Today’s society tells us that we can “do it all”, “have it all” if we want it bad enough, and we can succeed in attaining our every whim and desire if we just hustle enough.
But what if we can’t? What if in trying to grab every whim and desire that interests us, we spread ourselves too thinly and lose sight of what we really want?
I admit now, as I have before, that as an adult I am terrible at relaxing. Oh, I can relax – just watch me zone out playing my favorite computer games (but even then, the games are strategy-based, so my mind is running marathons). I can also get into a groove when I’m crocheting or doing needlework, but while both of those hobbies are meditative with their repetitive movements, they are also “work”. I’m busy doing something.
Over the last few weeks I found myself stumbling into a pit of discontent. Normally, I’m a very happy, joyful person and I was feeling decidedly unhappy and lacking in joy. Since I believe in the power of journaling and self-analysis, I started to write out what I was feeling. What poured from my mind was a number of things which I realized were heavily weighing on me. I confess that I hold myself to standards so lofty that I do to myself what I always told romantic interests not to do – I put myself on a pedestal.
Falling from high places hurts.
Now, before you roll your eyes and mutter at my vanity – my Pedestal of Personal Achievement has nothing to do with the usual reasons for someone might end up on one, like looks, money, or possessions. No, my attainment of that high aerie is based upon unrealistic expectations in myself of perfection in all things career, academic, and self-improvement. In other words, those areas which I feel must be focused on with laser-precision because they are useful means to my end goals. No pressure, right?
I would never hold another human to the standards I have set for myself. Straight A’s in school, stellar work attendance and performance, perfect grammar in my writing, nary a stitch dropped in my crocheting… Well, I’m pretty sure I have yet to achieve perfection in my grammar, but those are just a small sampling of the high marks I have chalked on the board.
As I wrote down all of these things which were bringing me down, I also realized that there is a lot on my plate. Perhaps in my zeal to do all the things with the goal of “perfection” in mind, I had spread myself too thin? Like a plate spinner in a variety show, perhaps I had gotten too many plates in the air and was exhausting myself trying to keep them from crashing?
Thus began the plucking of spinning plates from poles. For instance, over a year ago I began contemplating shutting down my modeling profile at Model Mayhem. Inquires to shoot were few, most didn’t pan out, and those that I initially thought would be fun, became less fun the more I thought them over. I realized that I didn’t really want to work on those ideas, nor any of the ideas pitched to me. I shut down my account. Will I still model? Maybe, for a project that truly calls to me, but for now, my heart isn’t in it.
That wasn’t enough, however, and Mr. Muse and I had a discussion about mounting frustration with our honeybee hobby. If you only read in the news about hive loss and haven’t experienced it for yourself you probably won’t understand just how frustrating and disheartening the losses are. What started as something fun for us has become a source of stress and displeasure. We keep throwing money and precious, limited time into this hobby which while interesting, is no longer enjoyable. It’s not fun anymore. We decided that we will continue to care for the bees we have while we have them, but if we lose a hive, we won’t replace them and eventually we will sell our equipment. Instead, we’ll concentrate on making our yard a haven for native pollinators.
The plates I want to keep going: school, travel, writing, will hopefully continue spinning strong because I will be able to give them attention at the level I think they deserve. I know that the plate holding my desire to write was left wobbling as I attended to other plates holding things I didn’t want to keep doing. I kept looking at it, seeing how dangerously close it was to crashing to the floor, but I’d catch it at the last moment. Stressful! Mr. Muse, who has never watched Marie Kondo (neither have I) declared, “If it doesn’t bring you joy – get rid of it!”
The stack of plates which I am no longer willing to keep spinning is growing. Every day I look at the stage of my life and think hard about the next plate I will pluck. The decluttering has included everything from letting go of hobbies to unsubscribing from blogs I no longer read. I have let go of contacts from whom I’ve drifted apart and am considering dropping another social media platform at the end of 2019.
Happily, within a couple days of making these adjustments I found my joy returning. I realized that I need to throttle back on the rigid standards I set for myself. I feel lighter. I feel more in control of the plates I have chosen to keep spinning and far less reactionary. I feel more creative, too, and as Martha Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing.”
Do you feel you’re spread too thin?
What do you when you feel overwhelmed?
The Amusing Muse is a writer, Lawn Ranger, and allergy sufferer living in Southern Wisconsin. She has been vaccinated for Rabies, owns a great deal of jewelry that she don’t like any more and doesn’t wear, and she has a penchant for black nail polish. She also is much better at writing handwritten letters than she is at responding to emails.
The funny thing about being “spread too thin” is how you look back on times of when you thought you were spread too thin and think “Why didn’t I do more with all that free time I had?”. I don’t know that I subscribe to the “What brings you joy” theory. But I think you are going about it the right way – you can add or drop “plates” as you feel the need. No need for guilt in walking away from a hobby or interest. And no guilt for getting back into it. There’s social pressure (and I’m completely guilty of this) to commit to a hobby. I love being a casual baseball fan – I don’t bow to the pressure of watching every game, knowing every player or subscribing to daily newsletters on it. Yet, once I check a score on Google for a game – I’m inundated with offers to buy tickets to games, score a bobblehead and show my fandom with a Capital One credit card with “your team’s logo”. Thanks for the time you take to write.
I sincerely hope that when I reach the point in the distant future where I’m looking back on everything I did in life, I really hope that I don’t say, “Wow… I wish I’d filled every available hour with something.” Not that that is what you mean, but, I hope I can look back on my life with satisfaction. I really dislike societies focus on “passion” and doing only what brings you joy or having what brings you joy. The broom and dust pan don’t bring me joy, but I really like having a clean(ish) house, so the broom and dust pan are staying. LOL
I agree with you on the social pressure for total commitment to things. To stick with sports, I enjoy PLAYING sports, watching? Not so much. I can go to the occasional baseball game or hockey game and enjoy the players doing what they do with no concerns over who may win. I’ve gone to Brewers games and gotten dirty looks for commending good plays for both teams, however, that is outside the norm and deviant. At least in the minds of rabid sports fans. But, for me, the enjoyment comes from seeing players of high skills exhibit those skills – it’s the frothing-at-the-mouth “fans” that dissuade me from attending games.
Just yesterday, on the way to youngest Grandson’s spring concert, Oldest Granddaughter was prepping an email to her favorite Auntie. “Should this question be ‘Grandma and Me were having a discussion or Grandma and I were having a discussion;”, “What do you think?” “I’m changing it to Grandma and I.” “Auntie would be so proud” So hang in there with the grammar perfection attempts, they rub off.
Hooray for being a good example instead of a horrible warning!
And, I AM proud. 😀
We are quite the same . . . if I do it, I want to be the best at it. I fully admit that you can’t just “be the best” at something. “Best” is, usually, subjective . . . the “best I can be.” I mean, I can’t be a professional marathon runner — but I can be the best runner I can be.
The issue is that, when there are too many things going on, and I’m not getting BETTER at something (either due to lack of time spent practicing, or external factors preventing progress), those things where I’m either stalling or moving backward . . . well, I find them TIRESOME. I actually find myself treating things I should enjoy as chores.
As a musician – this is sometimes necessary . . . if it gives me a paycheck, even if it feels like a chore, it might still be worth it. Running? Well, I’ve been stagnant for awhile — the only saving grace there is that I’m listening to audio books, and the distraction keeps me from thinking that running is . . . well, running.
It just sucks when the things that bring joy end up being the things we dread.
I used to get scolded, a lot, for failing to practice my trombone, and it was usually followed with, “I’d be more angry… but you always do well. Still… you should practice.” I played from 5th grade through college and rarely practiced. Do as I say, not as I do! Practice, practice, practice. LOL
But, yes, the things we enjoy, and want to enjoy, can sometimes send us throwing paraphernalia across the room in frustration. I’ve reached moments of standing up from a project and saying, “I am getting frustrated and angry and I need to walk away from this right now.” And, I’ve reached those moments more than once. Eventually, I get back to the project and pick up where I left off, or start over again, but always I have learned something from that moment. And, that’s a good take-away, to remember that I’ve always learned something from those moments – even if what I learned was that the hobby, or task, etc., was not for me.