Spinning Wheels

This past weekend, I attended the RE Congress in Anaheim, CA. Suffice it to say, it has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life over the last two years.

On the last morning of the congress, I woke up with a sense of foreboding. You might know what that’s like. You’re at the end of an amazing experience, and you know you’re about to go back to your life before and you’re afraid you’re just going to lose everything you gained. I started reflecting on how I can make the experience, along with everything I learned, last me until my next amazing weekend. In my reflection, I started to wonder what it was about my life that made it hard for inspiration to grow or thrive. And it hit me like a sack of potatoes.

I am too busy. Not just physically, but mentally. I am mentally overworked.

I’m one of those people who likes to think five steps ahead, come up with five different alternate scenarios, and then I like to take on five times as much as the normal person probably should. So I have a full-time job, a home-based business, a music project, a volunteer church project, a marriage, a house, I’m reading a self-help book, a 4-part epic fiction, and a prayer devotional simultaneously, and due to my recent encounter with federal tax return filing, I had recently given some serious thought to becoming a professional tax-preparer. I’m one of those people. My wheels are always turning, and I love it that way. But as with anything that turns perpetually, I wear out.

When I realized this, I started thinking of ways to overcome mental exhaustion. Should I cut back on teaching? Should I look for a part-time job? Should I just quit working altogether and get a Master’s degree? Should I just take a month-long sabbatical and concentrate on writing? Should I try gardening? Should I go on a detox cleanse? Should I…?

Before I knew it, I was at it again. Wheels spinning full-speed, trying to find a way to get my wheels to slow down. What a dummy.

One thing I learned this weekend was from Matthew Kelly, who is a very prominent Catholic speaker, writer and business consultant from Australia. He repeated this catchphrase over and over again in his talk: Focus on The One Thing.

The One Thing can be anything, but it needs to be achievable, even to the point of being superfluous. If you’re having trouble getting in shape, make your first One Thing be to stand on the treadmill – not run or walk, just stand – for five minutes everyday. If you’re having trouble with saving money, make your One Thing be to put away a dollar a week. Do it consistently, celebrate your success, and progressively increase your One Thing until you are doing something more and more substantial. The idea behind this is to aim for something where success is almost inevitable so that you can have something to celebrate, as opposed to aiming for something where success is almost impossible so that you are set up and bound for failure.

So I put away my grand plans for finding balance and find One Thing. I decide on what is most important, and I make a plan to do it. My One Thing is to get up 15 minutes earlier so I can eat breakfast and get in some prayer and reflection before I go to work.

The trouble with the One Thing plan is that people like me have a hard time focusing on just One Thing. So I also decided (call it my One Thing 1.5) to just live in the present. Be at work while I am at work. Be teaching while I am teaching. Let my present moment just be what it is, and not treat it like some sort of segue into A Future of Great Purpose and Meaning.

It wasn’t easy. The whole time, my little wheels were telling me “But you’re not making a plan!” and “You’re still going to be mentally overworked!” Maybe so, but I told myself to shut up and just go along with it.

Before I knew it, one of my students cancelled two lessons because of a play they were in for Easter. Another one switched careers and quit his job, and needed to reduce his schedule for financial reasons. Another two are leaving town for two weeks. Suddenly, one of my busiest teaching nights had been reduced to one half-hour student. It’s just one day in the week; schedule-wise, it’s not a huge change. And even so, many business owners would think this kind of loss is staggering and even financially scary. I’m not that far from thinking those thoughts myself. But given what I had just been considering, this is an answered prayer. This is affirmation. This is an opportunity to work my brain a little less so I can hold on to my inspiration a little more.

Who would’ve thought? The answer came not from my own brainstorm, not from some self-help flowchart, not from some heavy internal deliberation…but when I decided to stop spinning my wheels.

So I think my One Thing has worked out pretty splendidly. Sure, this little break is only for the next few weeks. It might not last. The slots might fill right back up. After all, I currently have three new students still on the waiting list. But after this little experience, I am learning not to spin my wheels. Whatever comes will come. My only concern is my One Thing: 15 minutes of extra time for breakfast, prayer, and reflection. Everything else is still to come, and is out of my own little hands. And wheels. And thank God for that. Because His wheels are a lot bigger than mine, and they don’t wear out. Ever.

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