Making space in your life – and inside your mind – to do what you really want can be difficult sometimes. There are bills to pay, people to see, chores, food to be made, cake to eat, work that’s not your “real” work to be done, and a million other things waiting to distract you.
So this is where your will-power and confidence is tested.
The question is: do you have enough confidence to realise you should be doing what you want (instead of wasting your time with other stuff), and then have the power to tell the world? You know, so everyone else knows it, sees it, takes note of it and behaves according to your wishes, i.e. steers clear of you for a short, wee while?
In the past two weeks I haven’t had a great deal of that confidence; I’ve struggled with an enormous amount of stress, in fact. Sometimes it happens – life doesn’t always go smoothly, you get ill and things get on top of you.
But this time it was because I had so much youth work on, I had a course to teach, yawn-inducing statistics to do, four other young people to individually mentor, five other youth courses to co-ordinate at the same time as writing a 20-page editorial document about my children’s book The Pirate’s Potion, editing 30 pages of the book itself, helping to develop a new TV show for children, guiding a new script through production, consulting on set designs and – also – planning my involvement in my first-ever literary festival this month.
I realise this all sounds as if I’m moaning. I’m not. I took on all this work myself, yes. I wanted to do it. And a lot of it – especially the writing/editing, TV and youth work – have been very enjoyable. But there was too much of the rest. To much foggy, non-creative, no-need-to-do-this stuff.
So this, my lovelies, is where I had to say: ALL OF IT STOP, NOW.
If I hadn’t my brain was going to explode, like a tin of mushy peas being stamped on by a rather big, heavy person. You know, so it squirts smushy, runny, yucky (green brain?) mess up the walls.
So this is what I’m talking about right here: making space in your life. The kind of space around you to do what you want, and the kind of space inside your head to make doing that important, once-in-a-lifetime heart-stuff actually possible.
I know I make it sound easy. And, alright, those of you with children probably find it even harder to make this space. In fact you’re all no doubt, right this moment, cursing me and everyone else who doesn’t have children (yet) so we just stop whining!
Yes, point taken parent-people. But, hear me out okay.
You see, with all of the above occurring for me, and as I have so many [admittedly exciting] new projects coming up too, my brain went into here, there and everywhere overload. It was all too much at once. Not so much a trickle, more of a flood (which, as I’m in the UK, is very apt right now because our small island appears to be sinking under record rain) of work that needed managing.
In fact, what happened is I got totally caught up in the head-spinningness of putting more and more pressure on myself: to do more, achieve more, cram in more. It’s like a drug. Doing lots of things at once, and not saying “no”, is very addictive. Until, that is, you overdose.
And the reason I, and many other creative people, overdose is because 1) our minds don’t compartmentalise tasks as easy as other people’s can, as it’s all one big swirl of inter-connected, creative mushy pea mess inside there and 2) despite this, we feel we should be able to handle juggling all these life elements at once. Why can’t we? Well, the simple reason is: you can only take so much (and let’s face it, in ancient times, our ancestors only dealt with a finite amount of things – hunting, procreating, staying warm and, on occassion, snuggling up with the odd Woolly Mammoth).
But what I really mean – when I say you can only take so much – is you can only give so much of yourself to all these areas of your life, before everything becomes sub-standard, you cut corners to cram in more and – before you know it – you’re exhausted, stressed, underperforming and your brain turns into those mushy peas I keep alluding to.
Admittedly, mushy peas are lovely to eat (especially done right with a nice sprinkling of mint herbs, pepper and accompanied by fish ‘n chips), but – for me – having a brain that resembled them last week was not lovely to experience.
However, I’ve had my fill of mushiness now and have, quite successfully, managed to re-focus my priorities and ask some very lovely, supportive people if I can have longer to do some projects. This, apparently, didn’t cause any issues for them, just for me, i.e. I punished myself with some metaphorical self-flaggellation for missing my first-ever deadline and being unable to say “no” to the wrong things.
Don’t get me wrong, I can handle a lot of projects on my plate at once – they just have to be the right kind of projects. And, obviously, I have to learn to choose the right ones.
At the beginning of this year I wrote a well-received and popular blog that pretty much “prescribed” the goal-seeking year ahead for me (and encouraged the same for you too). It outlined the kind of 2014 I’m going to have, what I’m going achieve in it and how I’ll do it. As if I’m some kind of bloody time-travelling, omnipotent soothsayer.
Of course, it’s not a bad thing in itself to have plans, dreams and goals (as I said in that blog); if we didn’t, no one would get anywhere in life. However, what I learnt last week is it isn’t good to hammer yourself with a bunch of far-out expectations that are out of your control. Because they are expectations that translate into too much pressure.
And let’s face it people, the one thing we all do NOT need in this fast-paced, stressy, digitally-enhanced, rollercoaster of modern life we’ve created is more pressure. Because the build up of pressure leads to an eventual explosion (in your head: ka-booom! splat! mushy peas up the wall), followed by a recovery period where nothing gets achieved.
Better to let the pressure out slooooowly as you go along in life, so you can keep on working, keep on creating, keep on going.
Do you put pressure on yourself like I do? If you’ve read this far, you probably do. Perhaps you can handle the stress more than I, or – what’s more likely is – you’ve learnt when to say “thanks, I’d like to help you with that, but I’ve just got too much on right now”.
It sounds like such an easy line to say, dammit! I just need to make it go from the tip of my tongue and actually out of my mouth…with confidence.
Because, of course, confidence is exactly what you and I need to slow the rush and the addiction to achieving more and more. Yes, you and I can achieve what we want in life but we can also step forward and say: Stop all this! All the things I want to happen, they will occur in my time and in my way. And without any mushy peas. Got it?