There is a zen saying that used to really get under my skin:

“If you can’t find the time to meditate for one hour each day, you need to meditate for two hours each day.”

Ugh. Seriously?

I used to be a person who had no time. My day was fully scheduled with meetings, deliverables, volunteer activities, responsibilities to my family and children and “self-care” activities (which often felt more obligatory than restful).

I wanted to slow down so that I could give attention to things that mattered. It felt like all the things I really wanted were perpetually on the back burner.

But I just didn’t know how to create more time.

The idea behind the Zen proverb – that committing twice as time to meditation solved the problem of not having time – felt absurd and punitive.

So I made an appointment with my own coach at the time (Laura Brewer – if you are wondering…she’s awesome check her out) and I asked for help.

“I keep saying I want to slow down and make more time, but I don’t do it. How can I slow down and make more time?” I asked.

“Well, how do you benefit from speeding up? In other words, what keeps this system of over-scheduling in place?” she said.

What a good question! I had focused so much on the benefits of what I needed that I had ignored the benefits of what I was actually doing.

I thought about the time I was spending managing, leading or completing “teamwork.” I thought about all the unpaid and unsatisfying time I was spending on a few boards and committees. I thought about my volunteering, and the way I showed up in family dynamics, and the time I spent scheduling activities for and entertaining the kids. And of course, I thought about all the time-consuming self-improvement activities.

I felt resentful about a lot of it. And I also saw patterns.

The time I was spending on these activities was providing me with certain “benefits”:

  • By doing many things myself, I avoided messiness, pain or conflict.
  • By being ever-present for the kids and “improving myself”, I could project an image of a role model or someone who “has it all”.
  • By giving 100% to my deliverables and meetings, I impressed clients and colleagues.
  • By saying yes to everything, I felt a sense of achievement.
  • By not letting anything go, I didn’t have to confront failure or disappoint people.

When I made this list, it really hit me.

I keep a system of overwork, busy-ness and over-scheduling in place because there are actual benefits.

I avoid creating more time because it requires that I take on uncomfortable challenges.

Things like:

—> Learning to address conflicts head-on;

—> Showing up as an imperfect human sometimes;

—> Setting a reasonable pace for my goals;

—> Occasionally disappointing people;

—> And…in some cases being willing to delay, quit, cancel, or leave some things incomplete.

In other words, making a change I really wanted required that I let go of the benefits of the status quo and embrace the challenges of a new way of living.

So, over the next several months, I approached these challenges one by one. I reduced my time in supervisory meetings. I created a ‘satisfying ending’ for a lackluster committee. I said ‘no’ to volunteer activities at the kid’s school. I sent some half finished knitting projects off to Goodwill. And, in the process…I felt a lot of uncomfortable and scary feelings.

Today, I have more time for what matters. I love what I spend my time doing. I feel less resentful and much more fulfilled.

As a career coach and a human being, I can tell you that transformational change is usually not easy.

Change requires honest and courageous reflection on questions like:

  • How are you benefitting from the status quo?
  • Why does what you really want scare you half to death?

If you are looking for a space to reflect on your priorities and grow your capacity for change, you set up a FREE Career Design Session here.

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About the Author: Kate Cockrill

A little about me... I am a social scientist, facilitator, and professional coach. Through my business: Kate Cockrill Coaching, I support mission driven managers and directors with 1:1 career coaching, leadership coaching, team workshops, and retreat design. My clients include leaders in healthcare, education, research and social innovation.

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