Many of the work projects work I’m involved in have very aggressive delivery schedules. To meet those schedules our team consistently works many hours beyond our base 40 hours per week. On one such project years ago, a coworker and I had been working not only a great deal of hours in the week but also many weeks in a row without a single day off. We were both getting pretty burned out and I think it’s fair to say getting pretty cranky. As we talked one evening before leaving the office, one of us said, I don’t remember who anymore, “yeah, stick a fork in me, I’m done.” During this single conversation, our commiserating morphed into a sort of pact. Something like “Hey, I have an idea, I’ll take a break this weekend, you cover for me but I’ll only do it if you promise to take a break next and you Iet me cover for you”. Over the following few months, when one of us would recognize the other reaching this point again, we would gently suggest to the other “I think you’re needing a break, why don’t you take this weekend and I’ll take next?” I don’t know if it was the same for her but the first couple of times I was the recipient of the gentle insinuation I was needing a break, I could feel my feathers ruffle slightly and I would adamantly think “uh, no I don’t! I’m fine! I’ll let you know if I need a break!” Obviously this reaction, however quiet in my head, was a sure fire indication I did indeed need a break. As the project continued we embraced more and more the other’s opinion and became more creative. Eventually one of us would come into the office a few minutes earlier than normal and hang a plastic fork in the other’s doorway indicating we believed they were getting “forked” and it was their turn to take a break.
Now, many years later, as recently as earlier today in fact, we watch out for each other and are a voice of reason - “you’re just tired, wait ‘til tomorrow to call them back or respond to that email…”
Even though I’ve come to accept this advice (as recently as earlier today in fact) and recognize when I’m reaching a point of less effectiveness due to spreading myself a little too thin at work, I’m not so enlightened when it comes to my personal life.
I don’t always do a good job of gauging, recognizing, or maybe more accurately “admitting” when I’m “forked”. Katy, on the other hand, is da bomb at this for herself. She is so self aware and if you call her and she’s in this type of place, she’ll just say, right of the bat, “just so you know, I don’t have it to give right now”. Me? I struggle? I overestimate what I can do, I over commit, I over extend and most of all I hate to say “no” or “I can’t” or even “I need help”. Around the middle of January, my mom had to go to the hospital for a few days. Katy stayed with her in the hospital while she was there and then stayed with her in the days following as doctors tried to diagnose her and recommend treatment. It turned out she needed to have surgery, spinal surgery! Katy, Debbie and I quickly coordinated how we would all take a turns staying with her following surgery. I’d fly in and stay with her while she was in the hospital and the week following when Debbie would take over, then Katy. We’d get internet installed at her house so each of us could work while we were there as well. We had a plan!
Surgery was amazing. She instantly had less pain once she woke up and was released from the hospital the following day. The pain in her neck was much less after surgery but she was unable to sleep for any length of time. She would sleep for an hour, maybe 1 ½ hours but never over 2, then get up and need help getting back in bed. I felt so bad for her and was truly happy to wake up and help her get back into bed every 1 ½ hours. After a few days of both of us sleeping less than 2 hours at a time at night and me working during the days, my energy started to decline and one morning when Katy called to check on how things were going, I just broke down crying for no real reason other than I was tired and it was a spontaneous, uncontrollable response to her innocently asking “how are you doing”. I felt silly, weak, embarrassed and just a little guilty for breaking down during my shift.
The next day it was time for me to tag Debbie in and catch a plane back home. As Debbie drove me to the airport, I found myself rambling on about all the things I wish were different in my life, random things, disconnected when I recognized THAT expression on her face. The expression she has with the small grandkids when one of them falls down and in the moment right after they fall as they’re trying to get up and figure out if they’re hurt or not, she gets THAT expression, so calm, and loving and comforting as she repeats to them smiling “you’re ok, you’re ok”. They quickly begin to smile as well, get up, brush themselves off and bound off.
Seeing THAT expression now directed at me, clicked something in my brain, and my heart and I realized when I let myself (and yes, I know I do it to myself) get stretched too thin and deprive myself of adequate rest, I’m no good to anyone. It doesn’t only affect me physically and mentally, it affects me emotionally and spiritually. It makes it more difficult for me to be present, to be supportive, to be encouraging and I realized those are the qualities in myself I cherish most. I want to be there for my family and friends, to be a source of strength, compassion, encouragement and empowerment.
So before my mind could get ramped up, in it’s usual reactive way, and start to churn over and over about what I wanted to change in my life, I let Debbie’s expression and words replay inside my head instead … “you’re ok, you’re ok”. I promised myself I would get some rest and then think about all the things I’m glad are not different in my life, all the things I’m so very grateful for. I would commit to find ways to help me recognize when I was approaching “forked” BEFORE I get there, say "no" or "I can't" or "I need help" every once in awhile, get the rest I need when I need it and most of all, remind myself “I’m ok, I’m ok”