Credit: Jason Weiss for Fredi
In my early 20’s, I took great pride in keeping a busy schedule.
I thought that the more hobbies I picked up, the more knowledge I acquired, and the more events I had in my calendar, the more fulfilling my life would feel. I joined writing groups, made greeting cards, started an environmental advocacy organization, picked up photography, attended city council meetings, took online classes, practiced yoga, hosted parties, and experimented with cooking. However, as the novelty of each thing I added to my schedule wore off, I’d find myself feeling underwhelmed and start seeking the next new and interesting thing. With each thing that I added to my schedule, I began to feel increasingly burnt out, drained, and even more unfulfilled than before.
Several abandoned novels, many glue gun burns, and one pot that actually melted onto the stove later (true story, cooking was clearly not my calling), I felt more lost than ever about how to create a life that excited me and brought me joy every day.
"With each thing that I added to my schedule, I began to feel increasingly burnt out, drained, and even more unfulfilled than before."
Why was I unfulfilled when my life was so full? Because I was running from my truth.
I didn’t know what I wanted. As soon as I slowed down, how lost I truly felt was an extremely uncomfortable reality to face. I didn’t have any goals or expectations for any of the new hobbies I picked up. In fact, I didn’t have any clear goals for myself, my career, or my life. I wanted to feel productive and purposeful, but in reality, I was wandering aimlessly, staying busy for the sake of staying busy. “Busy” was really just me trying to stay ahead of my emotions and avoid feeling lost, empty, and scared. I wasn’t setting any goals out of fear that I would pick the wrong goals and fail at them. There’s no such thing at failing when you’re making greeting cards for fun, right?
I’ve come to learn that in order to tap into your highest potential of fulfillment, joy, confidence, and success, you first need to tap into your truth. What is your intuition trying to tell you? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you doing what you’re best at? Do you feel how you want to feel?
"I wanted to feel productive and purposeful, but in reality, I was wandering aimlessly, staying busy for the sake of staying busy."
If you’re feeling drained, lost, unfulfilled, or if you find your focus bouncing wildly from one thing to the next, it is time to slow down and explore your truth. Before you bounce to the next idea or activity, listen to that feeling with mindfulness and self-compassion. Why are you feeling that way? What’s missing? What’s not serving you? What gap are you trying to fill in your life?
Slowing down may feel at first like you’re going to fall behind. When your truth catches up with you, it can be an uncomfortable process of facing the emotions you’ve been hiding from. However, if you push through that discomfort, you will quickly discover that pausing allows you to make more effective decisions. Slowing down to assess your circumstances allows you to get a better picture of where you’re going, anticipate the barriers ahead, acknowledge the those who are cheering you on, and set yourself up instead for a much more fulfilling and meaningful journey.
So, what does slowing down look like?
Check in with yourself.
If you find yourself bouncing around from job to job, hobby to hobby, or even nightclub to nightclub— chances are, you may be avoiding your truth. The easy thing to do is to keep filling your time— keeping ourselves “busy” keeps us temporarily ahead of the uncomfortable feelings we don’t want to face. However, this is a quick path to burnout, and those feelings are inevitably going to catch up with you. Get honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, what’s missing, what you want next, and if your current job, hobbies, social circles, etc. are helping you get there or if they’re holding you back.
Embrace not "yes", but "yes, and..."
An open mind is an excellent tool for spotting opportunities for growing in ways you never could have imagined. It’s great to want to say “yes” and to try new things, but it’s also important to remember that not everything is going to help you toward your goals. By adopting a “yes, and…” mindset instead, it gives you a chance to set some priorities and boundaries in your life as you navigate trying new things. For example, when approaching a new hobby, say “yes I’ll try cooking, and I’ll make a goal of cooking 3 new recipes this week.” Or: “yes, and I’ll give it a try once I finish my previous project I just started.” In other words, get intentional about how you invite new things into your life. Give them a place, a purpose, and set some boundaries around them.
(Pssst… it’s also okay to say “no”!!!)
Remember that you have nothing to prove.
You don’t need to do everything all at once to be an interesting, accomplished, or capable person. If you’re feeling like you need to stay busy in order to get to the finish line faster, take a look around at your competitors. If you look hard enough, you’ll realize they’re not competitors at all— everyone around you is running in their own race altogether. You have value, talent, and you’re capable of amazing things— no matter what other people are doing or how quickly they’re doing it. Take a deep breath, and remember your strengths are still strengths even when you’re not flexing them.
It wasn’t until I slowed down and explored my truth with a magnifying glass that I began to find the things that fulfilled me. Once I started to get honest with myself about what I wanted, I was able to cut out the things that weren’t helping me get there and made more intentional choices about where I was putting my time.
I didn’t find my truth overnight. It took slowing down many times over, going through the motions to uncover it layer by layer. Even still, there is much left to explore, but I can feel that I am on my most fulfilling path.
Try these tricks to help you slow down and reevaluate what each thing on your busy schedule is really adding to your life. Set some goals and boundaries around them. Remember that it’s okay to relax, and that if you feel emotional discomfort when you slow down to do so, it’s definitely time to dig deeper into your truth.