Some people have nightmares about stereotypical fears--spiders, drowning, falling from a tall building, clowns? Normal stuff. I have different nightmares. The kind that wake me up at 4:00 in the morning and remind me in a yelling voice that I have yet again fallen short. I forgot to email someone back, I missed a commitment. My promise to work on a favor for a friend within a week became a month. In 2016, I worked all the time. Even though "Love Others Well" was a stated priority for my business and a slogan I used on marketing material, ironically, the way I ran my business kept me from loving others well. It often felt like a season of impossible. Impossible, as in, I'm never going to catch up. I'm never going to make enough money to be financially comfortable again. I'm never going to learn how to ____ (fill in the blank with a million different things). As Lara Casey often says, I chased my tail, wanting to do more and be more and build more and grow more. Most often, however, the "mores" seemed impossible.
2017 is different. I believe it's because I'm coming down from a planned-for period of holiday vacation that allowed me to have the largest cut-off in the history of my business, a decision that all projects HAD TO be completed by a certain date. I returned to my shop the first week of January, and for the first time in over two years, I felt an absence of the constant go-go-go that had surrounded my business since its inception.
Two things happened: the absence of frazzle led to some additional white space that I used for reading, exercising, thinking, and planning. I started to like this extra white space. I started to remember what life was like when I had a completely open day on my calendar. From there, the extra white space motivated me to set better boundaries, as I must have subconsciously decided to keep this space around for awhile. One day last week, I planned to spend nearly four hours in the car to attend a special work-related anniversary celebration, one that I had been looking forward to for months. A host of circumstances piled up and made the trip seem very overwhelming. The 2016 me would have pushed through it, eventually driving home in the dark, stopping at a turnpike gas station to drink as much caffeine as would keep me awake on the road back, knowing that the only thing waiting for me was a host of unread emails and incomplete work. The 2017 me made a different choice: I didn't go. Yes, I felt like a flake. I worried about the missed opportunity to enjoy the company of my colleagues across the state. I worried about being unaccounted for and the fact that my mother taught me better than to back out of an RSVP. The result, however, was that I stayed home, caught up on work, got 8 hours of sleep, and emerged having made a healthy decision for my clients, my loved ones, and myself.
Sometimes, impossible seasons happen because of circumstances wildly out of our control (a loss of a family member, an ongoing illness, a car accident, etc.). These have a tendency to turn our worlds completely upside down. But my impossible season of 2016 was something else altogether: one that is impossible by personal design. One that results from a chain of decisions made over time that eventually compound. One that continues to unfold as warning signs are ignored. You say yes too often, you live in a world of constant FOMO, you feel like unless you are racing forward, you are this close to getting left in the dust. You hear a little voice tell you that you should let some things go, but you suck it up because you are a high capacity person. And the fear. There's so much fear. The impossible season is a fear-based season.
I've learned a hard truth about self-imposed seasons of impossible. There's something underlying the fear, and it's a whole lot of ME. Though it sounds harsh, the root of a lot of these fears and feelings is self-centeredness. When you're orchestrating your own season of impossible, you think about yourself so often and so much--worrying about how you're doing, how you're growing, how you're being perceived--that you lose touch. You make promises because you want to be seen as a capable, giving person. But the promises have the opposite effect. You over-promise and under-deliver, and then you wake up at 4:00am and feel the guilt that comes along with desperately wanting to be the capable, giving person you once were, but instead feel like a fraud.
I once read a book by Tim Keller called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness , a tiny little pocket book that, though life-changing, has taken YEARS to sink in. Tim Keller offers a simple but profound assessment (and I'm paraphrasing here): to overcome a lot of the anxiety and worry that we feel, we must give up our self-centered thinking. And it's not about thinking less of yourself--it's about thinking of yourself less.
In 2017, here are three ways I am striving to rewrite the script inside my head, (all based on my personal worldview that as a follower of Jesus, I am forgiven, loved, and found):
1) Forgiven people forgive. In my season of impossible, I spent a lot of time beating myself up, worrying about mistakes I made and things that I said that maybe rubbed someone the wrong way. I also spent a lot of time marinating on hurts. When people I loved did or said something that hurt me, I spent a lot of time feeling inwardly offended, analyzing their words or actions and moping about it. The 2017 me is devoted to spending more time forgiving myself and others, and moving on quickly.
2) Loved people love. In my season of impossible, I took on too much in an effort to love people well, because I wanted to be....you know, someone who loved people well. The 2017 me is committed to saying no more often so that I have more space and time to actually love people well. I will prioritize time to sit and chat and not worry the entire time that I'm missing a post office deadline; I'll prioritize time to spend with the people I love the most and set real boundaries that protect this time. White space will pave the way to meeting impromptu needs as well. When someone needs me at 11:00am on a Tuesday, I want to be ready to meet the need without the world crumbling down in front of me. Simply said, I need more open time to love people well.
3) Found people find. This one comes from a recent sermon series at my church on the topic of the prodigal son, from Luke 15. My pastor said something that stuck with me --not just that loved people love, but that found people find. I became a Christian at 26 after years of God pursuing me without me realizing it. This transformation didn't happen in total isolation. There were other believers in my life who took the time to notice that I needed God's grace and literally took the time to actively "find" me. If my thought life is so wrapped up in thinking about myself and the crazy, overbooked world I've constructed around me, I will have absolutely no time or space to look around and notice the people who God needs me to serve and reach.
Simply put, the less time I spend wallowing in my self-imposed impossible season, the more time I have for forgiving, loving, and finding. And the more time I spend forgiving (myself and others), loving, and finding, the less time I have to wallow.
Where are you? Are you living in a season of impossible? Coming out of one? I would love to hear your thoughts, resources, and questions, in the space below, even if only so that I can pray for you, for a new year of refreshed thinking. And if you're a business owner who feels like you're drowning, I'm now offering more streamlined opportunities for coaching. Learn more about it here. I would love to help you get back on track towards whatever mission means something to you.