The improg word of the week is sprint. As soon as I pulled this word out of Hayley’s envelope, I knew what I would write about. No looking in the dictionary for inspiration or coming up with far-fetched connections this time.
I spend my days sprinting. In fact, I’ve done little else but sprint for over a decade. Not literally, of course. I’m not too fond of running for running’s sake, due in large part to enforced jogging up and down our mountainous roads during high-school PE classes. But figuratively speaking, I’ve spent the last twelve years or so sprinting from one thing to another with little time to rest or recover.
Even my long-term projects are done in 100-metre dashes. How I would love to have just a couple of things on the go at once—to finish one, to stand back and admire it and pat myself on the back, and then to move on to the next one. Instead, pieces of big projects are done in hurried bursts as I juggle deadlines, clients’ demands, my kids’ schedules, and my mom’s needs. What I do at any particular time is determined by who’s calling the loudest or what has to be dealt with immediately—or else.
Like a sprinter, I expend a huge amount of energy but don’t go very far. Instead of moving forward along the path of life, I’m sprinting along the same short piece of track over and over, dealing with this crisis and that deadline, with the laundry and school forms, always in a hurry. As a result, I finish very little and I’m in constant state of guilt about what’s not getting done. So I sprint faster.
But, as we all learned in high-school PE class, you can’t sprint indefinitely. I’ve collapsed physically only a couple of times, but even then I couldn’t stop trying to run. When I got pneumonia two years ago, I spent exactly one day flat on my back before I was out buying ballet shoes for Child Two (“She needs them tomorrow!”) and working in a fever-induced haze for clients who still wanted their deadlines met (“I’m sorry to hear you’re so sick. But you can work in bed, right?”).
Mentally and emotionally, I feel the effects every day. I can no longer lose myself in a book. I’ve lost the amazing ability to focus that Child Two inherited from me. I feel scattered and disorganized all the time, like I’m sprinting on the edge of cliff, about to fall into an abyss full of unfinished housework, incomplete projects, unmet deadlines, unfulfilled promises.
I could blame it all on my kids. After all, much of the running around I do is related to them. Before I had them, I did my share of sprinting—especially when assignments were due—but I also had time for walks, hobbies, and leisurely evenings with friends. I could blame it on my clients, who make the most astounding demands and have no sense of the boundary between work life and personal life, calling me during dinner or at 7:00 in the morning as I’m getting my kids ready for school, emailing me on Sunday nights, faxing me at 2:00 a.m. (“Sorry, I forgot that people on the other side of the world were in a different time zone”). I could blame it on my mother or on anyone who asks me to do anything. And, at one time or another, I have blamed all these people.
But I know that this is really my own doing. Wanting to be everything to everybody and unable to say no, I get myself into impossible situations. Knowing I should be taking care of myself, I try to spend time on my own interests, but abandon them when someone else needs me, leaving behind a trail of half-finished projects.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time. I know that living in a constant fight-or-flight state is not good for my health. By watching my mother, I’ve seen how difficult it is, after you’ve been sprinting all your life, to cope with having time to do whatever you want. And I sometimes suspect that part of the reason I dash around doing the mundane is that it gives me an excuse not to deal with more difficult things.
“Sorry, I don’t have time to face that challenge right now. I’ve got the grocery shopping to do and then I have to take Child One here and Child Two there, and then I have to work on a project for Client X, and then . . .”
So last year, when I came up with my GMST project, I knew that finding a way to live my life in a more organized and efficient way was a priority. So was learning to say no and building the boundaries I need to separate my personal life from my work life. This year, my Year of Living Differently, it’s time to stop thinking about all this and time to start doing it.
But not in a sprint. It’s time to rediscover my ability to enjoy the long walks in life—and to face up to all the things I’ve been running past. I’m sure I’ll find rough patches and some bears in the bushes along this trail, but I’ll also find time to explore, to appreciate what’s around me, and, most importantly, to breathe.