As a child when all you want to do is play, things like chores and homework simply get in the way. Regardless, as time ticks on they slowly begin to creep into your life and are our earliest lessons about responsibility and accountability. This is where I believe I learned to plan my time and prioritise tasks to find the most efficient and effective path to get the end result. Sounds neurotic I know, but this is how I have always thought. If I could strategise the most efficient path to get the work done, then I would have more time to play right? Genius! So while my brother was whining and throwing himself on the floor refusing to do his tasks, I had made the decision to just get on with it and I was usually nearly finished by the time he was reluctantly starting. The harder I worked now, the easier it would be later on. This was my mantra.
This theory has served me well over the years and it has allowed me cram a lot into my thirty something years. I didn’t have time to dilly dally; wasting time taking a ‘gap year’, ‘finding myself’ or and other things I believed to be unproductive activities. If it wasn’t going to propel me faster to meet my strategic life plan, then it wasn’t worth spending my time on. I needed to account for every hour and I believed that this was my competitive edge.
As part of my ‘strategic life planning’ I acknowledged that there were 24 good hours in every day. I have always been a person who holds my sleep dear and I cannot function long term unless I make sleep a priority. Therefore 8 of these 24 hours were allocated to sleep. Another 8 hours was formally dedicated to work………or so I thought at the time. Therefore I was left with 8 hours left to optimise my day.
There were unavoidable ‘time wasting’ tasks like travel time to work that would eat into my remaining hours. To offset this, I would maximise these trips by listening to educational podcasts while driving, so at least I was learning something at the same time. Other essentials, such as housework, school lunches and dish washing had to be optimised. Oh yeah……being a wife and mother too…..that old chestnut! Plus trying to fit in exercise which is what all successful, super women seem to be able to do, right?
When I was offered a fast-track pathway to career ‘winning’, in a significantly more demanding role, I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself. However, there was a little voice inside me which was really nervous about how I was going to fit all of this in. I quickly smothered that voice as I would be an idiot to turn down a senior management position. A career defining ‘role of a lifetime’ had presented itself and all I had to do was say “yes”. I had to make it work and this would required some sacrifices. So what?
No pain, no gain right?
Naturally, my solution was to ‘borrow’ time from area of my life. I knew it would be a bad idea to take it from the sleep section, because I was going to have to be rested and have my wits about me if I was going to take on this big role. So the obvious place was to steal some time from the 8 hours I had currently dedicated to the essentials. If I could get more efficient in this area, I would be sure to find the extra hours I needed to re-allocate to my career section.
So I began to sub-consciously cut things out of my life which I felt like I could afford to drop. Over several years this ended up being all the things that I really enjoyed. I kept reasoning with myself that we all have to make scarifies to get what we want in life. So I cut out my exercise time, my reading a good book time, my writing time, my hanging out with friends time, my sleep-in time and my watching trash TV time. All the stuff that centres me and brings me down to a restorative wavelength was removed from my life over a period of 3 years. As my ever growing career demanded more of my time, I kept sacrificing, little by little, the things that made me truly happy.
So 3.5 years down the track into my senior management role I found myself sitting at my granite topped desk, in my office with stunning river views, with tears rolling down my face. I was living the dream, but I realised I wasn’t living my dream. Sometimes I would cry so hard I would have to lock my office door because I couldn’t stop the relentless sobbing. But I couldn’t let anyone see I was losing it. I was in a leadership position and everyone was depending of me to be the strong one and to ‘captain the ship’ through many business storms. I took that responsibility seriously and I learnt to pull myself together, slap on my poker face and walk the corridors with a ‘nothing to see here’ bounce in my step.
From the outside I had everything together, but I was beginning to understand that I was living a complete lie. The essence of what made me, me, was now running on fumes and I was slowly dying inside. The pressure was too much and the mummy guilt was immense. I was failing at something for the first time in my life. I was low, I was vulnerable and I felt trapped in a life I had willingly built for myself. How the hell could I get out? How could I admit defeat? How could I admit to the world that I wasn’t good enough?
I was exhausted, frightened and empty. The fear of losing my sanity became greater than my fear of failure. I stopped fighting and I surrendered to the life changing panic attack that consumed my sympathetic nervous system. My body was no longer my own and I didn’t care any more. I just needed the trajectory of my life to come to a screaming halt.
My manta wasn’t working any more. I had no idea how to live any other way. I was empty and I had willingly let this happen to me.