hours in my day to make it all happen, right? Wrong.

My life had started to look less of a life and more of a rat race. As my entourage was getting convinced I was being successful, that I was achieving quite a lot with my fancy presentations and my high-end projects, I got caught up in this feeling of disarray: something was missing. Something significant. If I was, indeed, successful, why was I working 70-hours a week and still went on to prolong this exact pattern afterhours at Home? Laura Empson, Professor in the Management of Professional Service Firms at Cass Business School, has coined a term for people like me. Only recently did I realize how closely I match the profile of the insecure overachiever.

Insecure overachievers are exceptionally capable and fiercely ambitious, yet driven by a profound sense of their own inadequacy. […] These individuals are immensely attractive to elite professional organizations because they are entirely self-motivating and self-disciplining. […] Taken to extremes, the insecure overachiever’s sense of commitment can lead to extreme conformity and the normalization of unhealthy behaviors.

Laura Empson

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t see myself as a victim of any shady conglomerate or hazy corporate culture, simply because I don’t just manifest this behavior at Work. I do this at Home too! I handle my Motherly tasks in the same energy as I do my Professional ones. I plan out any domestic project with the same mentality (and tools!) as I do any work-related project. I give and receive feedback to my family the same way I give and receive feedback at work. This pattern is not a work thing. It’s ingrained in my existence. It’s who I know best how to be. The minute I put something on my notebook, it will be perfectly curated. The post-it notes won’t let me forget. The reminders will keep me on track. My rigid support system, so masterfully laid out, will help turn the impossible into an actual possibility. It will happen. And step by step, one achievement after the other, I accomplish things. I secure the list. People find me amazing. Still, I find myself too busy to feel things, too busy to live. Because there’s no deep satisfaction in merely securing a list, Momma. And taking a break from the race due (or thanks!) to the sinusitis incident had me distance myself from it all only to realize I’ve been caught up in a vicious circle.

My first step walking into this realization is that fulfillment is an inside job: it has to occur through me. No Santa will come bearing such a gift. Only I am responsible for my happiness, and unless I break the cycle myself, right here, right now, more corridor collapses are bound to occur. I need to up my game. I have nothing to prove to anyone: I am enough. In one of life’s precious synchronicities, this powerful quote from Yolo Akili (author of “Dear Universe: Letters of Affirmation & Empowerment For All Of Us.“) found its way to me:

There is nothing wrong with me. I have patterns to unlearn, new behaviors to embody and wounds to heal. But there is nothing wrong with the core of me, and who I am. I am unlearning generations of harm and remembering love. It takes time.

Yolo Akili

My second step forward brings me to the realization that we need a new Leadership paradigm, in the same way as we need a new Motherhood paradigm. That omni-present boundaryless Person / Professional / Parent will end up depleted: burnt out, underperforming, unfulfilled and sick. Rest is just as important as any project. Mindfulness is equally powerful with deliverability. Presence is as good as (if not better than) that carefully selected super expensive educational toy you spent weeks seeking. Sometimes pizza for dinner is ok. But in order to see this new paradigm thrive, we need to allow it the space it needs to bloom. To stand our ground and consciously select it from the other alternatives. To keep selecting it even if our entourage pushes towards the old ways. To look for support as things get messy and hectic.

So there you have it, Momma: I took a break from writing and publishing interviews for a good month. I may be behind on my publishing schedule, I owe an apology to my next “How She Does It” interviewee for having to wait an extra month, but I’m happy I did it. It was the necessary step for me to realize that there exists within me an abundance of stories patiently waiting to be shared. And only by taking that break was I allowed to acknowledge which balls deserve to drop, which boundaries are critically missing, and what I can do to properly set that new paradigm for the Life I am more than ready (and willing) to experience.

Featured Image: Tara Winstead (Pexels)

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