Work life is thriving lately. The organizing business I’ve invested so much energy and thought into with my business partner is blossoming and growing. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to create. But spending so much time in that pursuit also means I’m often tired, overbooked, and feeling like other areas in my life are falling behind. Last weekend, my body forced me to take a break, since I wouldn’t schedule one–spending an unexpected morning at home nursing a cold and thinking about other things that also need my attention. The following paragraph is an Instagram post I shared two years ago…I pulled it up and was surprised to realize this topic is still as relevant an issue for me as before. I’d like to flesh out this idea in thought to come to peace with it.
~I wonder why it is that to excel in one thing means that there aren’t enough pieces of you left over for everything else. I am pleased that things are taking off with my business, but there are only fragments remaining to sustain all of the other endeavors in my life: mothering, maintaining a clean and orderly home, keeping the weeds at bay in my yard, exercising and eating healthy, practicing the horn and teaching lessons, finding time for creative expression and writing, reaching out in kindness to others, taking care of escalating legal issues, keeping up with friends and loved ones, achieving personal and family goals, and carving out time to date again. I feel as if I’m drowning, never able to grasp it all…and yet maybe the key is in Ecclesiastes. Maybe we aren’t meant to excel in everything at once. Maybe part of the ticket to ride on this spinning verdant orb is to face the limitations of those 24 hours, and if in one season you’re a great friend and in others you’re keeping food on the table and in another you’re filling your mind with knowledge and wisdom and yet another you learn what it is to love someone selflessly…maybe if, over a lifetime, you’ve one by one accomplished the things you yearn to do, maybe that is enough. Even flowers can’t sustain perfection for more than their appointed time to bloom.~
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Seasons are the impetus of life. In my twenties, I loved moving to an area that had more clearly delineated seasons: a true fall, with leaves turning color and a nip in the air; winter with its snowy blanket, bringing quiet; spring’s riot for the senses; and summer’s contentment leading up to harvest. There’s something orderly about it, perfectly matched to our human desire for change and variety, and yet recurring often enough to create nostalgia and anticipation. If every day of the year was the same, we’d feel unrest. Even those who live in tropical climes have diversity, with a wet and dry season–and rhythmic migrations, sowing/harvesting, and birthing seasons for animals. This is the way of life. Trees, fruit, flowers, birds, beasts, seasons: ebb and flow, life and decay, change and return.
How can we, then, be content with what is before us at each stage and not long for holding everything in our possessive hands at once? How to acquire the wisdom of balance? Or to see today’s gift for what it is? Anyone who follows social media will often see flashback posts, pictures of someone’s kids when they were younger with a melancholy message about making time stop. The funny thing is, our kids today will bring the same nostalgia 5+ years from now, but it’s harder to love and cherish imperfect present moments when they’re in your face and lacking the forgiving sheen of distance.
Mindfulness is a part of the answer, and plenty of gifted bloggers have already given great information about that. But I’m looking for comprehension on the matter that is in addition to the highly prized art of being aware in each moment as it passes. Maybe it’s gaining a better understanding of the reality of time constraints. Some people take wonderful care of their bodies with disciplined exercise and healthy eating. Reserving an hour or two a day for working out and choppity-chopping vegetables is wonderful…and also means that that time cannot be given to another pursuit. If you love to read, those sacred 30 minutes before bed are spent focused on a book and not on anyone else. Heaven help my musician colleagues, who must spend 2-5 hours a day sharpening their craft…and who understand well what they are trading in exchange for excellence.
You may have read Malcolm Gladwell’s proposition that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of focused practice to master a field, to become an expert in it. Let’s do the math in an overly generous scenario. If you have about six discretionary hours a day, in one year you could spend 312 hours polishing your craft. At that rate, it would take 32 years to become an expert, which means you simply do not have the time allotment to truly excel in everything you do. So why do we want to soak up all before us, to learn and do everything we can while the sun shines? Why the disappointment when we fall short?
In my own life, I relished the education phase and settled on music as a gift-giving extracurricular that brought me much in the way of discipline, beloved associations, and learning how to create beauty within a group. I gave it my main focus for 18 solid years and then desired to sharpen my palate with different pursuits. When my two children were young, motherhood captured my complete attention and I absolutely loved the infant-1st grade phase of parenting. Now, because of adverse circumstances, the need to provide has given me less time for their direct tutelage, but it’s turned out okay because they are more independent and I’ve found I love the challenge of creating a business. A relationship isn’t in the cards for me currently, but may be when my kids are yet older and I have time to devote to companionship of a different sort. In each of these phases, at times I felt sadness for the other things I was missing out on, but a step back now to look at the whole picture brings the awareness that it has and will yet be a rich and abundant life.
The more I read King David’s poetic words in Ecclesiastes, the more I notice the paragraph is much less about time than it is about the theme of opposition. It’s fascinating to note that a full life contains so many dichotomies. We’re born, and we will die. In between, everything has polarity. We each have periods of fresh starts and then the subsequent harvest when we finish a pursuit and move on. We have great, joyful moments, and their painful, sorrow-filled opposites. To weep, and to laugh; to mourn, and to dance; to keep, and to cast away: oh life, you great canvas of complementary colors! One can’t fully savor the sweet without also experiencing the bitter.
In my meditation on this subject, I’ve finally found the perspective I needed, which is…perspective. This period of busyness related to work is temporary. In the midst of the chaos, it feels like it will last forever, draining me of stamina, but in actuality, it too will pass and an opposite scenario will eventually take its place. One day I’ll long for the bustle, the adrenaline of creative work, the “Mom, Mom, Mom!” soundtrack. If, during the rush, I can pause and reflect on the unique gifts of this stage, and remember that one day the tides will turn to an opposite stillness, a greater contentment with this season of growth can grace my heart.