It’s remarkable what you can accomplish when you run out of excuses.
This is what I’ve discovered after a few months of living with only basic adult responsibilities: full time job, marriage, bills, a pet. I’ve never had a life with only basic adult responsibilities. I’ve always felt obligated to act on a super-human level because — well, I can! I should! I am woman, hear me roar!
I was the girl that said Yes to everything. I’d work several jobs, take on multiple leadership roles, and fit in extracurricular activities every evening. It was exhausting serving the god of Achievement. Trust me, I loved everything I was doing. But I also loved that I was the person that did it all. Pride makes it easy to want a reputation of excellence and hard work.
I bet if I interviewed hundreds of Millennials who grew up in a world seemingly without limitations — an upper middle class home in America with loving parents, plenty of extracurricular activities, and yes, perhaps even privilege — I would also find fellow achievers who are so used to building up their resume they’ve forgotten to live. I fear this is a cycle that will not soon be broken in our world.
Please know that I am not complaining that I grew up in a community of love and encouragement. As humans, it’s so easy to take something good and well-meaning and turn it into self-destruction. That is what I’ve done, and the blame lies on no one but me.
Life as an Addict
I’ve never been a drug addict, but I was an addict to being busy. If you looked at my schedule, you would see that I considered sleep, food, and exercise to be optional. Achieving was not optional.
There’s a point when those around you being to recognize your issue before you do. With eating disorders I imagine people say, “You’re so skinny” and with alcoholics perhaps it’s “You sure handle a lot of beer.” For me it was “Wow, you’re so busy.”
This comment came from everyone. Those closest to me begged me to take a step back and evaluate my choices. I realized that those I admired the most were just as busy as me or more busy, and that this was feeding my addiction.
I started to compare this lifestyle to others, and realized that most American adults feel compelled to live and give beyond what they can reasonably offer. Most adults cannot comfortably tell you why they are so busy, they can just tell you how they’re busy. When pressed to tell you what they really want to do with their time, they will probably list all of the things they feel passionate about but don’t make time for. When they take the time to do the things they love, they feel guilty about it because it’s likely at the expense of some achievement they’ve convinced themselves they need to pursue. This cycle is what feeds into the constant anxiety of the human race. This is how we encourage our children to live.
Now that I’m on the other side of it I can see so clearly this madness I used to call my lifestyle. I can understand why I was too tired to exercise or too busy to read my Bible or too behind to try cooking healthy meals. When God started prompting me to give things up to rescue myself I knew I was in trouble, just not how much.
Free from Addiction
When we moved to Chattanooga this summer I forced myself to not accept any responsibility outside of work, my husband, bills, and my cat. This commitment to simplicity allowed me to try on the persona of “Blank Slate Nicole,” who would try new things and experiment.
Do you know how hard it is for someone like me to purposely stay hidden away in the shadows, to not pursue every leadership opportunity, networking opportunity, or cash in on every personal connection to a Great Influential Person of the city? I can’t explain to you how, even now, I struggle with this. Mostly I cringe when I have to explain to all those who knew the “busy Nicole” that this lifestyle of chosen self-denial and lack of busyness is not a failure. It is a time to heal.
I project onto others and fear that they see me as a failure. I fight past my self-judgement because I know where my unrestrained self leads. When I am pursuing busyness, I am most willing to sacrifice the three things I claim are the most important to me: my relationship with the Lord, my husband, and my health.
I realize that what worked for me will not reasonably work for everyone. This is not a call to action for you to follow my prescribed, universal truths. This is the solution God gave me so that I could cultivate my life in healthy ways. If you find yourself addicted to busyness, I pray that the Lord reveals to you what you can do to sever yourself from an unhealthy lifestyle and start prioritizing the right things.
My New Life
I discovered that busyness was my excuse to avoid all the things that were best for my body, mind, and soul. Without excuses, I became much more productive and disciplined.
Busy Nicole was constantly claiming daily workouts were beyond impossible. My health was deteriorating as I steadily gained weight and lived in constant stress mode. Now, five to six times a week I accompany my husband to the gym and work out for about an hour. I have a routine that splits up weight lifting, cardio, and rock climbing. This is probably the most exciting and impressive thing about my new life.
I used to believe that taking the time to clean my house was beneath me because I never had time to do it. Now I find value in having my home reflect my new spirit of openness, simplicity, and love. For those of you who visited the house of “busy Nicole,” you might realize how big a step this is for me.
With my old schedule, simple pleasures like watching TV, baking, or drinking hot tea were my retreat to drown out the noise of exhaustion in my life. I still do those things, but now I no longer feel guilty about it. Every day I spend time relaxing and snuggling with my cat, Charlie. I often read books or Scripture by candlelight and drink hot tea. It’s a very relaxing, calming experience.
What is this elusive secret to my success?
The success I experience now is not success at all in the modern American eyes. I don’t have anything to do. I have not scheduled away the hours of my life to a person or an entity after work.
Without a crammed schedule, and after I fought past the initial boredom and guilt, I naturally gravitated toward the things that all doctors, religious leaders, and wellness practitioners harp on — the basic human need to take care of yourself.
In short, I have eliminated all excuses from my life. I’m no longer too tired to work out, or too busy to cook my own food. It’s remarkable what you can accomplish when you run out of excuses.
This philosophy of simplicity has benefitted me in so many ways. I have the energy and time I need to recharge in my life, which allows me to pour love and attention into others.
While this lifestyle will not last forever, I am grateful for the time I have had learning to prioritize the things that I claim are most important to me. May the Lord bless you as you pursue the same for your life.