On Doing Less and Holding Space

November 4, 2019

It has been six months since I left my Life of Busy. 

Six months since I was Doing Too Much and not being able to keep up with it all. Six months since creating a slower life.

I know I am happier when I do less. I know doing less helps me do things better. I know my ideas are better when I do less because I have more brain space.

And yet I constantly feel the pull to do more. Every week I get excited about a new project, and I find myself battling the urge to do it. I keep having to force myself to say no.

It’s a mind game, this idea of doing less. Because the truth is, I have actually done more in the last four years than I ever had before. When I look at the whole picture, work and family combined, my productivity has been through the roof. 

Even in the last six months since leaving my job, I have moved our family from Florida to West Virginia, set up our life in this new place (think: new schools, new doctors, transferred our LLCs, etc.), gotten myself back in shape, supported my husband as his Google Sheets business grows, and prepared The Write Life to generate more profit. 

Yet, though I’ve been a mother now for more than four years, my brain barely counts all the tasks that aren’t paying work. I see what I’ve accomplished with The Write Life over the last few months, and while it has been tremendous given other responsibilities I’m juggling, it doesn’t feel like enough. 

Maybe this is because I still expect my brain and body to function the same way they did before I had a family. Maybe it’s because society constantly tells us unpaid work isn’t worth much. Maybe it’s because I love my work and want to spend more time on it, without losing precious hours with my kids. Or maybe it’s just my personality.

Whatever the reason, the drive to do more is strong, while what I need right now is to do less. To optimize for happiness, I need to hold space for something bigger.

A slow life is a full life

While life is slower now than it was six months ago, it’s still full. 

We are about to begin renovating a historic home we recently purchased here in Harpers Ferry, a project I’m looking forward to, one that would feel like a chore if I had too much on my plate. (Watch my My Instagram if you enjoy remodels!) I finally have time to volunteer, and it’s been rewarding to get involved with the local trail alliance. And there’s plenty to do with The Write Life.

Best of all, I’m enjoying being present for adventures with our two boys. We just returned from a long overdue (and let’s be honest, exhausting) trip to the UK to visit family, a meaningful experience we didn’t have the bandwidth for in our previous life. I’m excited to see the next few months through the boys’ eyes: hiking in fall colors, trick or treating for Halloween, the first snowfall, and Christmas magic. My two-year-old is already obsessed with The Polar Express and everything Santa-related.

Yet I still want to hold space for bigger things. We’re considering having another child in the coming year, and of course a baby would take up space in the form of energy and time and joy. (I hope to write more about this decision, because it has been a fascinating topic to explore privately with other women in the prime of their careers: whether to have another child when it means stepping back yet again from the paying work that’s so core to our identity.)

I want to continue to hold space for meaningful work opportunities, too. When my plate isn’t overflowing, creative ideas naturally bubble up and take shape. Those ideas need open space to sprout and expand. Having the mental capacity to experience that creativity over the last six months has been so much fun, and I want more.

Leaning into less

When I realized this week that it had been six months since I left my job, I had a brief moment of panic. Not because I’m not happy — I am. But I don’t have a solid vision for what I’ll be doing with my career, or how I’ll earn money, five years from now. Or even two years from now.

That type of professional uncertainty feels unfamiliar. It’s both exciting — so much potential and freedom! — and uncomfortable. More and more, I feel called to run business, hiking and yoga retreats for women. But in the interest of Doing Less, I’m waiting to explore this until The Write Life is a reliable source of income.

So anyway, that moment of panic. It prompted me to read this WSJ piece (it’s behind a paywall) about a woman who took a two-year career break at age 41 and later became a CEO. She says it took her about a year to unwind from her busy life — and she didn’t have kids to look after during that time (or at least she doesn’t mention them).

A year to unwind! I get that. I still feel like I’m unwinding. Unwinding and exploring and taking time to breathe. 

And at the same time, fighting the urge to do more. The struggle is reminiscent of how I feel in yoga’s pigeon pose. It’s a hip-opener that feels so good when I can relax into it… but relaxing into it is pretty damn hard. Whenever I try to get into this pose, especially if I haven’t done it in a while, my body fights against me. My hips clench, and I have to breathe and tell myself over and over to let go. I have to work through and get past that uncomfortable clench and slowly settle into the pose to feel the benefits. 

Doing Less feels unnatural and brings lots of resistance to work through. But on the days when I’m able to dig deep enough to relax into it, it feels so good.

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