As I write this I’m on a train from London to Brighton having started my day at 5am to make a client workshop in London at 8.30am which lasted until 6pm, followed by a quick catch up with my best friend who lives in London (so it’s the perfect opportunity to see her), followed by work emails on the train, followed by reviewing a document for another big client meeting tomorrow morning, with a quick phone call to my boyfriend to let him know I’m on my way and can walk the dog, followed by a quick rub of my joints which have been bothering me all day followed by… near collapse!
Hello. My name is Anna and I am an overcommitter.
I am the queen of spreading myself too thinly in the name of being a good friend/ girlfriend/daughter/sibling/manager/colleague often at the expense of me rather than the person/project I might let down.
As Gretchen Rubin says in her brilliant book Better than Before on developing habits: ‘Running activities too close together makes me feel hairy and irritable’. AMEN. I know when I get like this it’s time to take stock and work out what’s important before that is decided for me.
The combination of having a family dear to me but 270 miles away, plus friends scattered all over the country, plus some very neglected hobbies and healthy habits I want to adopt since getting ill, plus a very busy job managing 12 people plus combining my diary and my boyfriend’s (and my dog’s!) means I often feel it’s all verging on too much. I try not to let any of them ‘slip’ and by doing so there’s sometimes no oxygen in my week(s). After two years of living quietly and with real ill health now I’m committing to more I’m starting to feel on occasion like I’m in the rush hour of my life.
I need time for me. We all do. I have to be honest with myself that I’m still battling a health condition, which on bad days means I have to clear my diary and ‘uncommit’ from everything but on many days I can soldier on and this trait is allowed to rumble on in the background.
I’m not moaning, so much of my life is filled with commitments I want to keep and that enrich my life like a quick dinner with a friend, a trip home to Liverpool for an important birthday, saying yes to a friend’s baby shower who is about to move away – these are all things I love to do but this behaviour of doing too much is a pattern I’ve had for too long, and I need to find a way to curb it.
What’s the solution? Perspective, and having the balls to decline stuff without the guilt. I talked about saying yes in my health story post which is a true novelty these days but now I wonder if I should say no more. No to the things that don’t feed me, or ‘not now’ to things that I want but can postpone. Friendships are so important, especially in your 30s when chances are your friends are all over the place and that’s something I don’t want to neglect, but Emma Gannon said something to me recently about friendship that stuck. She talked about the times she or a friend might have to bail on something due to being overly busy and that her friends have an understanding that ‘it’s sometimes ok to miss this weekday dinner/quick chat/weekend drink because after all, it’s not my wedding’. That understanding that flex can be given and it’s not the end of the world is refreshing. The thing is, my friends give me that but I rarely give that permission to myself.
That said, I don’t want to be a flake and texts and phones in general have made us more flake-like (I always keep the first commitment I make even if something else comes along) but for someone like me, saying no and being an ‘honest flake’ from time to time is crucial to my sanity and my wellbeing.
In Better than Before Gretchen describes the persona of an ‘Obliger’ which sums me up well. It’s someone who does many things for others, but struggles to keep promises to themselves – they need outside validation to do that, they need to feel ‘obliged’. So my March resolution (yes, I’m making monthly resolutions now, I’ve just decided) is to keep promises to myself. And to listen to myself and not live up to this idea I have to be everything to everyone because chances are they’ll be there anyway.
Michel de Montaigne said: ‘The conduct of our lives is the true reflection of our thoughts’ in On the Education of Children and this struck a chord because I think my thoughts are battling with my body. Since feeling a bit better, my ‘boom or bust’ mantra drilled into me by my consultant is something I’ve struggled with. A year ago I was asking her how I’d ever regularly commit to friends again and she gently told me that sometimes the pain/fatigue would be worth it for the trade-off of feeling happier from socialising. TRUE DATE but now I’ve possibly taken that too literally and if my pain and symptoms ease I feel I need to take that moment and make it great, do something with it, prove myself but that’s a law of diminishing returns because after the boom comes a bust and I’ll often feel ill, tired, in more pain. So sometimes I’m saying no to be able to say yes later. As my brilliant MD tells me when I’m feeling low and like I might somehow be letting my team down by working from home ‘Anna, how can you be a good leader to anyone when you yourself are not healthy?’ And she’s damn right.
Do you overcommit or spread yourself too thinly? I would love to hear your stories, and that I’m not alone!