I realized recently that I had a refrain of jealousy that was cropping up when I spent time with friends who had what I perceived to be a relatively large amount of leisure or rest time. People who took the time to, say, take care of themselves or work out or rest when they were tired. People who asked for help and took time for themselves. I had a nasty, withering “must be nice!” little twitch that became so common I had to admit it was about me and not about anyone else.
Our jealousy teaches us so much, if we let it. I wasn’t envious of anyone else’s marriage or home or car or even their writing success or speaking opportunities. What I wanted was other people’s ability to care for themselves. I wanted their space and freedom and rest. And so my envy guided me to my own deep need to slow down and care for myself well, instead of pushing so hard and constantly getting frustrated with the people around me who had the audacity to care for themselves instead of wringing themselves out like I had been doing for so long.
And regret is another great teacher. When I look back over the last couple years at the things I missed, there are very few things that I actually missed — didn’t attend, didn’t do, didn’t taste. But there were too many trips and meals and conversations and experiences that I was too busy and too overwhelmed to really experience and appreciate. That’s what I regret: the days when I was there but not fully there, the conversations with people I love during which I gave them half my mind and a sliver of my heart because I’d spent it all already, because I was empty and fragmented from the sheer amount of things I was trying to experience.
There was a particularly intense season from May to November of last year, and when I click through my memories of that time, I don’t like the person I was. I loved the experiences—time with the boys, time with friends, trips and adventures. But I don’t like the person I brought to those moments: self-absorbed, erratic, impatient, greedy, a person without margin, a person who wasn’t present in meaningful ways, a person who lost track of the bigger picture.
Things that were supposed to be fun weren’t fun. I was at the end of my rope, as they say, too quickly and too often. My ability to weather things was shot, and I was on my last nerve all the time.
As I’ve made difficult but important changes, I’ve found that the slower I go, the richer life feels. The more often I admit I need help, the calmer I feel. When I rest, when I say no, when I let the house stay messy while I play with the kids, I feel better about the life I’m choosing than I did last year.
It’s not without bumps, certainly. I’m finding I’m more sensitive — I feel more when I slow down. Obviously, that’s why I keep myself so busy so often, so that I don’t have to feel things that scare me or worry me. I’m a lot more indecisive these days, and more tender. I think about my kids more – maybe I even worry more about them, one of the consequences of feeling more of everything.
At the same time, though, I feel less afraid about the future, because I feel very sure that this way of living will instruct me along the way toward that future. I plan in rest time and margin time, and instead of looking for how to cram more of everything into every moment — can I get another load of laundry done? Can I stop at one more store? — I’m asking the opposite questions: can I stay home tonight and go to the store tomorrow? Can I let that go, say no to that, find a simpler way to get that done?
I’m making these changes so imperfectly, with so much fumbling and relearning, but this is what I know: this is changing my life.
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If you were to take a close, honest look at your jealousy, what would it teach you about what you really want?
And when you inspect your regrets, what do they show you about how to live your next season?