There’s More to You Than How Much You Do

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“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”

–Cheryl Strayed

If you’re anything like me, you often find there’s never enough time in the day. It’s impossible to get everything done: finish your work, go to the gym, relax, make dinner, take the kids to the park, have fun, or just have a minute to put your eyeliner on straight. Yet, somehow, there’s always enough time to do the tasks you feel obligated to complete for other people.

In the past, my To Do lists had their own To Do lists, which gave birth to even more. Now I’m happy if I can cross one or two things off my list in a given week. I used to have a list for every day; if I didn’t get all of it done, I’d metaphorically beat myself up about it or stay up late to complete every last task. That’s because my identity, the way I determined my self-worth, was wrapped up in how much I did—especially how much I did for others. I always felt like I was defined by what I did and, unfortunately, how perfectly I could do it. I didn’t see the value in just being me, so I relentlessly did more and more to prove my worth. When you understand that your worth is not determined by how much you can do, you can see your true worth regardless of how much you accomplish.

Doing Everything Yourself

“Sometimes you can get so busy trying to be everyone else’s anchor that you don’t even realize you are actually drowning.”

– Anonymous

When you do too much, it’s usually because you’re taking on other people’s tasks in addition to your own. This becomes an issue, because your self-worth is contingent on what you can do—especially what you can do for other people. You take on all the work—your own plus theirs—treating it as your personal responsibility. I stopped doing this when I finally realized that my efforts to do everything weren’t really helping anyone or doing them any favors. As Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D. wisely says, “When you maintain tight control on the work and never delegate full responsibility and accountability, you prelude others from learning, developing skills, furthering their careers, or deriving a similar benefit to their self-esteem from accomplishment.” Doing too much is actually a way of hurting your relationships, yourself, and the people you care about.

Phil Jackson, the former head coach of the Chicago Bulls understood this concept. In his autobiography, Sacred Hoops, he wrote about his effort to convince super-star Michael Jordan to score fewer points in each game. Why would the head coach of a six-time NBA championship team try to get one of his best players to shoot fewer baskets? Well, he happened to have a good understanding of how relationship systems work: When someone over-functions, other members of the system tend to under-function. Over-functioning means taking on other people’s responsibilities and not holding them accountable for their participation in the relationship system. When you’re doing everything yourself, you’re the over-functioning person in your relationships. As a consequence of this, the people in your life under-function, doing the bare minimum and not assuming their own responsibilities. Just like a basketball team, families, workplaces, and romantic partnerships are systems: assemblies of parts that collectively cooperate for a shared purpose. However, a system is not just any group of parts: the parts of a system are connected in such a way that each is influenced by the other based on what needs to be done. The important point here is that individual parts of a system can’t perform all the task alone, as any error or disruption will affect the entire system. Phil Jackson understood that in order for his team to win, every member had to function at a high level. If Michael Jordan, a single part of the team system, functioned at a higher level than his teammates, they would all function at a lower level.

So doing everything yourself and taking responsibility for other people in your life will—and probably already has—lead them to under-function. People need to do their own tasks and take responsibility for their own lives in order for systems to function effectively. By doing too much, you’re not allowing the people in your life to function as well as they could.

Proving Your Worth

“Putting a premium on accomplishment and productivity creates a bias against the value of pleasurable activities and relaxation.”

– Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D.

If your identity and self-worth depend too much on your ability to do things for others, you’re adding more stress to your life and theirs . Do you always seem to find time to accommodate others’ needs, but never seem to have enough time to take care of yourself? That was surely once true for me. I used to think that having fun, relaxing, watching TV, napping, or doing any leisurely activity at all was a waste of time. However, I’ve come to learn that spending time on myself is not a waste of time; it’s actually important in the long run for my health, well-being, and productivity. I used to do relaxing things just to say I did them them and get them out of the way. When I could have been enjoying those activities, I was instead thinking of all the other things I “should” be doing. It completely defeated the purpose of the activity. It wasn’t relaxing at all!

You might think you have more value if you life by the motto all work and no play, believing that your discipline will somehow make you more worthy and desirable. I used to ignore my need for playtime and rest. I had no sympathy for myself when I had a headache or neck pain; instead, I saw it as a weakness. When your worth is so tangled up in how much you can do for other people, you don’t take time to rest when you feel sick.  You feel bad, useless, or depressed when you can’t function as intensely as you usually do. You don’t see the importance of taking it easy and taking care of yourself.

I used to never give myself permission to take a day off or make time to rest. I want you to know that  if you’re going through a tough time, are tired, or just need some time to yourself, this is perfectly okay. It by no means makes you any less lovable, worthy, or capable. It just means you’re human! Being human can be a messy, difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful experience. You don’t need to have all the answers! You don’t need to perfectly complete everything all the time. Cut yourself some slack. You’re not expected to be superhuman. If you aim for perfection, you’ll never be satisfied, unless your definition of perfection changes. To be perfectly human is to take it easy, relax, make mistakes, and not expect to do everything and have all the answers. It is to love your imperfections and self-soothe.

Here are some useful self-care tips I borrowed from Annie Wright’s 101 Self-Care Suggestions for When It All Feels Like Too Much:

1.    Call in sick. Take comp time if you can. Take a mental health day.
2.    Say no to extra obligations, chores, or anything that pulls on your precious self-care time.
3.    Book a session (or more!) with your therapist or massage therapist.
4.    Dial down your expectations of yourself at this time. When you’re going through life’s tough times, I invite you to soften your expectations of yourself and others.
5.    Watch a comforting/silly/funny/lighthearted TV show, movie, or standup comedy.
6.    Wrap yourself up in a cozy fleece blanket and sip a cup of hot tea.
7.    Take a long, hot bath; light a candle; and pamper yourself.
8.    Write it out. Free form in a journal or a Google doc. Get it all out and vent.
9.    Sniff some scents that bring you joy or remind you of happier times.
10.    Create and listen to a playlist of songs that remind you of happier times.
11.    If you want to stay in bed all day watching Netflix, do it. Indulge.

Just remember there’s more to you than how much you do. Don’t stake your self-esteem and self-worth on how much you do for other people. Let other people take responsibility for their own lives and tasks, and remember it’s actually better for them, you, and your relationships anyway. Take time to have fun, relax, and do things you enjoy! Remember the Buddha’s impactful words: “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection.”

Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier

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