I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, impossible to breathe away or hold back. I couldn't go into my classroom full of students and let them see me upset, so I veered straight into one of my best friend's rooms. I looked at her and finally said the words that I never once had let myself say: "I can't do all of this." With those six words, the tears fell from my eyes, and I finally could see.
I had let myself believe my whole life that I was more than capable of doing everything: everything asked of me and all that I wanted to do. The mere idea of saying I couldn't do something made me feel inadequate, so I refused to say it. It started off small, of course, but then word spread quickly that I was able to do things and do them well, so I started to be called upon more and more. I am hardwired to help, so I repeatedly said yes. My roles and responsibilities expanded, but everything was still easily manageable as long as I was okay with giving up time with family and sleep. Then this year I took on more than ever before and found myself in uncharted territory: I was struggling to juggle it all.
My life full of "yes" had led me to a much-needed panic attack. I am sure the idea of a breakdown does not sound as appealing as I am making it out to be, but it was the first time I had let myself be human without a onslaught of destructive self talk to follow. I fell into a seat and sobbed, my friend with her hand on my back. Each shutter and sniffle seemed to chip away at the lie that I had built my life upon. As the last tear fell and I walked back to my classroom to deal with the disaster that put me over the edge, I could finally see myself for what I was: a determined, driven dreamer who could do so much but not everything.
It was then I realized that in order for me to remain determined, driven, and successful I had to set boundaries and limitations for myself. Could I continue on being the varsity volleyball coach, yearbook/newspaper/public relations adviser, club sponsor, and the long list of other hats I wear? No. What a foreign word to me. No, I couldn't do it all because if I kept trying, I wouldn't do it all well, or worse, would run myself straight into the ground like I was that day, unable to stand up until I cut myself free of so many obligations.
It has taken 28 years for me to come to this awareness and grabble with the fact that saying "yes" to everything and everyone is not helping anyone as much as I want to think it is. I can't help but believe that my story -- minus the specific details -- rings true for so many. We feel like delivering a "no" or "not right now" is a hit on our worth or amount of compassion. That story that we have told ourselves is not only a lie, but it's dangerous. If I hadn't had a safe place to fall when I had reached my breaking point, it could have been a disastrous moment for me because I would have reverted back to my "I can do this all" mentality, never giving myself a break. I needed to be knocked to my knees to wake up.
I have let the motto of "quality and quantity" dictate my every move and decision for so long that it caught up with me. I, and so many others, have to learn that it's impossible to do everything, and, as my hero says, that's okay. Our worth should never be attached the length of our to-do lists, and coming to terms with this has allowed me to finally catch my breath and feel like I can move forward. Sometimes all we need is a small nudge from someone with a similar story, so if that's you, let's do this together.