Exhausted, overwhelmed, depleted, stressed out. When people ask you how you are, is this what you really want to say?
A recent episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday featured an author with a lot of experience with all of those feelings. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s just O and a guest, plugging a book about spirituality or self-help, sitting in Oprah’s backyard. The typical format is 1) person explains their book, 2) person reveals crisis point that inspired the book, and 3) what viewers should do (in addition to buying aforementioned book!) to avoid being like them.
Recently it hit me that all of these shows, at their core, are exactly the same.
The episode that caught my attention featured a woman I knew nothing about. Author Shauna Niequist sat with Oprah to discuss her new book called Present over Perfect. I enjoyed listening to her discuss how to handle being pulled in many directions. It occurred to me that her A-ha Moment, Oprah-speak for “revelation”, is no different from the crisis that strikes all these authors. For Shauna Niequist, her particular A-ha Moment occurred while she snorkeled in Hawaii with her eight year-old son. She indicated that, leading up to this trip, she was preoccupied with being busy. She avoided silence because of what she might find if she tuned into her self. The experience of being underwater where all she heard was her own inner voice led to Shauna’s commitment to change.
For many of us, it’s hard to comprehend how someone who seemingly has it all could lose her way. But her interview conveyed that in spite of her material comfort, her feeling exhausted and overwhelmed are familiar to many of us. In one of the opening exchanges between Shauna and Oprah, the author said that if you sat around a table with your peers and discussed what means the most in your life, every single person would say their family. And yet, she says, that’s not really where we are focusing our time. The focus is diverted from the connection of loved ones to all the areas that lead to the house/vacations/cars, etc.
All this is not to say that we need to give up all the trappings of comfort. I find my balance by living a life that tends to be somewhat minimalist (and stay tuned because I promise someday to write about one of the best films in recent years: Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things from 2015). Would I love all the travels and fancy restaurant meals and cars? Sure. But our connections with others go astray when our priorities lie in our pursuit of material possessions. Sadly, a lot of people find themselves where Shauna is, often after something traumatic has happened: death of a loved one, loss of a job, when diagnosed with a serious illness, or when faced with a relationship hardship such as infidelity.
Because I’m only going by what the author said on the show with Oprah, I took a quick whirl around Shauna’s website and read through a few of her articles. Every one of them indicated a shortcoming on her part, coupled with a commitment to do better. And all of these shortcomings involve her being too exhausted to focus on what truly matters to her. This can certainly be the stuff of marketing (i.e., All these women need to stay frazzled so I can continue selling books!), but if it’s not about the marketing, how do we get ourselves off this carousel where we deceive ourselves into thinking that we do not have time to go to dinner with our girlfriends or jump into a pile of leaves with our children or snuggle with our spouse?
Another thing that Shauna mentioned in this episode is that when she was an adolescent, she witnessed her mother experience a similar sort of re-awakening. Shauna’s father was a well-known pastor and the whole family was committed to working in the church. This is by no means a criticism of Shauna, because these are such universal stories, but if she saw her mother needing to slow down and smell the roses, why did Shauna grow up and fall into the same thorny situation? We have a responsibility to ourselves to avoid falling into this trap as well as a responsibility to children or those whom we influence to help them see that value cannot be found in an exhausting rat race.
After seeing this show, I kept wondering how we can avoid having the blur that led to the “Shauna Snorkeling Moment” in the first place? Why do we always seem to need the pain of a rock bottom or tragedy to get up and take action?
Three questions to ask yourself that can help you find what truly matters:
- Who is influencing you? We are all influenced by someone. Do you have an image of the woman or man you wish you were? Think of what you like to wear. If you dress a certain way, what does it say about you? Would it say you were a worldly person who really has their act together? What about what you drive or how you decorate your home? What are you trying to portray to the world? Do you really want to put up the massive holiday display on your lawn or do you secretly just want to have a bigger one than your neighbors’? Think of the massive amount of energy that you are expending on the external aspects of your life.
- What would you be willing to give up to get some of your life back? You spend hours driving to various specialty grocery stores for the ingredients you need for some fabulous dessert you saw on Pinterest. Pretty sure that your guests will still love you if you scaled back on your creations. You drive your kiddo all over the place to expensive activities in the hopes of him getting a scholarship to college…but he’s only six. Is it possible to dial your life down a little bit?
- Is it truly necessary to stand out? What about simply being ordinary? Maybe it’s okay to have an average-paying job you love and buy groceries at Shop-Rite instead of Whole Paycheck…I mean, Whole Foods. Drive the Honda instead of the Lexus. Go to Knoebels instead of Disney World. People will still love you and if they don’t, that says a lot about the relationship you had with that person.
In closing, I had this amazingly articulate summary, expounding on the need to extract every last juicy ounce out of life. But I erased it all. I don’t think anyone could say it better than this guy:
Ferris Bueller: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.
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