Getting Off the Rat's Wheel

I used to start my day at 6 am. Sometimes, if I was running late, I’d start at 6:30 am. I’d begin with email and then race from appointment to appointment. I’d collapse from exhaustion twelve or thirteen hours later. If there was an empty space on my calendar and someone asked for it, I’d always say ‘yes.’ I did everything “they” say you have to do to be successful: I blogged, tweeted, facebooked. When a potential strategic partner showed up, I’d roll out the red carpet, take on new projects and produce new content at a moments notice. I piled it on, formed a partnership, hired an employee, farmed out the bookkeeping. Yep, I was on the move, running faster and faster.

My ears started ringing and I couldn’t figure out why. I went to the doctor and had my hearing tested. While I was sitting there in the doctor’s office getting my results (which were fine, by the way), I burst into tears.

“I’m under a lot of stress,” I stammered.

“I understand,” replied.

I thought but did not say: No, you don’t.

Then the wheels came off. My dad got sick. My partnership foundered. My dad died. My business came within a hair’s breadth of going under.

Magically, at this same time, my ears stopped ringing.

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In the silence that followed all the serial disasters, I looked back with grim determination. I’m not going back to the grind, I said, with teeth and fists clenched.

I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I was still clenched. I told myself to relax. A few minutes later, I was clenched again. It took months for me to stop clenching my body. Months.

I started cooking nice meals and inviting people over for dinner, something hadn’t done in… well, since grad school. I took long hikes. I went to yoga whenever I felt like it.

When the end of 2011 rolled around, and I started thinking about 2012, I did what I always do: I created a plan and a mindmap/visionboard. (See the screenshot on the left.)

Part of my inspiration came from Susan Falcone, who described her year-long experiment in self compassion on her blog. She writes, “I deserve to love myself. I do love myself. I’m happy to treat myself with respect and value. Doing what is good for me feels good. I can now feel as good for helping and caring for myself as I can for doing those things for someone else. I do not need the praise or validation of others to know that what I am doing is good and worthy. I trust my heart knows best when it comes to self-care and I honor it instead of rejecting it.”

Using her list as a guide, I created a list of my own (it’s part of this mindmap). Then, I asked Susan if she’d talk to me about her journey. And she did– listen here.
I began seriously practicing Completion Centric Planning and implemented my 40-hours -a-week-and-that’s-it right after the New Year.

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A couple of days ago, in conversation with my friend Augusto, he told me how different I am now.

“You were running on the rat’s wheel,” he said and suddenly, I knew why my ears had started ringing, and why the ringing stopped– it must have been from the squeaking from the spinning wheel that was drowning out the sound of my life.

I can’t say I’ve totally learned my lesson. When I felt stressed this morning, about a project, I found myself thinking, “Well, I could work on it over the weekend. It wouldn’t kill me.” And then I caught myself. “Really, Tara, who cares? Besides you?”

Anybody want a rat’s wheel? I’ve got one I want to get rid of.