“If I can just get through this next thing, I’ll be alright.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that phrase or something like it. I used it just yesterday when I said, “If I can get this next box unpacked, I can take a break.” It must be a mark of an overwhelmed kind of life to rush through days simply hoping to make it through the next thing. There’s always a promise attached to this, “And then I can take a break, exhale, go on vacation, retire, go to sleep, rest, etc.” The problem is that when we get through “this next thing” there’s another thing (or two or three) waiting to take its place.
The other night I wrote about loving what’s here now instead of hoping for an “ideal” life that we’ll have an opportunity to have “someday.” It’s kind of like the concept of heaven: if I do the best I can, be good and do right, then someday I’ll go to heaven. The trouble is that I have to die first and experience all the other stuff leading up to it. If I’m looking forward to heaven, then what on earth is there to look forward to, well, here on earth?
It occurs to me that I have way too many “next things” that keep me from “this thing,” the thing that I want to do that will bring peace and fulfillment in my life. I’ve lived much of my life in “this next thing” mode, as do many of the people I see around me. I confess to being somewhat baffled as to how to tackle this; but I know this much: I definitely need to take it on. I think I might need to begin weaving a new sentence into my daily conversations, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that.” Radical, right? Say it with me, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that.”
“Wait, what?” You say in a disbelieving tone, “If I say that to my boss I’ll be fired.” But will you really? And I’m not suggesting that you start with your boss. I take on all kinds of “next things” that I can’t pin on my boss. I place the blame squarely on my shoulders. How many things do I take on that I don’t need to and probably shouldn’t? “If I don’t do it, then who will?” I ask worriedly. But if the answer is, “no one,” perhaps I can let it go. I get a lot of requests from a lot of different people at work. The longer I work in my current role the more I am beginning to evaluate what I can and cannot do, what I will and will not do.
There are always going to be emergencies, fires to put out, problems to solve. Always. If I were not there to deal with them what would happen? (a) someone else would step up and take action, (b) no one would take it up and the organization might suffer but would probably not cease to exist, (c) someone else would take it up and not do it as well as I would (in my opinion, that is), or (d) someone else would do it and do a better job than I would have and get lots of kudos and credit and glory. Yikes!
It would seem then that there could be a bit of ego involved in always saying yes to the next thing. Perhaps it isn’t obvious at first that that’s what’s happening, but the more I look at my motivation for taking on yet another thing, I can’t rule out that ego is involved at least part of the time. I get a savior or martyr complex: I have to save the day because no one can do this except me or if I don’t do these 12 things people will suffer, they are all depending on me. There are a lot of ways we get ourselves tangled in the “this next thing” syndrome.
What’s I need to do is take is an honest assessment of when and where I take on too many things. I’m going to really pay attention in the weeks ahead to see how many requests I feel I need to take on and why I’m saying yes. I will try and notice how the request lands on me–do I feel excited, burdened, ambivalent, intrigued, annoyed, unsettled? How does it sit with me when it first comes in? My body will give me clues sometimes when my mind hasn’t caught up with things yet. It’s definitely something I’ll be paying attention to. And I have to look honestly at my ego reaction. Will what I am being asked to do provide me an opportunity to “look good” to other people? Will it look bad if I don’t do it, like I’m not a team player or uncooperative or–god forbid–a diva? What is my motivation for saying yes, particularly if it piles yet another thing on an already overloaded plate.
I doubt that Jesus had this problem. I can’t say that Jesus knew his limitations and therefore never overcommitted himself–I mean, I don’t know if Jesus had limitations. And he didn’t appear to be motivated by what would make him look good (or bad) and didn’t seem to care what the local muckety mucks thought about him or what he was doing. He was answering a higher calling, responding to a higher purpose, and serving a higher authority to concern himself with some of the more mundane reasons people had for doing what they did. Heck even his disciples spent time squabbling amongst themselves about who would be more favored with Jesus than the others and would try to impress him and outdo one another. For his part, Jesus didn’t have a whole lot of patience with that.
It seems to me that I want to be creating more space in my life for the things that are truly important. Most of us have to work for a living, to keep a roof over our heads, to provide basic necessities to others, or even to simply enjoy our lives outside of work. But given how much time we actually spend at work, we somehow must begin to find ways to enjoy our lives during work. For me that means being a little more thoughtful about what I say yes to and when I can say, “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to do that.” For those of us who take on too much, don’t know how or when to say no, this is going to be a difficult task. But it’s definitely worth trying out a few times and seeing how it goes. At the end of the day, the organization I work for will keep rolling right along with or without me. But I can’t live without me, and neither can the people who love me. And for that, I need to learn to put off the “this next thing” syndrome. I invite you to do so as well.