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Help, I'm Stuck in Overwhelm

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With a keen awareness of how important work is in adulthood, Handlin wants kids to find vocations where their voices can keep singing. He helps them find a good fit. For kids with multiple passions and talents, he has this practical advice: “Find a job where you can use all those gifts. Teaching is a traditional match for that, where you can do your academics during the day, and do other things like head up a musical production after school. Another place where many talents are needed is some of these new tech companies that are entrepreneurial—you can go into a lot of different directions. But a job that has an outlet for just one talent is not going to work.”

Handlin also notes how often kids are not getting attention from adults, even though an attentive adult figure is of utmost importance to a child’s development. Perhaps it’s no wonder, as adults out of balance also lack in-person attention. Phillips observes that “a lot of us live in our heads, and when we talk to others we think we’re communicating, but we’re not really connecting. We’re using so much technology to communicate, it’s more important than ever to get that juicy connection with each other in person.”

The Joy of Extremes

Is being able to balance a multitude of interests and activities overrated? What about some other strategies, like serial obsessiveness, flowing from one all-out investment of your being into one thing, then another, and another? Creative artists may produce their best work this way, and even court imbalance intentionally, to tap into realms not reached by everyday balance. Probably each of us has an experience of being obsessively devoted to one thing for days or weeks at a time, whether by choice or not, and found it productive, transformational, or at least a very good story in the telling.

One example that Barbara Bash of Accord recently experienced, as she does every spring with delight and exhaustion, is a week-long event called Authentic Leadership in Action (ALIA). ALIA is an ever-growing conference that brings together people (250 of them this year) who are interested in creating change in the world without burning out and losing their idealism. Bash is a freelance artist, an author, and the creator of the visual blog True Nature; she says ALIA is a hopeful and visionary time, where she serves as a teacher and performer. As the event grows it becomes more taxing. “I get really stretched with putting forth,” she says, “and I feel really used up—in a good way. I’m completely engaged, and stretching psychically, physically, and emotionally. There is real aliveness and happiness that comes from that. But it’s like a marathon—there’s no way I could go on like that week after week. It’s like breathing out and breathing in. The conference was a big exhale, and now I’ll do things to recharge, breathing in.”

Recharging makes overdoing it possible. Some of Bash’s favorite ways are massage and “anything where you can drop into the subconscious, especially involving water, like swimming in a pond or taking a bath.” She also immerses herself in the joyful movements and exuberance of African dance, and attends to her body’s needs to get enough sleep. She also recommends deeply connecting with others. “Whenever I feel depleted,” Bash says, “I get an infusion of having a conversation, where I am really listening to the other person, and I am really being heard by them.”

Chaos with Grace
If you’re attached to more endeavors than you can manage, here is a different approach besides paring them down. Look deeply at who you want to be, and choose underlying principles or purposes to live by. Then imbue everything you do with them. For instance, you may recognize a gift for finding solutions to problems. Whenever you are struggling with overwhelm, you can remind yourself that you are accomplishing your purpose by affirming, “I am creating solutions in the world.”

And remember that stories abound of people who found their greatest satisfaction—and left a unique imprint on the world for it—by going with their inner impulses of joy. The brain is very good at coming up with “what makes sense,” but when it comes to parsing out your life’s song, hopefully there will be a bold voice from the heart section that sounds out over the chorus of neurons.

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