The first week of 2021 brought on a landslide of conflicting messages regarding the new year. As you can imagine, I subscribe to a lot of self-help and self-improvement emails, so most of the emails I read were about staying motivated and keeping up with resolutions. These messages were rounded out by articles I encountered in the newspapers I read online that largely said, maybe it’s time to take it easy.
Then I received the only message that felt right from the inimitable Martha Beck: “How to Succeed in 2021,” it read. “Do Less, Fail More.”
The certitude of this subject line overshadowed the wishy washiness of everything else I had been reading.
I typically only indulge in one new year’s resolution a year (I’ve abandoned about half of them, by the way, without any guilt). This time I’m ready to entertain the two stated above.
I have already succeeded in the doing less. I took a break from posting to this blog (I was posting twice a week and then once a week), then I took a break from posting to Instagram and Facebook, and then I took a break from sending out my weekly newsletter.
[If you’re eager for me to get back to the “Life as an Imposter” series, I promise I will get back to it with some kind of resolution and ending, because the message about imposter syndrome is always important and the same.]
You see, 2019 and 2020 had felt like the last leg of a relay race. In high school I had run the last leg of the 400 in track and field for one season and I can still remember the thought that got me through sprinting as fast as possible to get to the finish line. It was just get through this and it will all be over soon.
While that worked for a race, it doesn’t quite work for life. But I pushed through the last two years with my muscles clenched and my mind focused. If you could have seen me, the pupils of my eyes were constantly growing and shrinking as I treated every week as a new minefield to strategize and agonize over. I got SO MUCH DONE.
I got certified as a life coach, I learned about investing and how to trade options, I became proficient at my job, and I started a coaching business.
Oh, and I had my second baby.
This is in conjunction with the arrival of covid. I had thought that my life would be largely unchanged by the pandemic since I could work from home.
But I was very wrong.
By the time we made the decision to keep the kids at home full-time, I was already experiencing all the symptoms of burn out. I had mysterious joint pains, never felt rested despite sleeping ten hours, and couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. My focus was faltering and I would find myself clinging to every bit of bad news the way my kids carry around their stuffed animals. And there’s a lot of bad news to cling onto these days.
It took me at least a month to realize what was going on. The most tell tale signs were the overwhelming exhaustion and pain. When I finally gave myself permission to take a break, I was going through a massive shift in how I viewed my life and the last two years. It was time to rest, but I was so accustomed to forward momentum (and the dopamine hits that come with every achievement) that it felt impossible to stop. This is what happens to workaholics, I thought. They simply forget how to stop and rest. I often compare it to being a shark. Staying still comes with the perceived risk of dying.
Despite the challenge, I knew it was necessary. Getting through the winter and the anxiety of being unable to plan anything in 2021 (and possibly 2022) when my kids can get vaccinated, was going to take every ounce of energy I had left, so I had to learn how to not just preserve it, but grow it. This felt like an impossible task at the time, but these months of intense self examination are starting to pay off.
I also learned that the panacea for burnout is to give yourself a fuck ton of grace.
And that’s the message that Martha Beck sent to my inbox: Do Less, Fail More.
It’s going to be okay.