This will ramble. Fair warning.
I recently did a major overhaul of my time commitments so as to have more freedom to write and to take care of my family. I ended up bowing out of several community commitments that had given me a lot of joy over the years, but that could no longer be a priority if I wanted to be the mom and wife I need to be at this point in my life. (Or the writer, but that comes lower on the list than family, always.)
As my obligations outside the home receded one by one, I breathed a sigh of relief, almost as if I’d finished paying off a crushing debt, and toward the end of May when my final civic involvement expired and I handed the reins of being president of the parent board at the school to a new generation, I was a little sad, but I also had a realization: by enthusiastically committing myself to be involved in all manner of good organizations, I was creating a form of debt, not unlike a student loan or a house mortgage.
Maybe not everyone out there has this irrational exuberance to say yes to every passing cause or needful event. I’m a sucker for those. I love to help, and I get a lot of energy from being needed. My family needs me, too, and I have been vigilant about making sure the causes I’ve supported have dovetailed with my family’s interest (I hope, at least.)
But too much saying yes creates a situation where we can be upside down on our “time mortgage,” like owing more than we’re worth, time-wise. I think I may have achieved that status several times over during the past couple of years. Yes, arrows reading guilty should point at me with neon, flashing lights.
What I needed to learn was that by saying yes I was, of course, doing good things, but I was also committing more than just for that moment–I was committing my future time and circumstances, something I do not have a view of from this vantage point.
For instance, who am I to know whether I will have a more pressing family need next year, say a child’s important emotional need, or a sick parent, or an illness of my own? By saying yes now to something that will require several days’, weeks’ or months’ involvement, I might be mortgaging my future, so to speak. I always hear political pundits using that term when it comes to the national debt, but isn’t it equally true–if not more so–with regards to our time?
That’s not to say that I’m not going to ever plan to do service again. I still serve in my church weekly teaching Sunday School music time. I’m fully intending to drive for as many field trips for the school as possible. I’m still pretty much guaranteed to say yes to short speaking engagements for school kids, or taking a neighbor to the store or the doctor. These things are important. They keep life in balance.
It’s just that I might take things more piecemeal, rather than promising a big chunk of my time on a day when I’m feeling emotionally fabulous, and failing to take into account the fact that there are days when anxiety or other factors deplete that enthusiasm, energy or time. I’m thinking of it like buying an expensive car when the economy is good and I have a well-paying job, only to get hit down the road with a recession or a lay-off. If anyone else is like me, sometimes our emotions take a nosedive akin to a job layoff.
Above I used a keyword, though: balance. There’s definitely a tendency to lose it when we allow ourselves to become too committed outside the most important things.
My husband’s uncle has a saying: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
So now, with a new paradigm, I’m working on that: working on keeping my time focused on the main thing(s). And if that means keeping not-the-main-thing off my radar for a year or two, I guess I’ll miss being super involved, I’ll miss the friends I’d worked with, I’ll miss being needed. But while needed is good, sometimes other things are needful.
Bless you in your own efforts to balance your time.