As I start this journey of study to learn mindfullness techniques, and then on to acquiring teaching skills to pass on what I have learned, I am undoubtedly going to experience plenty of those eureka moments. These courses will force me to look hard at myself and access my own behaviours and habits, and in turn question the the way I spend the minutes of my days.
One chapter in to one of my main reference books, and it’s already been made extremely clear how important it is to schedule the mediations in to your life as regularly as possible, ideally daily, and that they should be considered as routine and integral as brushing your teeth. As someone who already feels like they need to turn to cloning or look into medical advances in terms of obtaining extra limbs, I’ve wondered how on earth I am going to manage this.
The reality is we can all find 10-40 minutes a day to ensure to focus on the present in a quiet spot allocated for this purpose. This is something I will no doubt comment on further as I progress through the studies, but initially it has got me thinking about time, and about how so many of us feel there just aren’t enough minutes in the day anymore – to fulfil and tick off all the things we are expected to do for others, or the things we wish to do for ourselves. This lead me thinking about the emotions that resonate because of this, and I think the most prevalent, and most draining, is that of guilt.
From a young age I remember seeing articles aimed to be triumphant and positive in feminism strength, telling us that we (women) really can ‘have it all’. I know the intentions of such messages were to empower and equalize, and that the authors wanted us to believe that there are no boundaries due to our gender, but I think the repetition of the statement has turned it into a pressure, one that’s really not needed on top of all the other things weighing us down in 2017.
If they’re saying we can ‘have it all’ but we fail to do so, are we failures? Have we let our gender down? Even worse, have we let ourselves down?
I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s definitely not possible to have it all, in the way you want to have it all, at least. What I mean is perfecting each and every area of your life is very unlikely and probably unachievable. I’m not saying we can’t have a good relationship, a good career, a good social life etc. However, I do think it’s impossible to nourish, nurture or propel one area as much as you would, if you didn’t have to look after the other areas too.
For example in the last year I’ve turned down a potentially career-changing TV appearance to be there for a friend in need. I knew that if I didn’t I would never forgive myself and the guilt would eat me up, so it was a fairly quick decision, albeit not one those I confided in agreed with. So if we were to summarise this instance, I’ve sacrificed progress in my career to ensure that my social circle was looked after. So, if I didn’t care about maintaining friendships or being there for loved ones my career could be benefitting or flourishing. But would I be happy? Probably not. Definitely not.
Recently I’ve been on the constant edge of burnout, in fact I’ve probably been in a consistent state of burn-out, in an attempt to keep everyone happy and maintain all the areas of my life. I have to admit to myself that’s it’s just not possible to work as hard as I innately like to work…and be a good friend, girlfriend, family member and human. No doubt this burnout has been accelerated because of the strain feeling permanently guilty puts on your body and mind.
Every week I’m having to let friends down by cancelling dinners, being too tired to head into London on the weekend for BBQ’s and gatherings (having commuted all week), being too ill (due to pushing myself too hard) or too busy to go birthdays, reunions, baby showers etc. It’s truly horrible to feel like a rubbish friend, but if I don’t say yes to all the work opportunities I can, I will be letting work people down, and the concept that ‘I only have myself to blame’ enforced. Afterall I am constantly being told I’ll only start earning more money if I go to these events, meet these people etc. It’s a no win situation. Whatever decision I make I will let someone down, so whether I choose work or a social life, the result is that my stomach will be knotted, I will have to go through an awkward interaction with whoever I’ve decided to let down on this particular occasion, and I’ll have to try and make the most of the choice I’ve made in spite of feeling greyed by guilt.
You’re then having to fit in spending quality time with your partner, who also has a busy schedule which doesn’t necessarily working seamlessly with yours, and try and not be a stressed/tired wreck during those windows. I’ve done the long distance thing for a while, and yes the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ thing does work for a time, but for us at least, we’ve reached an age where we don’t want that to be the norm anymore. To make it work for us now, we need to try and allocate some time to one another each week, which I’ve found would be impossible if I were to say yes to all work opportunities that come my way. So I’ll turn down some premieres or a party with friends, and try not to make Si feel guilty for that or like an inconvenient part of the difficult level puzzle that is my weekly schedule.
So once again that involves some sacrifice, which reaffirms my previous statement that you can’t entirely ‘have it all’ in the form you may dreamt it.
Blogging/YouTube is a very hard industry to incorporate ‘No’s’ into. When glamorous, fun or exciting events or trips come your way you want to say yes to them all because you are all to aware of how important illusion of being busy/successful is to getting future work with other brands, how good it is for your profile, how fickle and saturated the industry is, and simply because they look awesome…but also because you know that you’ll have to see pictures on your feeds and timelines posted by the people who have said yes to the invitation and opportunities. It’s very easy to become dogged to a unhealthy extent. At times I’ve been a workaholic to almost a selfish level where forgotten how it impacts those people around me. It’s not fair to never be around for Si, and miss out on the moments he wants to share, or always be distracted or work focused when we are finally together. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always gonna work hard and be ambitious, that’s innate, but I can be more selective and reasonable when it comes to what I say yes to. And I do need to remember that relationships are what enrich my life, and I should ensure my determination to succeed doesn’t harm them to a level I’ll regret.
While we’re talking work, something needs to be done about the 24/7 expectation of people within a lot of prominant industries these days. I saw something on Twitter a few weeks ago that really captured how out-of-hand things have got, and went a long way to explain why so many people are struggling with stress or burn-out. A company going through the interview process to hire new employees decided to test them without warning by sending an email out on a Sunday, if they replied within an hour they’d still be in the running for the job (something like that anyway). Tweeters were quick to point out how unfair that was and reasoned that the opposite would actually be better for business – it would mean the employee would likely be more fulfilled and happy from their weekend and refreshed on Monday ahead of their working week if they’d taken time away from work (and their inbox). But this businesses attitude to a preferable work ethic is not unusual and actually pretty consistent in many industries, like music, media and blogging. Unless we all take a stand against this though it’s not going to change. As long as some people are willing to give up their evenings and weekends, others will be expected or pressured to do so too, so will risk losing their much sought after position if they fail to do so.
Say you’ve decided to let your foot slightly off the accelerator career wise, for the sake of your friends/partner/family. Your financial position is therefore stagnant or deteriorating. You then realise you can’t afford to do all the things your partner/friends want you to do or take part in . Oh hello guilt, there you are again you rotten bastard.
Most of my close friends are also far more financially stable than me, with homes, cars, regular salaries and such. So every time there’s a birthday gathering or celebration they’ll come with cards and presents, I’ll come empty handed because I can barely afford to pay for the meal we’re having. I can’t even bring a handmade card anymore, as I haven’t got the time to do thoughtful things like that anymore. Sometimes I even opt out of things just to avoid feeling like a crappy guest or friend, and so to avoid that particular reminder that I’m not where I want to be career wise.
Then there’s the guilt of being absent from social media or other tech methods of communication. There’s a couple of WhatsApp groups I barely contribute to anymore, and I feel awful, as they’ve now become the main forum for my closest friends to share the trials, sadnesses and triumphs of their days, where they seek advice and share their funny or embarrassing stories, and I just don’t have enough/any time to keep on top of them. I can’t read them, let alone respond thoughtfully. After attending an event I’ll see three different groups with 100 plus messages I need to catch up on and it’s so daunting it almost makes me feel sick with stress. There’s only so many times I can say sorry I’ve been M.I.A works been hectic, particularly when I’m talking to working mums who are dealing with stresses of their own. I just wish I could give them that beauty and the beast mirror so they could see how stretched I am, so they could see it wasn’t me not making enough effort or not caring enough. There’s also the fact that social media is a large chunk of my work, (unlike my mates who work in very different industries) so to fill my non-work time doing the same sort of action/process is clearly unhealthy and something I should try and avoid for my mental health… and poor overworked fingers.
I’ve had to make the decision to stop using Facebook too, just so I have enough to time to do the social media that is more integral to my work, but that now means I’m constantly missing event invites, and no longer wishing friends happy birthday on their timelines – something which I used to be regimented about. Even though I’m making time to post on Instagram I’m not responding to the comments, which makes me feel terribly guilty when someones taken the time to offer kindness or help. Then there’s the messages from strangers I get due to the nature of my YouTube content. I get so many a week now it’s a significant job to reply to them in the nature I would want to. I doesn’t feel right replying to a page and half of heartfelt text with a few paltry or generic lines of thanks or well wishes. So then I don’t reply, and feel wracked with guilt that I’ve not sent anything back. What will they think of me? What if the fact I don’t reply hurts them and makes them feel worse?
These are just a few things I feel guilty about, and I’m sure a few of you have nodded along as you’ve read. While it might be a comfort to know someone else is feeling this perennial and unpleasant feeling in the gut, without at least pondering solutions this article is somewhat pointless.
So what can we do?
In my view it’s something that needs to be changed on a grand scale. Our society and working culture needs to be transformed in a way that is kinder to our mental health and more conducive to maintaining a balance in all areas of our lives. Should there be stricter things enforced in terms of how many hours a week we work? Should there be times of social media blackout so we are forced to have breaks from it? Should everyone have rights to a 2 or even 3 day weekend? Unfortunately, I fear a quick fix isn’t possible, and any cultural changes will take a significant amount of time, with lots of ingrained habits or expectations needing to be befazed out, which will be hard when you consider the trends and pressures of modern society.
I do believe we hold a lot of power to make the changes necessary to mean we will be less hard on ourselves though.
Rather than worry what people are thinking of me (or saying about me) when I don’t turn up to social events, I’m going to explain my position so they can understand why I’m unable to be as present as I’d like right now. I’m going to attempt to use my time more efficiently, being more selective about what I say yes to, weighing the negatives and benefits, and trying to gauge how positive it will be to do it. I will really need to constantly remind myself what’s important to me, and not push myself to do excess amounts of the stuff that isn’t enriching me on a deep or helpful level. Knowing that although being financially stable would make me happy, but being rich isn’t important to me, I’m going to try and make sure my the scales tip a bit more favourably to the social side of my life. My friends are everything to me, and it’s about time my actions mirrored that truth. I also know that I need to try and give myself a break, and acknowledge that I am in a very tricky position and that my lack of energy makes everything harder to deal with.
Lastly I refer back to an earlier point. I think we have to acknowledge that we have to realistic in our quest for ‘having it all’. We have to accept that if we are going to try, there will be times we will get the balance very wrong, and end up feeling bad because of how that makes us, or others feel.
I’m not saying we can’t have a great career, awesome relationships and a buzzing social life whilst having time look after our wellbeing, but we HAVE to accept that some areas, or even all areas, will involve sacrifice. It’s not easy despite how some people make it appear online or in the papers/magazines, and at some point you may decide it’s sensible/necessary to change your own expectations for your life – don’t see this as giving up or failing. This really doesn’t have to mean you’re not striving for your best life, being a boss-woman or championing girl power…I promise you. Knowing yourself, and managing your life in a way that makes you happier is what I call bossin’ it.
Are you living with guilt? What makes you feel guilty? What are you going to do to combat it?
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