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Today was one of those days which never got off the ground. From the moment I walked into Concert Choir at 7:15am, I proceeded to stagger my way through double-bookings, clashes, missing pages of accompaniment, flat batteries, sick choral kiddies, dropping a jar of ashes (yes, it was Ash Wednesday, just to add to the fun), and other assorted mild to epic fails.
While sitting in the corner of the classroom, throwing down my lunch in record time in stony-faced silence + generally hating all forms of life, my Year 12 Prefects appeared with a cup of tea + a Freddo.
“Okay, Ms Kwok. We need to talk.”
Instantly, the alarm bells went off and the braincells went into overdrive, “What NOW?! Have I forgotten something? Have I let these guys down?!”
Miss Year 12 Head Prefect put her arm comfortingly around me and said, calmly and soothingly, “Look, Ms Kwok, you have to LET IT GO. You can’t do it all. You can’t nail every moment of every day. It can’t all be AMAZING.”
Sir Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “We made a cup of tea + stole a Freddo for you. Chill out. Stop saving the world for the next 20 minutes.”
Miss Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “Plus we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to quote you back to you.”
Damn it, you three. I just got schooled, and in the most caring way possible. 😭
Why are we always in such a hurry? It’s because we ask more from ourselves in a certain amount of time and with a certain amount of energy than we can possibly give. We squeeze in one, two, or three last things into our days, only to be left feeling frustrated and vaguely empty because we are exhausted from the ordeal, or we have done everything superficially; everything from loving our families, finishing tasks, to taking care of ourselves.
While I absolutely follow the rule of “done is better that perfect”, and relish in the crazy productive dash that allows me my wind-down time at night, I think that we have become a generation obsessed with maxing out our time, getting more “bang for our buck”. This includes working hard, and partying even harder. Why does everything have to be “done” before we are content? And what content is there to be gained by just wallowing in nothingness afterward, exhausted and unable to connect? Is it because there is no expectation of us? Or because we are so hampered and hemmed-in by daily demands that we long of simplicity and some sense of personal freedom? And why should an email inbox produce such anxiety in people that we dread opening our eyes in the morning?
I think that pushing ourselves sometimes is correct, that we should be pulling out all stops sometimes. But these should be for exceptional events, like a baking all-nighter to create something beautiful for a child or family member, the unexpected creative project, the 5-hour long Skype session with someone special. Because that is the right and human thing to do. Because we are made of love.
But I don’t believe in using ourselves up like some inexhaustible resource. We are not designed for that, and it’s just not sustainable. So how do we deal with this?
We can choose to get kinder and clearer on what we can actually do in a day, an hour, a spare 11 minutes. We can choose to be kinder to ourselves when we do not finish something, knowing that we have done all that we can in a day. We can choose clarity of planning and thinking more deeply and comprehensively about things that matter. How conceited we are to think we can pull off anything amazing just because we decide to pour an excess of time into it immediately? What was ever created like that which didn’t drain the life-blood of the creator? Yes, there are some extraordinary exceptions, but everything worth having, be it a strong relationship, a creative project, a deep friendship, a beautiful composition, or raising a healthy and happy child, all require consistent, loving attention and time.
What if we did all our daily tasks in the time they should take for each of us, with full presence of mind, and the awareness to connect, laugh, reflect, consider, and be joyful?
And what if were to stop running around thinking we are each so special that we can each be superhuman, and choose the right amount of things to fit into the minutes that we have. Do each thing with care, and your days become so much richer + worthwhile than a blur of nothings.
Forgive yourself your beautiful humanity + tender vulnerability, and choose to live well.
I find that even at my worst, I am wholly interested in life. Even when it is a totally shitty day, the shittiest of shit-fests, I still gather around that festering hole, keenly curious to understand the logistics. Even when I cannot, or should not, do anything for want of my own boundaries, it means a great deal to me that I understand.
Which stands to reason that I am someone who is genetically piloted to go the extra mile, keep channelling through, and take no prisoners, because there is curiosity and a keen desire to make sense of things embedded in my cells. The more work, the harder I work. This is fabulous for my work ethic and getting things done, but terrible for my sense of balance and self-care. I am deeply introverted, which means that I oscillate wildly from liking human-kind and being invested + interested, to hating all forms of human life. There are days when I am so peopled-out that making a cup of tea is too hard. I mean, I have to actually flip a switch to boil the kettle? Na-ah!
So I’d like a third way, the middle road.
I’m calling in the heavies on self-care, as a practice that I would like to fully practise for 2019. In doing this, and learning how to call boundaries when I need to, not just when it feels good, I am going to find that middle road more easily. And it’s going to be a much nicer ride for everyone else.
In taking care of myself, nurturing myself, and loving myself as a parent would love a child, I would like to remember the following things:
I am NOT perfect. I know this already, and I am forcibly reminded of this when the shit hits the fan, but in some unconscious way I hold myself to different ideals to others. Does anyone else do this? Think that they are so amazing that “normal human things” shouldn’t happen to them?! It’s actually ridiculous. For example, why do I think myself so special and unique that I am not able to hurt + grieve after something devastating happens? Why do I need to be the joyful + gracious one? I’d like to trade in “impossibly perfect” for “human + authentic”. This doesn’t mean it’s a “let it all hang loose” kind of situation; it means I will have to work harder to articulate my boundaries. Which means getting clear about them in the first place. Not just some generally good application to being an upstanding citizen, but actual, clear boundaries. Thinking about what values I hold, and following them through in detail. This sort of accountability is far more energy-consuming and scary that just generally “being perfect”, but oh so much more realistic + sustainable.
Don’t start with an apology. Actually, I think I do okay here. I believe myself to be confident + healthy in how I hold myself on a daily basis. But there are situations where I walk in and before I’ve announced my case, I’ve announced myself as an apology. Not introducing myself warmly + clearly, not explaining myself and taking the floor when I have the opportunity, being too nice and affable, adapting and adapting all the time, all those needless “sorry, I kept you waitings” and anything of the like in emails, communications, and conversations, not asking for what I need and being blindly grateful, or scathingly indignant when someone can’t read my mind. Again, check the values, step in, and speak. Stand my sacred ground. [Copyright Brené Brown, Queen of Authenticity.]
Sleep. When I am mindlessly putting off sleep by scrolling through Youtube or Facebook, I am not caring for myself. I am working from a place of avoidance and fear. Sleep, because I deserve to light up a room. Sleep, because I have things I want to do and things that are such an honour to be responsible for. Sleep, because all that time wasted, I am not engaging, living, or creating.
Call the boundaries. On time, space, my worth and value, my needs, and my thoughts. I need to practise getting very comfortable with discomfort that I may step in and at best, negotiate my terms, and at worst, rock the boat and disagree. Nobody every got hurt setting boundaries. I’m good at “baby-boundary” setting; the kind where it’s a win-win sort of situation and everyone keeps their hair on and a regular pulse. But what about when it really counts? When there are stressful undercurrents and I’m not guaranteed a happy response? It’s just that I am so good at adapting, that I don’t even notice that someone else has created a fence that I’m happy to work alongside. If there were an Olympic sport in adaptability, I would excel. What I realise now, going into battle, having been in conscious practise of this skill for a year, is that if I have worked in my values and with integrity, I have done all that I can, even if I ruffle people up. People are supposed to disagree with each other. That’s healthy. Nobody, even the people I love and respect the most, ever gets it right all the time. So why on earth would I think I’m so special that I can? See dot point one, and live + learn.
I have to say, I’m enjoying stretching and walking into myself. It’s good fun being authentic.
Day 14: Charlottetown
“A moment to nestle with the heart”.
Today marks exactly halfway in my travels; I have 28 days on the road. And while I am so incredibly excited to be travelling, today’s post is a tender one. Travel is hard. Travel is not just tiring, it is exhausting in a way that you feel in your bones. While you can rest physically, the soul is always thinking, wondering, and on the go, and you are always trying to stay awake and alert to the places and people around you, because you want to take it all in, and because you want to be safe.
In addition to all of this, I have only been sleeping 5-6 hours a night since I have started travelling. I have been very gentle on myself and tried to rest in the middle of each day, but today, I am feeling the sort of in-the-bones tired that warrants a day of just “nestling with the heart”.
To be able to find that quiet still place inside you, despite the tiredness, despite the noise, despite the excitement, despite the joy; this has been my greatest challenge while I’ve been travelling. I want to enjoy and be present for every moment, but I don’t want to come home exhausted. I wanted to come home expanded, changed, and affected. To do this, you have to have access to that wonderful still place inside of you. Especially when your heart and mind are racing over what you should be doing in your free half an hour, and all the while your heart is yelling, “YOU NEED TO EFFING BE HERE TO ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF THIS!”
I have also been keeping alert to all my Year 12s, returning emails and answering questions; and I KNOW that a holiday is not supposed to be about this, but it actually soothes me a little to commit to half an hour a day, just to make sense and order out of things. It’s what gives me peace and joy, so I do it. But actually getting into the zone for that half an hour has been the most challenging and gruelling request I have made of myself, and resulted in my feeling worn-out, down, anxious, unsettled, resentful, and a whole mixture of other things I do no normally feel at home when I tackle work. Solving problems whilst on the road is so much harder than when you don’t have “your people” around you. Problems and doubt are magnified, and solutions are harder to reach.
And in the haze of being semi-exhausted, I find that concentrating for any period of time can put me close to tears of stress. It’s such an unusual feeling for me.
I have had to practise working and being gentle upon myself in these last 2 weeks. I have taken one step at a time; reading a brief or an email, jotting down notes in my journal over coffee for a lesson plan, writing down dots points as to which 3 drafts I will edit and whose work I will put notes on in Sibelius, and even where I will go for lunch, to help look after myself. This sort of work + holiday combination takes the utmost of care and determination, but I know that after being on the road for a month, I will figure it out. This is just the very exhausting and emotionally demanding part of it, and I have to be gentle on myself and have faith. I have to also find new ways to energise myself, like taking a walk, or figuring out which places I’d like to explore while I am trying to get this balance right, and what I will eat whilst trying to enjoy all the local specialties.
I was in tears of joy and relief last night when I sent off my first draft-return to one of my students. It seemed in surmountable, but I just took one step at a time. And I guess the human spirit is far stronger than you realise; even when there is doubt and exhaustion, if you keep walking, one foot in front of the other, and gently, quietly, and simply get very clear over what you need to do, you can do it. Even if it drives you to tears.
So here I stand, very tired + tender, walking one step in front of the other. So utterly exhausted today, but so mindful of how very lucky I am to be here, travelling, being a teacher, and figuring out this working balance.
Let me be determined. Let me be gentle, but quietly determined.
“Let it flow! Let if flow! Can’t hold it back anymore!”
“…but you persist in playing the greatest hits like some passive-aggressive Spotify playlist!” has to be one of the GREATEST quotes ever!
I clicked on this out of pure curiosity. I’m glad I did, as I came away with lots of snippets of information, having enjoyed it much more than I expected.
It’s funny how life reminds you, in no uncertain terms, how very human you are.
There are so many days I can happily work in solitude, “introverting” to my heart’s content, creating ideas, composing, writing, reading.
And then there are other days where I am crawling out of my skin with anxious, dissatisfied angst, and multi-tasking seems like the simple option, because that’s how many tabs are open in my mind. And I desperately need human connection.
I actually don’t remember a day where I’ve absolutely slept the day away, EVER. Except today. Today felt like the longest day ever. I went in for my annual check-up today and fainted after my blood test and felt so absolutely stupid and alone. What it made me think about in no uncertain terms was the love and support around me that I don’t lean on enough. I have so much support and love around me and do I use it? NO. Nowhere NEAR what I realise I could be, after a day like today.
I can’t be EVERYTHING. Even after a day like today, where I am decimated by my own body, I come home in the afternoon and start making lists of all the things I need to do, the groceries I need to buy, the emergency meals I need to make, and the planning I need to do.
And yet, when I got over the fact that I certainly wouldn’t be doing any of that, one of the most soul-nourishing things I did today was sleep, on and off, for the remaining 6 hours of the day. My body renewed its strength, and I felt better and stronger.
I do not think I am Super Girl, and nor am I vain enough to think I can do it all on my own. But really, honestly, except for moments like today, I don’t really believe it or practice the humility of that understanding.
But I am vulnerable, and it’s moments like today which are needed to absolutely drive the point home. I am made simple, small and humbled by my body and the end point of my capacity. Apparently, I do need help, and when I least expect it. I need to remember to be tender and reach out, DESPITE all the imperfect answers and responses of the world and the people around me, including the ones I love so dearly who disappoint me, as I must them. To connect, despite the let downs and imperfections.
I need to get COMFORTABLE with DISCOMFORT.
Today also reminded me of how strong the human mind is. It reminded me to ask, “so what CAN I do?”
Rather than what’s NOT possible, what can I do right now, with the energy that I have? What can I create or produce? Where is my limit? What can I write in half and hour? How can I connect?
This is not the “create-the-list-of-an-impossible-day” martyrdom, this is “realistic courage”.
And I am reminded, as a person, teacher, musician, and creative, that life NEVER EVER gives you vast stretches of time in which to complete or create ANYTHING. Become a parent? You’re parenting in the gaps and pining for the longer stretches and glad when you get them. Composing? Sure, you might get the coveted Sunday afternoon, but sure as hell Inspiration will be playing hooky and giving you the shits. You have to catch the tiny pockets of time with a little bit of determination. You have to fight a little harder and decide you’d like to focus and grab that little gift of time and ask:
What can I do in this moment?
A good read.
I had to remind myself to struggle, and struggle hard today.
Isn’t it amazing that when adversity hits you, it hits you and winds you. It’s often sudden, complete, and catches you breathless. Your self-talk becomes focused, petty, and acidic. You get tunnel-vision. There is heat all around you, and blood pounding in your ears.
I read an errant Facebook post today which cut me to the core, and I was caught off-balance. NOTHING about the rest of my day had changed except for that one sentence, accompanied by that one photo. But it shook me, and I realised it was my values and my sense of self-worth being shaken.
And I had to remind myself to struggle. Struggle, and struggle hard. You’re underwater now, but you’ll fight your way to the surface, break through, and breathe. You don’t quite know how you’ll get there, but air will fill your lungs again. And it will feel empowering and awesome. Your wings will work, and you will fly. Your day was fine before your read those words, and saw that picture. You will find your equilibrium again.
More importantly, YOU ARE NOT PERFECT.
That seems so utterly counter-intuitive to write, but reminding myself that I am NOT perfect gives me permission to have emotional “wiggle-room”. I need reminding that I am indeed human, and I cannot be everything to everyone, or myself. I will NOT have it perfect, and I will NOT be perfect.
And after I flail heatedly and argue with myself internally, and the red-hot spark of anger has died away, I find myself on steadier ground. I realise and remember all the things that make me real and complete. I remember how much I add to the world, and how WORHTY I am.
I remember that I am a living, breathing, blessed, creative, thinking, real, loving, and present.
I am here, and I stand my own ground, worthy and beautiful. Not because of what I have, but just because I BREATHE, I LIVE, and I am a HUMAN-BEING.
Struggle is RIGHT. Without struggle, emotional or otherwise, my wings become weak, I forget how to scramble and fight, my heart would forget how to work. And I would never know gratitude. The love and joy of life that sets me alight.
Oh, let me cry hot tears of frustration! That my heart beats and works!
For it is in struggle that I remember all the things that are real and true to me, and how very lucky I am to have all that I have.
Imperfect set of experiences and tools that they are, they are mine, and they are perfectly beautiful. So shining with worth and merit, they are blinding.
And so am I.