Months after I wound up in the ER with blood clots in my lungs, I realized I needed to stop putting so much pressure on myself and start enjoying life a little more.
Before my cosmic kick-in-the-butt, I'd been climbing the ladder at work, striving to be a perfect wife and friend, and trying to get Michelle Obama arms. I was spending a lot of time doing things I felt I "should" be doing. I'd forgotten that what I really wanted was to have a good life, and that the way to do this is to enjoy fun and fulfilling moments.
Can you relate? Maybe you've felt that you "should" be sipping a kale juice, sculpting your core, or cracking the glass ceiling, while being a perfect friend, lover, partner, or mother.
No wonder we all know what "adrenal fatigue" is!
Sure, we need money to live, sleep and eat, but fulfillment comes from creating joy and serving others. My point isn't that we should stop striving for health, grace, and success. (Or the ability to pay our bills.) It's that when the pursuit of these qualities morphs into rigidity or a need for external validation, it can suck the joy out of life. It disconnects us from us, which limits our impact.
I'm still trying to curb myself when I realize I'm grasping a little too hard for things that don't really matter. (It's progress, not perfection.) Here are some tips I've found helpful:
1. You don't have to drink the kale juice.
Between morning meditations, journaling, oil-pulling, yoga sequences, affirmations, dry brushing, and kale juicing, there's a lot it seems like we should be doing before 9 a.m. Add in the stress of conflicting information (Is fruit good or does it trigger inflammation?) and wellness can evolve into a stressful, fluctuating to-do (or to-avoid) list. And no wonder why going out to eat with wellness junkies requires a generous tip to the wait staff.
You don't have to buy into every evolving nutrition theory and change your food philosophy every time there's a new New York Times best-seller. And if you aren't into drinking kale juice, you don't have to chug it. Learn about everything, but let feeling good be your guide.
2. Take an inventory of how you spend your time.
Here's tip I took from Deborah Spar, author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection. Take an inventory of how you spend your time in a typical week. Add up everything: working, playing with friends and family, exercising, running errands, and taking care of yourself.
Do you like the ratio? Are you investing time in the activities and people that make you feel good? After putting some numbers to how you spend your time, you may realize that you're on a pretty good track or you're overdue for some subtle scheduling shifts.
And if you can't change your work hours, you may have to change the way you spend your personal time. Ever felt guilty for declining an invite? There was a period when I didn't feel comfortable responding with a “Thanks so much, but I'm beat from the week and need some time to recharge." (Although, in retrospect, if the host was an introvert, she probably would've understood.)
We all get energized from different types of interactions. Given our nutty schedules, time is the new gold. Do more of what you enjoy and don't blame yourself when you opt out of activities that you kind of dread.
3. Keep exercise fun and fresh.
I logged many hours on the elliptical machine in my 20s. Confession: I never enjoyed it, but magazines (my main health resource at that time) lead me to believe that burning calories (and sculpting arms) at the gym was the key to health and happiness.
Sure, exercise is wonderful: it melts our stress, connects us to the present, and betters our health for the future. (Yay for triple-tasking!) But if you don't enjoy the activity, try something else. I still have to nudge myself occasionally to keep exercise fun and fresh. Even if it's just taking a different type of yoga class. Baby steps, right?
4. Take a cue from the millenials and expect to enjoy your work.
If every week you're dealing with the Sunday night blues, it's time to get curious and figure out why. Are you clinging to some perceived prestige, or some reason why you "should" be there? I'm not saying you need to give your two weeks' notice and become a yoga teacher in Tulum (unless you know that's your calling). Work enables us to live, eat, and enjoy life.
Until you land your dream job, a shift in perspective may be all that you need. You could learn a new skill or reach out to a colleague you admire. Who knows where that will lead? And if you're on the fence about a transition, I love these wise words from Tina Fey, “You can't be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, over-thinking it. You have to go down the chute."
5. Remember: you are your own best life coach. Everyone else is just making educated guesses.
The self-help geek in me loves constructive feedback. When I felt 90% fine after my pulmonary embolism, I visited an intuitive to try to achieve the perfect health that had stumped my doctors, healers and me. Without any data to support his conclusions, he told me that I needed to lose two pounds, that I was aging prematurely, and that I was living in the wrong neighborhood. My well-being, according to him, was closer to 1%. What I needed was to buy $100 worth of supplements and schedule more treatment sessions.
After a good cry, a few hours of scrutinizing my skin and second-guessing my health, I realized that he wasn't right for me. The experience helped me realize that I was spending too much time obsessing about perfect health and focusing on what was wrong. I needed to shift my perspective: Less achievement, more greatness.
As Justine Musk says in her blog post, “A quest for greatness, however, turns us outward. It doesn't just force us to ask ourselves who we are and what we do—but also who we are meant to serve and how we're meant to serve them."
Chasing after external validation—pay, promotions or praise—can keep us sprinting in one direction instead of the path that's right for us, the path where we can feel and be great.
So what next? You've got to tune into what makes you feel good before you can serve (and save) the world, and it's so much easier to do this when you've ditched needless pressures and let feeling good be your guide.