Today I’m thinking about structure and schedules. This brain dump moves around a bit (my thought process is rarely linear; in most posts I try to make it more so, though today I’ll let it dance where it wants).
There was a lot of “forced” structure growing up.* I suppose there is for all of us. We aren’t really in control of our time or our lives. At least that’s how it can feel/seem.
I liked the structure of school and then gymnastics (and cleaning and church and my day-to-day). I also hated it. It started to feel suffocating, yet I also didn’t know how to live without it. So I didn’t. I kept with it, kept at it. Into high school, college, and those first 5+ years out. Okay, more like 10 years post-college. Though as I lost the structure of formal education and then later work in the corporate world, my ability to structure my own time began to crumble. It really crumbled once I quit my HR job. I fought to build the structure in with my personal chef business, though in some respects I felt like I was failing at “getting things done!!!!” most of the time.
On days I kept the structure, got to my should do list, I/it was good. On days I couldn’t — not so much. It felt like a constant internal push-pull. And then as my interest in personal chef work waned and I shifted interest and focus, things felt like they were going sideways. And I felt more untethered. And this felt wrong somehow.
I had (and actually liked) the structure of my morning time and was getting more consistent with it (morning time for me = some exercise, stretching, meditation), though it wasn’t so much that I “should” do it (as it had been in years past) as it was starting to see that I felt good having spent that time first thing in my day. It was a brain/heart/head clearing space, a time to work out the wonkies from the night/day before. It helped me feel like my head was getting screwed back on and I wasn’t going to fly off the handle quite so much — because maybe there wasn’t so much to fly off the handle about.
I appreciated, for the most part, the structure brought when my two youngest kids started school. It helped me get out of the house and talk to others on a regular basis. Which somehow also brought some relief/filled a need.
And then lots of the other time I just felt tired. Tired to the bone. Unmotivated. Wanting to do nothing but chill out on the couch. And a lot of days I’d feel like this was somehow bad, that I needed to figure it out and get my shit together. Though when I’d let myself rest when I felt so tired, some relief did seep through the guilty feelings.
(On a tangential side note, I can’t remember the first time I took a Meyers-Briggs or similar type of personality/type indicator assessment, though I remember the results: 49% introvert/51% extrovert. For years I thought the need for quiet and not always wanting to “be out there” doing something was something I needed to “work on” — after reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain in my thirties, what I needed made more sense, that both the external/other people stimulation and quiet time were important to me. If you’re looking for some brain food and/or have a kid you’d consider “shy” or “reserved” and you want to best support him/her, I’d totally recommend checking it out.)
Anyway, probably about two years ago, maybe three, I quit fighting (to a greater extent) my feelings of tiredness, of wanting to just chill and not do something right now. I more so quit thinking I needed to fix something/myself. I let myself rest (and my kids watch more TV). And not do things if I didn’t feel like it. It would have been interesting to my younger self to see that my world didn’t actually fall apart. Sure, the bathrooms and floors didn’t get cleaned as often as in previous years and laundry piled up in the corner once out of the washer and dryer (it felt doable to wash things; folding was another matter — that could take weeks for motivation to kick in). We also ate more hot dogs and pasta for many months. And — it turned out okay. The sun still rose every morning.
Slowly, oh so slowly, I let myself off the hook for “must do/have/be” structure in my life in many respects. And it felt needed. And though I felt untethered and scared and not as sure, it felt like the way I needed to go. Because I knew I knew rigidity just felt bad to me.
Now several years later, it occurs to me that I do actually like some structure in my day — when I’m choosing from listening rather than rigidity and shoulding on myself (which is where the previous structure came from, by and large). I’ve continued with my morning time and still appreciate it — I feel more centered and in whack (and more fun to be around) when I’ve taken the time to shake out my wrinkles and crankiness. I also see that I’m getting better and more skilled at creating structure in my work that actually kind of feels good and is enjoyable — and that moves me forward and is slowing getting projects done and feels sustainable and where maybe, just maybe, I can create something amazing. This is cool.
I also rest a lot more than I ever did growing up and in early adulthood and early parenthood. I lay down on the couch while my kids watch a show most days of the week, at least for a little while. And somehow this helps my head clear a bit. And if I really don’t feel like doing something in the moment and the house isn’t on fire, I generally don’t do the thing. (And surprisingly enough, when I don’t push when it feels hard, most of the time I’ll find a time later in the day or week when it doesn’t feel quite so hard — or I’ll see that whatever I thought HAD to get done doesn’t actually need to get done.)
It’s taken several decades to get to this space of feeling better/good and seeing I can create a structure for myself rather than take on/continue with something that feels imposed or I “should” because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing (whether or not that’s actually true).
There is little regret in this wonder, though I wonder: How might things have gone differently if I’d quit hanging so tightly to the “forced” structure (i.e., rigidity) that I began to internalize and impose on myself in my late teens and twenties? How might things have looked if when I’d begun to notice the fatigue (especially during high school), I actually took time to chill, to do nothing, to let go of some of the rigidness in my day? What if I’d come across someone who looked me in the eye, deep in the eye, and said: “There is nothing you HAVE to do. Right now. Sit down for a moment. Seriously — sit. I’ll sit here with you and we’ll do nothing for one hot second. And if something falls through the cracks, we’ll figure it out together…”?
Can you sit with your kid (and yourself) today? For one hot second?
*As I’m reading back through, perhaps a more accurate way to call the “forced structure” would be “rigidity” — I’ve grown to appreciate structure in my life, though rigidity no longer has a place, as it does not serve me well.