Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Rachel Macy Stafford of Hands Free Mama.
My family recently went kayaking in a marsh during my children’s spring break. As we paddled out of the marina, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful boats bobbing up and down against the docks. They reminded me of a painful time in my life when I dreamed of being on a boat, sailing away from it all. It also reminded me of what anchored me.
During a maxed-out two-year period of my life, I was a pressure cooker just waiting to blow. Running on a constant loop in my head was the phrase, “It’s just too much … it’s all just too much.”
A great deal of the “too much” was self imposed—unachievable standards, relentless distractions, and an overabundance of commitments. At the time, I didn’t realize the choices I was making were causing this constant feeling of overwhelm. I only knew that carrying the weight of “too much” made me want to escape.
One night, after overreacting towards my family over a trivial issue, I made it all the way out to the car. I was in my pajamas, and I shivered as my barefoot stepped on the gas pedal.
But I could not leave.
I went back inside to get my children. I gathered them up, one in each arm. I remember how they cried in confusion and fear. I made it to the door and realized I could not leave without my husband either. And I could not leave without my beloved calico cat. I could not leave my people.
That’s when it dawned on me: they were not the problem. They were easy targets for my stress and frustration, but they were not the problem. The problem was the constant weight of “too much.”
Slowly, one by one, I began to scale back on my commitments. I lowered the bar. I learned how to say no. I stopped depriving myself of sleep in the name of productivity. I turned my phone on silent during vital connection times of the day. I stopped being accessible to the world so I could be accessible to those who were my world.
A tremendously helpful strategy to becoming more intentional with my time and energy was to ask myself three questions daily:
1) Does the amount of time and attention I currently offer to my family convey they are a top priority in my life?
2) Does my current schedule allow for time spent simply being all there with my loved ones?
3) Do I have any extracurricular commitments or time-wasting distractions I could eliminate in order to spend a few minutes of special time today with my child or spouse?
The answers to these three questions helped me realize something quite powerful: I could not control all the circumstances of my life, but I could control some. (tweet that)
I could not let go of all my extracurricular commitments, but I could let go of some. I could not say no to every outside request asked of me, but I could say no to some. I could not rid myself of all modern day distractions, but I could choose to designate pockets of time in which to turn off the world and engage with the people who mattered most to me.
And that’s exactly what I did. I started small, but every time I turned off the worldly pressures, the daily distractions, and the societal expectations and turned toward my family, my heart felt like it was right where it was supposed to be.
The more I chose my heart, and not what mattered to the rest of the world, the more peace I felt within.
I’ll be the first to admit I continue to be a work-in-progress. Finding that balance of work and life can be tricky. There are times when my family and I are flying on a plane, and the sight of a boat causes me to imagine my escape.
I’ll dream of a life with wind in my hair—no demands, no requests, no duties, no plan. My breathing is steady; the muscles in my shoulder aren’t tight; my skin is clear. They’re no emails to answer, no work deadlines to meet, no bills to pay, no expectations of me whatsoever—there is just sunshine, stacks of books, and the lull of the water.
Something always pulls me back from my reverie—my husband touches my leg or one of my children says, “Hey, Mom.” And just like that, my “sail away” moment is over.
That’s when I turn and see the faces of my beloved people. That’s when I give thanks for my “anchor moments”—moments that have shaped me into the most authentic, truest, best version of me … moments that have inspired me to ask hard questions and find peace right where I’m at.
Rachel reaches millions through her blog, Hands Free Mama. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. Her latest work of heart, ONLY LOVE TODAY, offers bite-size encouragement for busy individuals yearning to anchor themselves in love despite everyday distractions, pressures, and discord.