It’s a funny coincidence that my last two posts have focused on the cult of busy, and on how we stretch ourselves past a point of balance: I’ve found myself running around, taking care of several things at once, and not leaving space or energy for myself to write any new posts.
However, this busy-ness has felt a little different lately. It’s as if the busy-ness that’s crept in is more meaningful, purposeful, and aligned with my priorities, albeit compressed into the same timeframe. I’m balancing some big and exciting projects at work, finishing up observations of student teachers, and have been furiously making bracelets for donors to my Girls on the Run fundraiser.
I’m discovering that, for once, I’m not letting the busy-ness overshadow other personal goals. Rather, I’ve made the effort to be present in my busy-ness, and to use this busy-ness as an opportunity to continue my personal growth and improvement in less-than-optimal work-life conditions. It’s been an uncomfortable but enlightening process…and one that would be much tougher without an analytical partner who can pull me back into this thought process when I want to cast it aside.
In my work with new teachers, I help teachers identify two or three areas for growth between observations. Any more than this is overwhelming, as it’s too many things for one to focus on doing well. I’ve applied that logic to my own life, and am working on two main areas for personal growth: building people up, and active listening (which I’ll tackle in another post).
Growth Goal #1: Building people up, even when they frustrate me
I suspect that all of us hold some implicit quality expectations for our personal and professional relationships. For me, the values of loyalty, being present, reliability and dependability, and common social ethics seem to underpin the friendships and professional collaborations that have lasted the longest in my life. When those in my life deviate from those expectations, I tend to become hurt and frustrated, and I react inappropriately and often passively (e.g. talking down about these individuals).
This is obviously unfair for a few reasons. First, I’ve not shared these expectations with most of the people around me. In teaching, we tell teachers that it’s unfair to expect something specific of students when those expectations haven’t been explicitly shared. I can apply the same logic to myself: I cannot judge someone for not living up to my expectations if I haven’t shared those expectations in the first place.
Second, I don’t always uphold the same values on my side of the relationship, particularly of reliability and dependability. I’ve become more introverted as I’ve gotten older, and I find I need more quite alone time to recharge. Consequently, I’ve become more distant from those I deem important in my life, though my level of love and care for those people hasn’t waned. I have to live those values if I want to expect them from others. I’m fortunate to have many friends who live their patience with me, and who cut me slack, but I know I can do better.
Third, we’re all imperfect humans who are trying to do and be the best we can. “You can’t pour from an empty glass” was one of my mantras during graduate school, and encouraged me to engage in ongoing physical and psychological self-care. If I’m going to be gentle with myself, I need to be gentle with others as they engage in their own growth, too.
This is the piece I find most challenging, as I seek some degree of balance in my relationships as well as my work. Some friends need more support, encouragement, and love than others, though sometimes what they need is more than I feel I can offer, and I push them away. Semi-fair weather, and all that.
As I grow through this, I continuously remind myself that love isn’t a finite resource, and that we often derive an unexpected benefit out of something that seems so off balance. Joshua Becker talks about this very eloquently in the context of minimalism:
“People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.”
Love, patience, and grace are traits that are infinite, and require continuous growth and attention. Growing and showing these is a priority in my life, as I know this leads to building up rather than tearing down. I know the payoff is worth the effort: healthier relationships, and an internal sense of values consistency, are rewards in and of themselves.
It’s the practice that’s challenging, especially when we’re busy and not as attentive to our own self-regulation. It’s the practice that makes us better, even when we struggle to love some days.