Saturday, March 20, 2010

Coach, Heal Thyself....

So I spend a lot of my time as a life and fitness coach telling clients that balance is critical, and that they need to make tough decisions about how they want to spend their time and build their lives. I also talk with them about how important it is to take the time to reappraise their goals and make adjustments to their paths when circumstances change. We talk about how this can be a tough task, but can also be transformational. We talk about the fact that sometimes opportunities for reappraisal come unexpectedly, and that recognizing them can be a challenge, but that having the guts to embrace them and use them is essential.

One reason I enjoy framing planning for and creating change in this way is that it works well for me as a tool for moving forward. Over the years, I’ve used things like stepping stones in my career and the birth of my kids as opportunities to reappraise my own life and make changes. Until recently, my opportunities for reappraisal have been predictable events such as these that offer the chance for calm reflection and planning for gradual positive change. All that changed a few months ago when I landed in the ER with stabbing chest pain.

Yes I’m fairly young and healthy, but I’m not *that* young, and I’m getting to the age where occasionally I get emails that so-and-so dropped dead from a heart attack, even though they were running 3 miles a day, so when I was stunned by intense radiating chest pain, I calmly got myself to the ER to make sure I was okay. Happily, 9 hours, 3 EKGs, and a full set of stress testing later, I got the work that my ticker looks fine, and the pain was due to inflammation of the cartilage between by ribs from an injury. They did, however, mention that they were concerned that I was showing some physical signs of “burning from both ends” due to stress and overscheduling. This information was shared with me fairly early in my day in the ER, so I had plenty of time to reappraise and think about making changes as I lay in the various machines and sat cooling my jets in my hospital gown waiting to be sent home.

The process this time was different, however, than my other rounds of reappraisal and change management. I’d just been told that my health was starting to show signs of wear and tear due to stress and having too much on my plate. In the past, the addition of a new child or taking on a new job resulted in decisions such as finding ways to pay for someone to deliver my groceries, do our yardwork, and finally deciding to pay someone to clean the house so I’d have time to do recreational activities. At the time, paying for these things seemed extravagant expenses, but with 2 parents working full-time and 2 kids, we could afford them and they really improved our quality of life in many ways. These adjustments were happy indicators of the increasing ability of our family to assure that we could have leisure time and quality time together despite accelerating work and family obligations; they bought us time to enjoy our lives, and for a while, everything was great and nicely “balanced.”

The unhappy side effect, however, of the found time created by off-loading many household tasks to others was that work started to find me during those times, especially as my kids got older. Although weekends are still full of soccer, piano, movies, trips to the mountains, and generally quality family time, they have increasing been encroached upon by work in the form of email catch-up, grant-writing, research activities, and phone calls. The firm boundaries I was so proud of a few years ago, I realized lying in the ER, had been badly blurred such that no day was ever work-free. So lying there with lots of time on my hands, waiting for “the news”, I formulated a new set of plans that have already improved the quality of my work, health, family time, and life overall. In place and already benfitting every one are:

1. I left my high-pressure job (where I gained 20 pounds in 3 years) to find something that yes, pays less, but is more in tune with my life.

2. I leave my cell phone off after hours and on weekends except for family calls

3. Blackberry is off at school functions and on family outings

5. Laptop is closed during conversations with family and spouse (“multitasking” is a lame excuse)

6. Exercise and eating reasonably are a priority for me again in terms of time and effort.

7. Weekends and nights belong to me and my family for recreation, traveling, conversation, hanging out, etc.

Yes, I know- DUH!!!! These are all things that are important to me that I’ve let the nimble fingers of work obligations, real and imagined, pick away at over the last months, but with renewed commitment, I have drawn and am holding the boundaries.

I do not anticipate returning to the ER for stress-related symptoms anytime soon, but I know that if I do, it will be time to re-check my boundaries yet again. This is a process, and I am grateful for these opportunities to revise and reappraise.  It can be done, and it's worth it!!!

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