Despite what my husband and kids might tell you, I have a problem using the word “no”. The busier life becomes as our family has grown, my perceived capacity for doing things also continues to increase. There are 24 usable hours in a day, right? Even with all the obligations of a family, full time career, part time job, and just being an adult in general, I felt I could always make room for one more thing. So in recent years, “yes” has come to be my automated response to just about every request. Because what would happen if I said “no”? I could be missing out on opportunities for my kids, my family, myself. I might be letting someone down. What would people think of me? What would I think of myself? I started to associate constantly busy as productive and frantic as totally normal. So much so that when we had a weekend or weeknight that wasn’t filled with things I said “yes” to, I felt a little panicked. Like I wasn’t doing enough.
And then one day this spring in the midst of running around like a crazy person trying to fit a week’s worth of stuff into a weekend, I realized I had enough. I was exhausted. Maybe it was the additional stress of selling our house back in Illinois or all the end of the school year obligations hitting us all at once, but I knew something had to give. I had this moment where I took a step back and really considered what I was doing this all for. Who was this constant busyness serving? When I couldn’t come up with a good answer, I committed to a change. But because change is an intimidating concept for a Type A personality like me, I knew I needed to put some scope to this initiative. I was going to commit to a summer of less. When school ended, our constant schedule of events was also going to end. I was going to say no. Even if it was hard, even if it meant missing out on things, we were going to live a little more simply. In August, I would reevaluate and figure out how to proceed from there.
So it started. I (politely) said no to most social events, I didn’t bend over backwards to fit every plan possible into our evenings during the week, I took a step back from the extreme structure I put on my weekend to prepare for the week ahead. And you know what? The world kept on turning. No one called to say, “What happened to you? Why are you suddenly not everywhere all the time?” My kids didn’t seem upset that we weren’t always on the go. In fact, I think they actually enjoyed summer MORE because of LESS. We spent more quality time at home doing fun activities and just being together. We weren’t rushing out the door to be 5 (ok…probably 15) minutes late to one more thing.
Saying “yes” all the time is a very hard habit to break. I had a few slip ups falling back into old ways but was very quickly reminded of why I was choosing this change when I would accidentally commit to something I knew I really didn’t have time to do. Did you know weekends and social activities should not be stress inducing things? Who knew! But those times were also great check points to just reset and identify with what was really necessary and what could easily be bowed out of.
Some lessons learned along the way…
- Saying yes to everything all the time impacted a lot more people than just me. Lower stress levels for me meant lower stress levels for my husband, kids, and support system since I was no longer constantly requiring everyone rally to meet the demands of our schedule.
- Doing less does not always mean you get more. There were times where I felt by saying no, we did actually miss out on opportunities for memories with friends and family. Saying no to support my cause vs. saying no because it truly wasn’t something I felt I needed to do was a fine line to distinguish between. An appropriately placed family outing, date night, social event can be totally manageable when you’re not overscheduled. Finding that balance is probably a better commitment long term for me.
- A busy life does not equal a full life. I realized how much more I looked forward to the basic things the weekend time brings and found joy in being able to relax and not stress if every little thing I felt I needed to do was done. Being 100% present for one thing is way better than being 50% present for ten things.
Full disclosure: as the new school year is just days away for us, I am feeling a little anxious about giving up this summer of less. Fall always brings a schedule full of school activities, work travel, impending holidays etc. – things that I can’t just “no” away. But I do feel armed with greater confidence that I can prioritize what we truly need to do vs. what I just feel is expected we do. I am approaching these upcoming months with a commitment to balance, so in the words of Gretchen Rubin– not doing less or more, but doing what I value. Maybe I’ll call it my Season of Enough…