I was going crazy. I felt burned out, tired and oh so busy. My chores never seemed to finish. I ended each day with painful legs that would hamper sleep and began each morning, tired even before coming awake. Cranky and irritable, I couldn’t pity myself enough. I wondered how others did it. It wasn’t as if I was slow or had terrible time management skills. Nor was it that I didn’t have help. I did. Yet, I never seemed to have time for fun. Work never seemed to finish. I found myself avoiding phone calls from close friends and family since it all seemed frivolous in my busyness.
Then one day, as I sat down to work in my study, I glanced out of the window to see a young girl laughing into her phone as she hung out the clothes to dry. She reminded me of Lakshmi*, a house help we once had. Lakshmi used to have a busy workload doing the household chores. Yet, she always found the time to take an afternoon nap, managed to keep up with her relatives and friends and be dressed in her best when visitors arrived. This amazed me since I never seemed to have the time or energy to do any of these things. In fact, I was always the last one in the family to wish people or confirm plans. As I watched the young girl hanging out the clothes, I realised what the young girl and Lakshmi knew instinctively and I didn’t – they knew the art of taking a moment.
Unfortunately, for many of us “chronic workers”, this is a skill that we acquire too late. We spend far too many years completing chores, not catching a break and feeling joyless for it. Over a period of time, a constant awareness of pending work builds up and looms like a mountain before every consideration. You cease to find any joy in the work you are doing and instead resent it. But in fact, what you actually resent is not the work, but the lack of rest and joy and the feeling that you would rather be doing something else. This goes on until it hits a peak and then you lash out at those around you. You blame others for your sorry state. I know because I have been there and done it – the work, the lashing out, being too tired to find any joy, the blame game, the self victimisation, the feeling of being disconnected from everything and everyone until you stop caring. You numb yourself from the pain you feel to protect yourself. You don’t want to be hurt and angry and rejected and dejected and all of those things that you feel: the lack of self worth, the constant questioning, wondering why you feel the way you do, telling yourself that you are probably wrong to feel that way because you have everything anyone could want – in effect denying your feelings. And this leads you to a burnout or depression or even worse.
Then by an act of grace, an understanding dawns. You realise that it is up to you to take a moment. You understand that you are entitled to have and enjoy moments of happiness even as you work to fulfil your part and play the role you play – the household chores, the office work, being mom or dad etc. You learn that amidst all of the moments that you are giving to others and to your work, it is ok to take a moment, however small, and give it to yourself. It may just be time enough to smell the roses (literally speaking), catch a ten minutes podcast, talk to a friend or just sit and watch the clouds go by.
You learn to grasp those little moments not just by way of dedicated, timed events, rather even in the middle of the work that you are doing. Mind you, I am in no way recommending that you slack off nor do I recommend taking a break always. In fact, there may be times when you will be better off not letting anything disturb your concentration. But if you are a chronic worker, then chances are that you like to finish everything before you give yourself some time. It is in such times, that I recommend taking out five minutes to yourself. We all have five minutes; in fact, we all need five minutes. Those five minutes are probably just what you need to recharge your batteries and appreciate your life. The next time you are feeling burdened and in the middle of doing the dishes or refining a presentation, and a friend calls, don’t disconnect or not respond because you have many other things waiting for your attention. Give yourself the freedom to take five or ten minutes and laugh with your friend. You will go back to work feeling happier and connected to life.
Taking their moments is perhaps the reason why kids are such happy creatures. They don’t ask for anyone’s permission to be doing the things they want to do. If you have ever tried to get your child to switch off the TV or Play Station or yelled at them to come home, then you know exactly what I am talking about. They will fight with you tooth and nail for their five minutes. Homework can wait, dinner can wait, nighttime can wait, mom and dad can wait. What can’t wait and what they must have is their five minutes of fun. And that in a nutshell is the art of taking a moment.
This simple realisation has brought about a profound change in my life. It has given me the time to step outside into the sun and enjoy its warmth guilt free even as the dishes wait. It has allowed me to connect with my friends joyously, rekindled my reading habit and given me the freedom to savour moments of doing nothing. So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with work, give yourself a moment to find joy. Work will be waiting when you return smiling.
*Name changed to protect privacy