Inside: Finding my pace and slowing down to enjoy life, like most things, takes practice. I have learned this by knowing myself better and paying attention to the rhythms of life that make me thrive. You can, too.
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I remember sitting around the long table at critique group one night, listening to one of the women. Always busy, she’d come from a rehab construction project, her blonde hair wet from a hasty shower. Always vocal, she started in about how exasperating life was in Missouri compared to the west coast where she had resided. That the pace of life in the Midwest was like a coma. I remember thinking, Yeah? Where you’re from it’s a heart attack.
Different strokes for different folks.
I know what works for me, but I didn’t always. I’d gone through much of my life feeling off, not quite right, like I always needed to hurry to keep up with other people’s expectations and preconceived notions of what was the right and wrong way to go about getting things done. I often felt overwhelmed. And, much of the time, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I went about things differently, I knew that. My brother would hurry through tasks that would take me hours compared to his minutes. Granted, the bathroom would be spotless when I was through. Not so much when it was his turn. I had (and still do have) a perfectionist tendency I carry with me regardless of whether I’m scrubbing sinks or painting a picture. I’ve learned, particularly in the last decade, to adopt a more balanced approach. For example, the printing on my shopping list no longer has to look like the script on a Hallmark card. Yes, I was that tightly wound.
But there was more to it. A few years ago, when writing down a list of goals I suddenly jotted down I would like to live life at my own pace, not someone else’s. The words surprised me. They’d come from somewhere deep inside, and I knew they had merit. With prayerful consideration, I entrusted this heart desire to God, that He would help me live this way.
And He did.
Along the way I learned a few things. After all, I still had to live in the real world with appointments and deadlines, and I had to acknowledge that other people had their own pace. If I wanted them to respect mine, I had to respect theirs. So I made a few simple adjustments.
I identified what caused me to feel hurried. That was easy–procrastination. Waiting until the last minute. But why did I procrastinate? The default answer for most people is laziness–yet another character flaw I thought I had. But upon really examining the reason, it was mostly (though not always) something else entirely. I had trouble starting a chore or a project for fear of not doing a good enough job. I didn’t feel I measured up to the task. Or the project felt completely overwhelming–how would I ever get everything done and to the high standards I set for myself? It was easier to avoid starting than push through and deal with negative feelings.
Poor planning was another reason. Because I hadn’t started the project or task, I hadn’t done the prep work. I didn’t want to think about preparing for the task because of all the negative feelings I associated with it. And on and on it went, until I faced disappointing someone–friends, teachers, parents, spouse, child. That was the catalyst to accomplishing most things.
Letting go of perfectionism.
Beyond working on feeling better about myself–reciting scriptures on who I am in Christ has worked wonders–I learned to lessen my standards for some things by prioritizing. The casserole for supper versus the novel chapter. The former is just a meal, the latter I really want to get just right. I didn’t need to do everything perfectly. Not even most things, really.
Confronting overwhelm–little by little.
A few years ago I read the book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, and I learned a lot about how I process the world. While not every situation or task overwhelms me, on a challenging morning opening up my dishwasher to unload it can have me feeling stressed. My new approach is to break down the task into small pieces. I decide to put away just the silverware, though often simply starting can carry me through to the end of the job at hand. On other days, I stop with the utensils and next time I’m in the kitchen I’ll do the plates and bowls. Before long the dishwasher is unloaded. This little by little approach works well for me for many different tasks and projects. This post, for instance, has been written over several days.
I’ve become much better at planning ahead as well as allotting more time for whatever I’m trying to accomplish. I’m still working on my skills at determining how long a project will take, so I give it my best guess and then allow even more time. For example, Mike and I need to leave for the Saturday evening service by 1:30 in the afternoon. (He is employed at church, and it’s a working day for him.) So in order for me to make sure I don’t make him late, I plan ahead. I gather my laptop bag and Kindle so that I can get work done in his office before service. I also have to fix our meal before we leave as well as plan something quick to eat when we get home. And I need to figure enough time to get ready. Saturday morning and early afternoon are spent working toward these goals in small increments. Little by little. But I find the more I plan ahead, the easier it is to make this busy weekend day work for us. Running around last minute only frustrates both of us, as being punctual is important to Mike.
I remember reading in the Florence Littauer book Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself that those with a melancholy personality type (think introvert, perfectionist, detail-oriented) can only handle a small amount of responsibility. At first that made me angry as I thought about how responsible I was. Then I got what she meant by it. Because we (melancholy types) have such a drive to do things perfectly, we can’t take on too much because we’d be in major stress mode all the time. We do things well, so we need to be selective about which projects we take on and how many we allow space in our lives. So many things get my attention–particularly if I’ve been on Pinterest–but I only have so much time and energy. While others might not understand the choices I make, especially in the church community, I have to be true to God, myself, my family, and friends as well as what my mission is on this good green Earth. I have to do what makes sense for the way I am wired.
Observing a daily quiet time.
Spending time on a daily basis with the One who created me is fundamental. It brings me back to center, placing my focus where it needs to be–and on Who it needs to be. When I spend time reading my Bible, I gain insight for my life and a calm sense of knowing God is at the helm.
Taking time for the little things.
Sitting outside in nature. Puttering in my garden. Petting whichever kitty settles on my lap. Stirring a pot of simmering peaches to make preserves. These are the little things in life which I enjoy, and I take the time to do them. Not only are they great de-stressors, but these seemingly insignificant activities make my life richer.
So what has happened?
These small, simple changes have added up over time to produce a different me, a person I’m coming to like more and more. I won’t say I never have that anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it’s rare these days. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s good. Meaningful.
I feel comfortable in my own skin, finally living life at my own pace.
What does living life at your own pace mean to you? Tell us about it in the comments.
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