For years, I never felt like I had enough time. I would watch anxiously as my calendar filled up with more than I had time to do. I would feel exhausted with the heavy responsibility that weighed on my mind about getting it all done. Friends would call, and I would be abrupt and stingy with my time telling them “I can’t talk right now”. It got so bad, that my mother would start our conversations with “I know you are really busy but…”. It was more than a bit excessive.
On some days, I could actually cross items off of my calendar as ‘done’. Momentary satisfaction was lovely when I acknowledged the completion, yet it didn’t last very long before I was worried about having time to complete the next thing I had committed to.
In meetings, I’d start getting anxious towards the last 10 minutes worrying about the next thing I had to do or get ready for. This made it hard for me to stay focused and present during meeting wrap-ups.
Thinking about my calendar would keep me up at night as my mind thrashed around a thousand options to fulfilling on my promises. I would wake up anxious about not missing anything critical, work hard to stay focused all day, and then end the afternoon exhausted from keeping up with it all.
What I Believed
After seeing that most of the time on my calendar reflected obligations to others, not to myself, I realized that I had connected my value to my time. The more of it I gave to others, the more valuable I believed I was - to my family, colleagues, customers, and friends. My calendar was filled with doing things and achieving things for others.
I’m not alone in this view. Most of my friends and many of my colleagues and clients feel the same way about their time between obligations for work, their children, family, and community filling up the hours, days, weeks months and years. We wonder where the time goes even though we are the ones filling up our days. We feel concerned when our calendar is full and even more concerned when it’s empty! We often present our busy-ness as a badge of honor.
Telling the Truth
The limiting belief I had lurking underneath my intense and fearful relationship with my calendar was this; “when I do something for someone else, I’m adding value. If I add enough value to others, I’ll feel like I’m good enough”.
This perspective made it hard for me to say no when others asked for my time. Every time I said yes to something I really wanted to say no to, I lost a little more energy and built up a little more terror about how I’d get it all done. Every time I didn’t make time for what felt best to me, I felt a little more heaviness in my heart and a deeper drain on my energy.
From Obligation to Inspiration
When I swapped out activities on my calendar that were obligations, to ones that were solely of my choosing, something big changed inside. This year, for the first time in over 20 years, time is no longer my terrorist. I can feel the difference when I am working on activities I have chosen vs. ones that I said yes to from that old sense of obligation. The two or three projects that I’m still involved in from the past have more ‘heaviness’ to them both in how they feel in and in their momentum towards success. The new work I’m doing is energizing and I feel clear and creative. I can really feel the difference between them. It’s the difference between how you feel when you see ‘meeting’ written on your calendar vs. seeing ‘vacation’ written on your calendar. Every time you see ‘vacation’ you feel good. And every time you think about it, you take a deep breath of relief or excitement rises to the surface in anticipation of the break from ‘obligations’. Now that I’m doing what I love in my work, I don’t seem to need the same ‘break’ from my work at the end of the day, on weekends or through vacations.
Now that I'm working exclusively for myself and I’m doing what I truly love and feel called to do, the content on my calendar has been changing. I don’t fill it up with obligations anymore – I fill it up with what feels good to me.
In speaking to colleagues about an upcoming trip I corrected my language when I said that “I have to go to this conference in March”, to “I get to go to this conference. It’s just amazing how our minds hold onto old beliefs and expectations, even when things are actually different! I was really tired of traveling in my old job, yet was thrilled to be traveling in my new one.
Changing Our Relationship to Time
If you feel you have too many obligations or describe yourself as the ‘overly-responsible’ one in your family, your team, or in your group, time may have turned into your terrorist. If so, here are a few things you can do:
Tell the truth about what time/your calendar means to you. What is the meaning you have given your calendar/schedule? Does it reflect your importance, your financial status, your value, your contribution, your worth, your being a ‘good enough’ person, sibling, friend, child, or student? Taking a look at how it is for you is a great first step towards changing it to something you want.
Challenge and change limiting beliefs. We learned as children that if we make others feel good, they will help us get our needs met. We were rewarded for doing what our parents asked of us and they in turn felt good about being ‘good parents’. Many of us never learned how to turn that external approval inward, into self-approval, keeping us stuck in the old habit of looking outside of ourselves to bosses, spouses, friends and children to get our needs met. Our calendars are filled with taking care of others in the hopes that our needs will get met in turn. As adults, we can question this belief about making others feel good as a way to get our needs met and ask; “is it really true?”
Start with what feels best (kindest) to you. It’s our job to make ourselves feel good, and others’ job to do the same for themselves. When we live this way, relationships become unconditional, honest and uplifting when we are no longer responsible for the happiness of another. You can begin to make choices like this in every aspect in your life – and your relationship with your calendar will change automatically.
When we look for others to give us what we need, we lose touch with our desires in an effort to be what others need or want. When we fully support ourselves by taking personal responsibility for what we have created, and start asking for what we want and saying no to what we don’t want, the universe supports what we are up to.
Are you ready to take your time back?
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