It’s been a week. Busy by all accounts, as many are. But being busy is not what has me tired tonight. Rather it is something about the nature of the busyness.
As a multi-tasker, and parent, I’m used to juggling a variety of tasks. Grading paper, getting groceries, going to a tennis match, organizing the work for a subcommittee, and registering for a conference; so far so good, right? Creating and attending to a to-do list is part of how I stay sane juggling my many and varied responsibilities. But today while teaching on leadership, a light bulb went off. Accomplishing things is not what wears me down. It is something else.
Going about my work is what I expect to do each day. And, in fact, “work” is life-giving – it is part of how God designed us. We are created to contribute in the world based on our gifts and passions and the community’s needs. Preparing a class session on team leadership, meeting with students around vocational discernment, and planning next year’s curriculum most often are what feed my call as a teacher, scholar, and church leader. And its the same at home; preparing dinner, caring for our house, hosting a high school bonfire, and planning family time are everyday, ordinary ways I help our family create a life based on our values and commitments. And I expect this “work” to be easy some days, and harder others.
But somedays my head hits the pillow and I’m exhausted, defeated, and stretched beyond my means. And often on those days a collision has taken place between my attending to the life I am striving to create and the realities of the environment around me. Maybe it’s an unplanned event, like the resignation of a colleague; maybe it’s a stressor in a relationship, like a disagreement with my daughter; maybe it’s a decision by “the powers that be” that I disagree with, like cutting staff from my team; maybe it’s a shift in leadership or changes in other systems which I cannot stay detached from. The list is long, but what I know is this – with each of these “external” changes, I have to recalculate my internal compass. Maybe it’s just for the day, or the week, or beyond. And this “recalculating” takes energy, and too much recalculating leaves me questioning my direction and wondering where to direct my efforts.
As I lead my life, with my agenda and desires, I’m always balancing my competing commitments, values, and physical limitations. And that in and of itself is hard work. But then at the same time, I have to attend to the competing commitments, values, and limitations of the system/s I’m living within. When things are fairly predictable, I make it through the day with a dose of confidence. But sometimes the environment asks more of me then I have to give and the recalculating mode works overtime. Sometimes I’m having a good day and I encounter a colleague or friend who is having a hard time and my day turns. Then I go to a politically toxic meeting and come home to a daughter who needs extra attention and I’m done. All might be “normal” in the ebb and flow of that system, but together it’s overload. Then think about the “abnormal’ demands of living systems, when there is crisis or major transition.
On those days, I need to step back, remove myself, and take a break. Sometimes I go into a hole and attack my to-do list. Sometimes I immerse myself in another system, one I’m less emotionally or relationally attached to. Sometimes I bury my head in a book for the night. Sometimes I just go to bed and try again in the morning. Whatever the strategy, it’s time to get some perspective, giving myself some time, and a break from the recalculating. And then, in due time, take another run at the situation.
Today, I invite you to do two things. First, take a look at your to-do list (and if you don’t have one, write down the one that’s in your head). Look at it, pray over it, talk with friends and family about it, and wonder if that’s the to-do list that makes most sense in your life right now. Is your list the “agenda” you want shaping your everyday life. And second, take stock of the environments in which you spend most of your time – your home environment and personal relationships, your work and/or school environment, and the environments of the “other” places you invest your time and passion (maybe it’s a church community or a non-profit initiative).
This weekend, I’m away from home for time with family and learning with other colleagues. And I have the opportunity to do some such reflecting. And Monday, as I return, I hope to reenter with a rethought agenda and recalculated perspective. What about you? Will you join me?