Since last March, when the global pandemic bound us in our homes, I have been over-functioning. Throughout the Spring and Summer months, I was working while parenting and parenting while working, feeling inadequate at both. I was exhausted.
Then, in late August, I got a call from my youngest child’s preschool telling us they were closing for the entire year so they could focus on childcare for essential workers. Next, my oldest child’s kindergarten teacher sent out their full daily online school schedule. Finally, my main child care provider called to tell us she was moving across the state.
I had to make hard decisions fast. I looked at my workload, my childcare options and my parenting responsibilities with a sense of overwhelmed inevitability. I cried a lot. Then, I put in my letter of resignation at my salaried job. I joined the growing number of parents, disproportionately women, shifting their careers during COVID to tend to their children at home.
I shifted my freelance work to evenings and weekends and watched my leisure time evaporate. I tried to lower my own expectations around work productivity but failed miserably. I was exhausted. Again.
How is your energy level? How does your work/life balance feel?
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3 Tiny Ways to Practice Presence in Your Work
When life feels chaotic around us or we hardly recognize our work anymore after all the pandemic changes, it can be hard to find our way. But with some shifts in mindset and making small, realistic goals, we can find purpose in any circumstance.
1. Understand What Your Work is at the Core
I struggled with the change in schedule and sense of identity until I remembered what a coach told me in a session a year ago. “You are very good at loving,” she said. “I see that as your full time job. You have to take that very seriously, which includes loving yourself.” With her wisdom in my ear, I took a look at my life with fresh eyes. My work is to love. Sometimes that looks like parenting and facilitating online kindergarten. Sometimes it looks like writing or teaching. It’s all an opportunity to love. That lens has helped me focus less on what I am doing and more on the quality of presence I bring to to the moment.
What is something you love and are good at but don’t get paid for? What core traits do you want to bring to your work and your play?
2. Redefine How You Measure Productivity
My work is to love. It harkens back to my days on maternity leave when definitions of productivity alter and breakthrough society’s pressure to do more, buy more and produce more. Time passes differently. The ruler I previously used to measure my worth doesn’t work. I double down on loving my children and carving out time to write and teach. Some days I miss the ladder I used to climb. This pure loving, this stripped-down sacredness can be a little boring and also utterly delightful. My mantra has become: Do less, be more. The mantra welcomes me back into my body and the present moment. It points out how I tend to project my happiness out into the future instead of being happy with where I am, who I am with, what I am doing and what I have right now. It bravely stands in contrast to the lie that I must do more to be more.
It is not as easy as it sounds. Every day there are ample opportunities to bemoan our pandemic reality, the dissolved lines between home and school and work. There are endless invitations to franticness, frustration, over-commitment, cynicism and stress. It takes diligence, moment to moment, to say no to what our ramped-up capitalism asks of us and instead root down into our humanity.
What core lie drives you to be perpetually busy, tired and stressed?
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3. Make Tiny Commitments You Can Keep
At 12 Tiny Things, we identify tiny practices that encourage a simpler, more intentional life. The things themselves must be offensively small so we do not get overwhelmed by them, but practicing them daily can lead to transformation. My tiny things this month have included trying to do one thing at a time, charging my phone away from my bedroom at night, shutting down my computer in the mornings and taking conscious breaths while it boots back up, nodding to my machines to acknowledge how they make my work easier, getting up before my kids to offer myself love and quiet, and bringing a commitment and reverence to my work with less attachment to the outcomes.
In reflecting on work and answering an invitation to presence, I also realized that I keep to-do lists in multiple locations: on my phone, my whiteboard, my computer, my planner, post-it notes and in my head. I never reach the bottom of them, thus I always feel behind. They contribute to me feeling frantic and overwhelmed. I get stressed by not crossing things off the lists, but I am making the lists. I am choosing to feel stressed and frantic. My hunch is that I am choosing that because I get societal accolades from being busy, and I think I am more when I do more. But also because when I slow down and get quiet, I feel more. And there is a whole lot to feel right now.
What gets in the way of bringing your presence to your work? What helps you stay in the here?
My tiny things are essential because I want to feel. I want to be a human being. By shifting my own expectations and claiming love as my full-time job, my to-do lists shifted and so did my disposition. Practicing presence is a work-in-progress, and my tiny things equip me to opt into the here and now more often so I don’t miss the opportunity to love.
Ellie Roscher is the author of 12 Tiny Things, Play Like a Girl and How Coffee Saved My Life. Ellie hosts the Unlikely Conversations podcast, teaches yoga at Up Yoga and teaches writing at The Loft Literary Center and the Minnesota Writing Project. Through curious inquiry, commitment to the sacred ordinary and artistic collaboration, her work accompanies people to a more centred, whole, and embodied self. Ellie holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in Theology from Luther Seminary. Follow her at @ellieroscher and find out more at 12tinythings.com and ellieroscher.com.
Want to learn more?>> Heidi Barr, Ellie’s co-author of 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life will be guest posting in my A Life in Progress: Live on Purpose Facebook Group the last week of February 2021. If you’d like to hear more about practicing presence via tiny things that build intentionality into your days, I would love for you to join us there. –Krista xo