FAILED THE LESSON ON "EVERYTHING IN MODERATION"
I went to school, joined clubs, practiced martial arts several times a week and worked through years of both high school and college. I got good grades, made honor rolls, deans lists, doubled up on classes, graduated high school early, took that time to work full time to make money to pay for school.
My parents were raising and providing all that was needed (and much of what 5 kids wanted growing up) including: food, clothing, toys, gadgets, cars, private school and college tuition. At some point in my teens, I could identify the strain it put on them. I didn't want to be a burden. I wanted to be self-sufficient. As traditional Filipino parents, they didn't like it. They wanted us to focus on school and allow them to do their parental roles dutifully. I felt like I needed to willfully prove myself to be worthy and strong enough to help lighten the load that my existence brought. So, despite their preferences and rules, I managed to assert in meaningful ways to gain ground in becoming as independent as I could.
However, in retrospect, I seem to have failed the lesson on "everything in moderation..." Did I mention that I became a non-stop 12-cup-a-day coffee drinker for the decade following?
I graduated high school early, worked, and enrolled in 21 credits a semester in college in an effort to make the most of my time and tuition. I transferred from our local community college and made my way into Manhattan's Baruch College to study business communications and worked between classes throughout the week as a "Gal Friday" at the same office where my sister was executive assistant to the CEO.
Granted, I had plenty of exposure to workaholism in that day and age to model myself after... Over the years, I had accidentally begun training myself to be a busy-holic, a workaholic. I realize now, that I spent so much of my life in a state of constant busyness, over-doing, chasing, and not enough being, savoring, connecting and celebrating the wins and remembering the why's. I was addicted to busyness, efficiency, and adrenaline / dopamine rush from outrunning my records for "most stuff done with honors."
During those early years, I found myself frequently exhausted (despite lots of coffee), and distant from many friends and family members because I was always so busy. I mostly slept on the bus back and forth from Manhattan during the week and awake late nights working on homework and studying.
I see in retrospect that I was becoming less of a human being and more like a robot with all of that constant activity: doing for the sake of doing.
Things got worse--more out of balance--when I graduated and found full time work in the financial industry, specializing in my field of graphics communication. I received plenty of recognition for the extra hours and dedication. ...and then they upped the ante and I fell into the trap. I couldn't see it then. I couldn't resist. I began to trade more than my time--it was more like my soul, for: Really. Good. Money.
My salary more than doubled in the first couple of years straight out of college. I was rewarded for my butt-busting, ever-present can-do attitude, mounting perfectionism (120%!) and 60-70 hour work weeks that became my norm. I was close to making 6-figures and a few title bumps by the time I was 30--a far cry from the "starving artist" that an aunt had implied that I might become by "majoring in a minor." All I had to do was keep upping the ante. Give more time. Deliver more in less time. How else does that equation work? I began building systems to do more, manage more. I did it...
MY PRIDE STARTED TO GET THE BETTER OF ME
If I happened to find myself with even a little time to myself, I didn't know what to do... it was such an uncommon occurrence over the years, that it made me feel uneasy. I would start wondering if something was wrong. I was obsessed with being busy and receiving accolades for the all the work I could produce.
My wondering would quickly turn into overthinking and eventually start spiraling into what I now-believe to be the beginning of low-grade depression, whirring in the background like the internal fan of constantly running computer.
I recall measuring my days by how many projects I got done, clients served and how many hours I could go before reaching exhaustion. That's how I knew I gave everything I could. ...and sadly, at some point, the accolades and money plateaued and all I was left with was untenably high expectations, little or no thanks and minimal time to decompress. I didn't know how deep I was in. I had just kept on swimming all this time, full steam ahead... and suddenly I found myself in the same spot, just treading water--but how long could I go on like that?
Burnout seems to happen practically by surprise; but the reality is that the other end of the candle's simply been lit with overwhelm each day I "gave from an empty cup", or forgot / de-prioritized my self-care. I had no idea how badly I was hurting myself and by normalizing it, I unwittingly taught others that it was okay to abuse me, too. I felt trapped.
In my late 20's, I hit a wall. Hard. I got sick in a laundry list of ways I couldn't have possibly imagined, and landed in the hospital, and a series of chronic issues and specialists afterward.
I got better and worse over the years depending on how well I stayed the course with managing my stress, sleep, diet, exercise, relaxation and enjoyment. I was seriously out of practice; and in full disclosure, I would really do just enough to get me back into the action before things fell apart again.
Twenty-some-odd years later, and several tragedies later, I am finally just starting to see the depth of this error.
I'm practicing to let the guilt go, and instead learn from the past's regrets, to do better now, one day at a time because I found that both Love & mindfulness can restore life's lost meaning.
I hit some seriously huge bumps (more like narrowly escaped some major chasms) along the trails I was intent on blazing when things got really rough for a while.
Thankfully, I did manage to learn how to slow down more in my late 30's when I fell in love with my best friend. I couldn't have had a better husband, partner and Love of my Life.
I had a reason to slow down and savor my life. He was in it and we were in all of it together. Nelson's laughter, energy and Love made everything and everyone around him undeniably brighter, lighter and all around better; and all of us knew it. Although I wish I'd learned sooner and slowed down more, I'm grateful for being able to slow down as much as I was able to during our years together.
LEARNING TO ADJUST AGAIN
Following my beloved's tragic sudden death, I've been learning to see more clearly, to really take time to slow down and focus on what really matters--and a big part of that now is to contribute my efforts to helping all of you through ADJUST while being sure to maintain my own wellbeing.
We all deserve to be as happy and fulfilled as we can be in the here and now--that's how a brighter tomorrow starts today.
I hope you'll find that relief and support from the techniques in the course to become more mindful and intentionally design your "Happily EVEN After" Lifestyle.