My mother's final silence speaks loudly. She passed away at age 58. The brain aneurysm, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure stemmed from high stress levels -- many self-imposed -- in order to have a successful career as a psychiatric nurse.
Her occasional overtime became full-time. Countless evenings at the hospital turned into overnights that turned into double shifts, and what I call triple shifts, since she accepted lengthy phone calls at home from those who were supposed to have relieved her. Then there were stacks of folders and paperwork that just had to have her expertise before she was scheduled to return to work.
Looking back, it must have been difficult for her to "turn off" work since she was often in charge and admired. After college, my work style followed suit. I eagerly accepted society's baton to run the race of staying up all night finishing something that wasn't always my responsibility; exchanged phone calls with coworkers to follow up on projects for the umpteenth time; and accepted more work because "it just had to get done." Year after year, promotions, travel and money became common, but so did lack of rest and peace of mind. Multiple alarms were set at half-hour intervals overnight in hopes of completing/tweaking work. You never know who may need a response to a memo at 2:00 a.m., right?
I was consumed with a climb-the-corporate-ladder-and-break-the-glass-ceiling mentality. I thought that letting go of the generational and societal cycle of "no pain, no gain" would surely mean an insignificant career. Much time had passed, even writing this blog post, because I had become overwhelmed -- not at the hands of anyone except myself.
Others who capitalize on career-clichés didn't think I had an issue. Many proclaimed that if I wanted to be at the top, I needed to "catch the bull by the horns, work my fingers to the bone and that there'd be plenty of time to rest later." I had convinced myself that there is nothing wrong with stress. People began calling me late at night and weekends to work on projects since I immediately exclaimed, "I'll help you," even when I knew I really couldn't handle more. I'd answer the calls, the emails, the texts, trying to handle "emergencies." I had adapted a mindset of success that outweighed rest and sleep. I realized that there is a breaking point and that I am not responsible for all of life's activity.
It's taken me over 25 years to understand that being on the road to success, in a state of overload, can be the death of life.
I'm not a health care specialist or a life coach. I'm a woman on a journey discovering that there's more to life than titles and money. Yes, there are economic woes and a corporate push of doing more with less, but at what cost? Where's the life in living tired? There's a perception that we must be busy doing something constantly; a misguided sense of multitasking. We've come to equate being still and relishing quiet time to ourselves as being slothful. I believe it is quite the opposite. When I simply turn off the gadgets, when I leave work at work, I'm more productive to think, communicate, create, and pursue all that I am called to do.
Perhaps the numbers are in the thousands or millions, I don't know, but many of us are living on the edge of life, thinking that we have the perfect balance and that there's never a risk of falling off. Maybe you're experiencing the busyness of being too busy or maybe you're observing someone close to you in a perpetual state of "on."
I had become proficient in giving -- but not heeding -- advice: get rest, eat right, don't work every waking hour, take a vacation, enjoy your family, etc. I'd offer quotes, scriptures, articles, and books about the benefits of taking care of self. Many of us wear several hats in life, from taking care of families and working or studying, to serving as caregivers or volunteers - but there are consequences when we try to make a day last more than 24 hours. Look around. Some parents disregard their children and some marriages dissolve. Some once-in-a-lifetime events are missed. Some overworked workers are fatigued, unhealthy and even lack compassion for others.
In recent months, I was a patient in an emergency room, listening to claims of pre-this and borderline that. I realized that I had become a poster-child of pride, disguised as career-filled confidence, just to get ahead. Would I make life changes to reflect upon things that are really meaningful, or would I go back to the old ways?
I believe that the power of rest has been weakened by an overarching societal insecurity of missing out on something. There is this fragmented "American Dream" ideology that I believe is just that - a dream. It's a dream of something to aim toward without knowing the price one will have to pay. The thought that we have to abandon our lives, our well-being, just to fulfill what others deem as "having it all" for a career, is a falsehood. We each have gifts and talents and we must work diligently. Responsibilities and trials are a given, but we won't be able to do anything effectively if we're exhausted and worn down. Tomorrow's not promised. Nothing in life is worth having if we compromise our health and well-being.
I can't change what happened in my mother's life, but I can make changes in my life -- and hopefully help you seek to listen in the silence. I believe that when we are willing to be still and silent (no distractions, no attempts to multitask), we will begin to listen; when we truly listen, we will begin to uncover the truth within our hearts.