Years ago, I had a Ferris Bueller poster taped to the wall of my college dorm room with an adorably grinning Matthew Broderick casually leaning against a wall in that trademark leopard print sweater vest that has never been cool since. It read: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So wise, I thought then! Just slow, down, man. That is the secret to life.
Of course, now that I’m a grown-up, I’m much more like the neurotic best friend Cameron. Life does move pretty fast, but we can’t all just waltz off and climb a parade float, Ferris! We have things to do. Instead, I do my best to not just survive but somehow enjoy my nonstop life. Here are five of my best strategies. They mostly work.
1. Say no, early and often.
Ever watch a 2 year old discovering her favorite word? Her eyes light up and suddenly she’s drunk with power. She can say no to stuff. It is fascinating to watch a tiny being who is fairly new to this planet as she learns how to assert her personhood and set boundaries, how to differentiate between other people’s desires and her own. As we get older and more conscious of social niceties and the complexities of human relationships, many of us lose this ability. However, it is easily regained through diligent practice. Maybe not so easily at first, but you’d be surprised at how enjoyable it becomes. Say no to unnecessary commitments, to draining interactions, and to unhealthy habits. Over time, you may come to relish saying no as much as a 2 year old who has decided she hates pants.
2. Observe and check in with yourself frequently.
I try to be my own wilderness guide/attentive waitperson. Am I on course? Do I need anything right now? How about some water?
3. Make sure you’ve got the right supplies.
If you, like me, are a busy parent and caregiver, or even if you’re just plain busy, it is ridiculously easy to neglect yourself. Not only is this bad for you, it sucks for everyone you encounter because you know how you think you’re being all heroic and noble, sacrificing self-care in order to do for others? Yeah, no. There are few things more annoyingly toxic than a martyr. For one thing, you keep bumping people with the cross you are always carrying. You scald people with your simmering resentment. And eventually, your body mutinies in an attempt to get your attention and then those people you’ve been sliming with your passive-aggressive goo end up having to take care of you. Gross. Nobody likes that. So, feed yourself – body and mind. Much of this work is mental and emotional, but the physical should not be ignored. My emergency grown-up survival kit includes healthy snacks, treats, caffeine, reading material, and a notebook for catching whizzing thoughts.
4. Ask for help.
There is nothing holy about unnecessary struggle. Yes, life is difficult and many of the battles you fight are yours alone. Which is why it makes no sense whatsoever not to seek help whenever it is available. Call the help desk. Ask the advice nurse. Text your girlfriend and tell her you need a coffee date ASAP or you’re going to end up a story on the evening news. Make an appointment with your primary care provider to talk about why you aren’t sleeping well. Go get a massage. Don’t give up if you don’t get the help you need right away. Grab one of those little chocolates from the emergency kit and keep trying. You don’t have to do this alone.
5. Remind yourself, as often as necessary, that you are in control.
Not only are you the one driving this wacky, beat-up bus, you own it.