How well do you know yourself? I have done lots of self-help exploration, therapy and coaching, and I am amazed that I can still discover things I don’t know about myself. For example, I’m at the beach with my mother. I just happened to schedule our trip on the week of the East Coast Surfing Championship. So, there are surfers everywhere! It’s been such fun to watch the surfing, see the surfers hauling their boards to and from the water, cramming boards into elevators, and riding bikes with boards in their arms.
As I’ve observed the surfers I’ve noticed similarities among surfers, and have become fascinated with deciphering the “type” of person who is drawn to surfing. What I’ve seen so far is that males dominate the sport. Most are young, slender, physically fit (great bodies!), medium height, and they have great balance and persistence. This is a sport dominated by young, athletic, focused, independent men who are not deterred by being knocked down by waves. They keep getting back up over and over again, perfecting their technique. Surfers are not quitters. They fall. They get back up. I wonder how this translates into the rest of their lives. What effect does that level of commitment to their sport have in their personal and professional lives?
“Amy has pneumonia.” What!? My invincible sister-in-law, Amy, had pneumonia? I couldn’t believe it! I’d just seen her two days before and she seemed just fine. What happened was she’d finally tipped the scales from chronically doing too much to REALLY doing too much with no break.
Amy is the owner of a very successful preschool daycare program, and a dedicated wife and mother who almost always puts everyone’s needs before her own. Recently she’d not only been running her daycare, which requires anywhere from 60-80 hours of her time per week, and taking care of her home, family, and personal business, but within the last few months she’d developed plans to double the size of her daycare, gotten a loan, and searched out and worked with an architect and a contractor to renovate the space that would make expansion possible. That expansion also required that she and her husband move to a new home. She found a home, purchased it, and moved in. Because Amy has the organizer gene in her family, she also coordinated the move, did much of the moving of smaller items into the home, and did most of the unpacking and setting up the new house. Is it any wonder that Amy crashed?
Amy is a woman with high drive. There is no doubt about it. When I’d asked her how she’d been able to get so much accomplished in such a short period of time during our visit the weekend before she was diagnosed with pneumonia, she said, “I just keep going.” Her automatic response when there is a lot on her plate is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, making the next decision, taking the next action. And, she gets a lot done. But at what price?
When I spoke with her while she was recovering from pneumonia, and remarked that she’d seemed fine when I saw her, her response was, “I just kept feeling like something was off. And, I started feeling worse and worse, but I had no idea I was so sick.” Even then, she kept going. It wasn’t until her daughter said, “Mom, we’re going to the urgent care center,” that Amy had a clue that something was really wrong. Her drive to get things done, to do the responsible thing, had blocked her awareness that her body was sick and needed attention.
High drive is the trait associated with people who are successful in business and life, and is revered in our culture. But, as Amy’s story relays, it’s demands can block healthy awareness of your physical limits. It took something as serious as pneumonia to make Amy aware that she had to stop and realize what her drive was costing her.
If you recognize yourself in Amy’s story, which unfortunately I do, it’s time to pause and take stock of what your drive is costing you. Is it affecting your health, your mood, your relationships? Perhaps it’s time to take back control from the tyrant of high drive so you can not only avoid a nose dive into illness, but make space for more peaceful moments and pleasure in your life.
What started as a determination to pull up all of the poison ivy that had invaded my flower beds ended up being a 2.5 hour marathon of pruning and weeding. Once I’d conquered that annoying invader of my gardens, a task I’d been avoiding for months, I felt ready for anything! I had no idea that that three leafed plant was blocking my motivation to do some serious work in my garden. Once it was gone, I had my garden back, and I could see so many possibilities for making needed improvements.
What most surprised me was a new awareness that my beloved butterfly bush needed a significant pruning. As I looked at it with its luscious bright purple tubular flowers, I noted that the weight of the branches was bending the bush almost in half. It looked like a burdened soul carrying a very heavy weight. Since feng shui has taught me that the energy of things around me affect my energy, like the off-putting energy of the poison ivy, I overcame my reluctance to cut off branches laden with flowers. I was all over that bush!
This past year I have been carrying some very heavy burdens, like caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s. That bush reminded me of how I felt many times when I was juggling too many very weighty balls and feeling so weary. I definitely did not want anything in my yard or home to hold the energy of being burdened. As I chopped off more and more branches the bush began straightening up. When I was done, it was standing tall.
The lesson of the butterfly bush is that if I release some of what I’m carrying by saying no more often, lowering my sometimes unrealistic expectations, and asking for more help instead of trying to do everything myself, I too can stand tall, reaching for the sky instead of gazing at the ground.
What began as a determination to eradicate an unwanted plant ended up as a valuable reminder that I do have choices when feeling burdened by responsibilities. I can choose self-care and letting go. What obligations can you release today to lighten your load so you too can look up and see the sky?