There's something extra shocking about the back-to-school rush. Once August rolls around, lazy summer days skyrocket to nonstop hustling from the moment my feet in the floor in the morning until they curl back under the covers at night.
I don't always handle the skyrocketing with grace.
Sometimes I leave people I love on the ground, resenting them for staying down to earth while I soar into another stratosphere.
Sometimes I forget exactly what matters most, thinking of life more as an emergency and my soul as a savings account where I can spend the supply of things that fuel me-good conversation, dinner shared with friends, runs in the morning and walks in the evening-until I run dry.
And here's the irony: when I forget what I need, nobody wins.
I lose touch with myself and people I love, sure, but I also lose touch with the moment, and consequently, with the work that is "demanding" my time. Hustling is a losing game.
When things go out of balance, I've fallen prey to blaming external forces. "It's this job" I mumble as I run to the grocery store with a long list minutes before closing. "It's my husband," is another tempting one, as the ones nearest and dearest to us usually are in our moments of weakness.
"It's the ______." We could fill that blank with a hundred things, usually things we chose and loved and admired before the going got hard and circumstances starting squeezing our fringe hours.
But what happens when "busy" is no longer the enemy?
That was the question I had the privilege to entertain this August. Returning to your job has its perks, and knowing the ropes is one of them.
Yes it would be hard,
Yes it would be fast,
Yes it would take all my focus and most of my good humor,
but this year, it would not take me by surprise.
A couple of everyday moments changed the story for me:
First, one sunny afternoon before students arrived, God and I did some business on the beach. With His help, I accepted the reality of what was heading my way whether or not I "felt" prepared, and I prayed that life wouldn't crash over me like a wave at high tide. And it didn't. Or maybe life did exactly that, but this time, I released myself to its rising crest, knowing that wave contained the surge of strength that I'd need to push me closer to shore.
And second, before my job began, I cleaned out my office and threw away all the stuff that didn't serve me the year before. I took a hammer and nail and hung some things in their proper place. A few afternoons later, black trash bags turned into organized file cabinets. And with each piece of old copy paper or broken Dixon pencil that I tossed, I began to choose.
I chose to open myself up to this community where I live and work once again. I chose to surrender the past, with its peaks and valleys. I chose to remain in the present moment, where belief and mystery meet.
For the first time, perhaps in my entire life, I chose busy. I didn't just let it happen to me.
I realize it's only September. We're not through the woods yet (are we ever?), and I can already see another thicket or two up ahead.
But I know enough now to say this: that one choice has been a game changer.
Choosing busy doesn't mean a free pass from doing what I know is good for me. Saying "yes" to this season means I have to be honest about what it requires. And what it requires is a person who is fully present and fully invested, able to turn off the midnight oil and refuel a little bit every day.
There are non-negotiables now that I didn't recognize before: rhythms that even a busy life cannot do without. Things like cooking dinner and resting on weekends. Simple stuff.
(Apparently afternoons on slip-n-slides is one of them?)
One of my main sources of refueling lately has been in the pages of my girl* Brene Brown's latest book, Rising Strong. In it, she writes on integrating struggle and accepting all parts of ourselves in order to live wholehearted lives, and she knows how honest boundaries serve the process:
"Very early on in my work I had discovered that the most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries...Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment."
Saying yes and meaning it.
That's what I tried this time around, to see my full and fast-paced life as my own, and not the product of someone else's demands on my time. And when the days go long and the sleeping hours go short, the yes that I said back when the agenda was much shorter is what I remember. I chose this busy.
And today, I'm grateful for it.
*And by "my girl" I mean I am a longtime fan and have every intention of going to one of her speaking engagements and being too shy to meet her when she does a meet & greet afterwards. So, yah, we're close.