Sometimes you just have to believe that the universe is trying to tell you something. With two of my closest getting ill, it brought me up short. Both recovered, but I got the message. I needed to slow up or that was where I was headed. I took heart and set about shifting my life.
Fortunately I have a progressive employer who values my knowledge and skills and was willing to work with me to come up with a work-solution that worked for them as well as for me. The upshot was a step out of a head of service role into something else – I don’t see it as a step down, more a change of focus: one that enables me to work three days a week, and spend less of them on the road.
Despite replying to everyone that asked how I was finding it, that “I love it”… the truth was I didn't. Yet. I will. I kept telling myself. Once I settle into it. But three months in, I was still logging in to work, when I should have been off doing other things. I was still caring too much about what I’d chosen to leave behind. I found that odd, and stressful.
C told me simply not to rush it: it’ll take time.
I thought time was what I’d given myself… but I’d only just woken up to the fact that I was still over-committing. I’d got into the awful habit of over-scheduling, living by the list and by the clock. I’d missed the point of what C had said. It will happen, just wait a little.
Then I read somewhere a quote from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: “Waiting is a skill, just like any other.”
Then along comes an edition of "Psychologies" magazine and Lucy Sheridan’s lovely article on Waiting.
I reckoned I needed more practice at listening to what the universe is saying, but I got this message. I need to wait. Step back, let go, calm down, rip up the lists, and see what happens.
So that was the plan. To rip up all of my lists. Only actually schedule stuff that involves other people and leave everything else much more free-form.
I'd got caught up in the modern disease of busyness. I'd believed that in order to sort out my weight I need to plan my meals and menus – that's clearly not working for me. To make the most of my new-found free time I need to schedule my activities, make dates with myself, write it down to ensure I'll get it done. Hmmm…just how productive is that making me?
Following the boss's advice to "start stopping" I had a list (there you go!) of things on my wall that I was no longer going to do, and you've no idea how hard it is not to write another list of things to stop.
Perhaps I've read too many of the wrong books and not listened to the hidden advice from my childhood. I've looked at too many minute-by-minute schedulers and forgot the inherent wisdom in my mother's time-honoured response to any question as to whether we could do something: "we'll have to wait and see."
We would have to wait and see. Specifically, we would have to wait and see what shift my dad was on. We could get out the 3x3x2 shift planner and work out what shift his crew should be on any given day, but stuff happens. Someone might be off sick, or book a holiday, or need to deal with a family emergency or there might be a boiler break-down needing more hands to fix. So many things might change, so we could never be sure.
Mam's aim was simply not to make promises she might not be able to keep, but in doing so, she taught us the art of waiting and as a by-product gifted us the precious memories of spontaneous outings: unexpected trips to the forest, or to the beach or over the moors to Whitby.
I'm sure there must have been planned excursions that never happened; treats that got cancelled, but I don't remember them. I remember asking and being told "it will depend…" and I remember after-school jaunts, and "going for a ride out" that could land us anywhere. Years after I'd left home, I remember Mam & Dad talking about going over the town one Saturday morning to get the paper and 'a bit of shopping', getting back in the car, shopping in the boot and Dad asking if she fancied a bit of a ride…? They finally ended up at a local country pub, for fish & chips, at about 8 o'clock that evening, having been out and about for the whole day. I love that. I love the memories I have of doing that and that they were still doing it in their seventies.
And I'd lost the knack.
I can still do spontaneity. I'd just stopped leaving any time or space in which it could happen. That is had to change. To make the most of the extra two days a week I have bought by taking a significant salary cut, I have to leave them open. And if I can leave open two days of the week, how much of the rest of my time do I really need to tie down?
There's a common mantra that if it's important to you, schedule it, but my theory is that if you have to schedule it to get it done, how important can it really be?
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