Sometimes living life in the fast lane or on the harder setting is beneficial. Occasionally it means we reap greater rewards and people are more likely to comment on the amount of work or effort we put in. Sometimes though it goes unrewarded, unnoticed and just puts us into harms way for a situation in the future.
For a long time I was keen to be living and working my way through those more challenging routes as I believed it was one of the only ways to feel successful, like a job well done and to get recognition but it all came at having a price to pay. Simply, it would be like going into a store and getting the most expensive glorious apple. It tasted absolutely amazing but it meant I could only afford one apple instead of three and as a result I wasn’t feeling fulfilled or well rounded for a sustainable period of time. I’d insist on pushing myself to do a task or to get it completed within a certain time frame but that resulted in me being unable to carry out anything else and forcing myself to focus on the success of one thing rather than dwelling on the failure of a number of other things. Ultimately it caused short term pride and glee but long term it left me feeling pretty empty and disappointed in myself and all those good achievements sort of felt like they were getting swept under the carpet by the darkness of my mind.
It wasn’t until somebody told me to stop constantly living life on the hard setting that I realised I even was. The harder setting had become the default and doing anything else seemed a pretty impossible and scary prospect; isn’t it just me and the way that my brain is programmed to live life? Is there even a way to change those settings? I had no idea if it would be possible but I knew that I needed to at least make a serious attempt to switch up the level and see what happened. It sounded terrifying and like I was about to get lost trying to navigate a stinky swamp but it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I expected.
Why had I even ended up living on the harder setting constantly? The need to prove the school bullies wrong? The desire to do my parents proud? The social expectations to achieve certain things in certain periods of time? Did it only happen after I dropped out of university for the second time and didn’t want to let myself down at failing at anything I decided to do ever again? Does the autism and the fixations on certain things as a result impair my judgement as to what is important and safe to do? As long I can acknowledge the problem does it even really matter?
The first thing I needed to do to make it even remotely possible to change gears was to let go of guilt, the fear of letting people down, the fear of having to extend my own goals and dreams by a few months or years. Part of the guilt was not getting stuff done quickly or not achieving a certain number of tasks and it was hard to remind myself that taking longer or going slower didn’t mean not doing something at all but rather just making sure I would be able to bounce from one thing to another and still get everything done to a high standard and safely.
This applies to Labour Conference in Liverpool. Tomorrow I was originally scheduled to be getting on a coach and heading up there to represent my Constituency Labour Party (CLP) as a youth delegate but I was selected back in June when my physical and mental health was in a hugely different place to what it is now. Accepting that it wasn’t a good idea for me to go obviously created a huge amount of guilt; my partner has to go anyway, it cost the CLP money and potentially took the chance away from somebody else (though nobody else had nominated themselves before the meeting) but I had to banish away that guilt and accept that pulling out was the best thing for me. It doesn’t mean I’ll never go to Liverpool or that I’ll never end up going to conference as there will be plenty more opportunities to do both but I’m just being sensible and deciding to put those ideas in the slow/easy lane for a while and reach them at a later point in time. I even managed to battle my ongoing anxiety by emailing the people I needed to inform and then ringing them up for a refund and did it without feeling guilty about having to explain why because not getting it done would make it all more complicated and feeling guilty about it wouldn’t achieve anything useful.
A few other worries were also causing me to try and live in the hard lane as well; I thought my new employer had gone off the idea of hiring me and was ghosting me. It caused me to apply for a number of jobs that I might want to do in the future but would be really full on and difficult to balance and get through in the short term. These other jobs did excite me but it would involve living on a harder faster setting than I could perhaps realistically handle before burn out. As a result when my employer got in touch to say that HR had just made an error and that everything is now in motion for me to start I accepted that it would be the sensible decision to follow that job, go at a more medium pace and give myself a couple of years to just sit, think and be settled before jumping into any rash decision making. There is guilt about pulling out of other interviews but I really need to accept that feeling comfortable and taking time in careers isn’t a bad thing at all. I’ve fallen into the bad job trap before by applying for things that would push me too far or wouldn’t give me a shred of internal joy and that didn’t end well so this time around I’ve learned my mistake of being in the fast lane of employment and would much rather take the scenic route to figure out the nicest journey to take to get to my destination.
And whenever it gets a little bit challenging or I start to feel resentment at myself for taking things a little easier and slower I just need to remind myself that it makes for a more sustainable life, burnout will be significantly reduced, it will make me a nicer person to be around and that ultimately I should be doing things in a way that suits me and not at what suits other people’s timelines or expectations. I take getting married and having kids in the slow lane, some people don’t and that’s okay, and the same can apply to the politics, professional and business situations that I find myself in as well. Switching my attitude with this and a few other things recently has had a huge impact and people have taken the time to comment on what a changed person I have become. I seem less harsh, more settled and happier and they are all things I’ve not heard said to me in a really long time so it’s more than worth it for the smiles those comments alone bring.
I’m tired of going so quickly that it drains me out but more than that I’m tired of going so quickly that I never really pause to acknowledge or soak up what I have actually achieved and that needs to change. It shouldn’t reach the stage of panic, disillusion and fear that I take an overdose the weekend before my partner’s sister’s graduation (yes, that happened, now you know, let’s never speak of it again – unless you’re my therapist then maybe).
Have you made changes to the pace you live your life recently? How do you manage in stopping yourself becoming overwhelmed by everything you want to achieve? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.