“Living on the edge” is probably not the first phrase that anyone would utter if they were asked to describe me. In fact, I doubt they would say that of me at all. I am pretty risk averse and fairly cautious. At a theme park I am more than happy to sip a cuppa and hold the coats than ride a roller coaster. I have little need of an adrenalin fix and am much happier with my feet planted on terra firma than racing around upside down or at any speed.
Despite that, I would still describe myself as someone who leans towards “living on the edge.” Many of the clients I work with do this too. Some of the worst culprits? Mums and teachers. I don’t mean living on the edge because of all the excitement of never knowing what’s going to happen with children or even that terrifying process of constant change or the emotional roller coaster that is life with kids. “Living on the edge” is more about how I live on the very edge of my resources, particularly when it comes to looking after myself. It’s that constant juggle to keep things in balance and how my idea of “balance” too frequently becomes having just enough resources to get through the day.
Anyone who has experienced coaching with me will know that I am a big fan of the whole comfort, stretch and panic zone model. It’s great to be stretched – it’s how we grow. However constant overstretch is very unhealthy. I have always been too tempted to try and do just that bit more than I really can and feel guilty for looking after myself. Add in being a parent – when there is no point at which I feel I have done “enough” – and it’s a real challenge to eke out time and resources for myself. I know from my work it’s a very common problem. So many of us live on the edge of “just about getting there” and utter chaos and feel guilty if we do “too much” (more than the bare minimum) for ourselves even if the price we pay is feeling exhausted and being just a little too strung out.
So in an age of so much choice and resources what makes us push ourselves like this? Guilt? Martrydom? Our perception of what success means? We each have our own set of drivers. I don’t think there are any medals though for being the person who attended least to their own needs – it’s just the fallout of whatever is going on for us on a deeper level.
Sometimes when you unpick what’s going on it’s crazy and powerful – is finishing work at a sensible time and going home to spend time with family or friends rather than working late into the evening a sign of a bad worker (try finding a teacher that actually does this – they’re a rare breed)? Is going out with friends, a partner or doing things for yourself really going to scar your children (more than being a very stressed out and exhausted parent). When we boil it down it’s nuts!
So my own personal challenge is to move further away from the edge. Easy to say harder to do. I’m much better at this that I was a few years ago, but it’s a long road. I am fortunate in that I know myself well – I am familiar with what tops me up and what drains me, what drives me and what discourages me and that understanding is powerful. As a planner I know I need to book in things to make sure that I’m a bit further away from the edge and then have those around me keep me accountable and then keep on doing it.
The great irony is that so often when we look after ourselves the ripple effects on those around us are huge. As parents, partners, friends, workers we actually do a better job – we’re able to be more present with our kids and those around us and are probably a lot nicer company – perhaps instead we should feel guilty when we don’t look after ourselves!