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Doing More Than You Can

Let’s talk for a minute about the American work ethic. In my travels I’ve been told by many people around the world that they just don’t “get” the Americans. In Europe they take leisurely lunches. Meals are not rushed, and definitely not crammed down while sitting at their office desks. Families eat supper together at tables, rather than tossing fast food burgers back to their kids, on the go between work and the sixteen extracurricular activities little Johnny is signed up for. Australians take month long holidays, and bosses don’t think that means they are uncommitted to the company. They do this every single year, and can’t comprehend that most Americans don’t even use all of the paid time off they are offered in their employee contracts. If they do, they often bring their laptops along on vacation to work from there. If we stop moving we think we aren’t accomplishing anything valuable, even though studies show that frequent breaks from work actually increase productivity and wellness. Of course others around the world behave this way sometimes too, and younger generations everywhere are becoming more and more swept up in this fast paced, frantic lifestyle. But Americans are particularly known for it as an overarching way of being.

This ever busy mindset is contributing to a myriad of health problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to cancer and autoimmune disease. Suicide, addiction and divorce rates are all high. It seems that burning the candle at both ends is not good for us, either physically or mentally, but yet we persist in our ways even when we know that. We are a nation of chronically tired and stressed out people, and we are passing this legacy down to our children. This madness has to stop.

In our defense, this is a great country. Our population is hard working and industrious, and we value those characteristics for good reason. We maintain an amazing standard of living here. We have the highest gross national product level in the world by a decent margin. We give more to charity internationally than anyone else, rank number one in scientific breakthroughs, and claim the most millionaires per capita. We have a lot to show for our efforts. But we are tired. Worn out. Burned out. We believe in doing all that we can, but sometimes we get caught up in the crazy, and end up doing far more than we actually reasonably can. We run too fast and push too hard, until we lose sight of our values and what makes good sense.

What does that look like when we are doing more than we can? How do we recognize when we have crossed the line?For me it looks like this poor plant. I walked out on my front step one day to the realization that I had forgotten to water it. I took a picture to remind me that if you don’t water a plant, it dies. This seems like an obvious concept, but clearly I had missed it somehow. I have a tendency to overbook myself, and had been running around saying yes to everything all week. Watering the plant simply slipped my mind in the rush of activity. It wasn’t the worst tragedy in the world. I bought another pot of flowers, but still it makes you stop and think doesn’t it? What else in our lives will wilt and possibly die when we get too busy, and forget to nurture it?

Your body needs exercise and adequate sleep to perform at its best, but these are usually the first things to go when time is in short supply. Relationships cannot thrive only on the leftovers of our energy, after it’s been mostly used up elsewhere before we get home. What about our passions and creativity? Is an artist even still an artist if they haven’t painted in years? And is fast food even really food? I hope so, since that’s what we mostly eat in our society when we are working extra long hours. How many households fight more than they should over the division of chores, because all of the family members have packed schedules? This dynamic creates a competitive atmosphere in regards to precious free time. Because whether we work all day or not, the dishes and laundry still need to be done. But recreation and relaxation matter too right? How about time for meditation and spiritual development? We have to make a living, but we also have to make a life. Or why bother?

The good news is it’s never too late to turn things around and make a new start. To walk a different road. It may take a job change or having a frank conversation with your boss. But in most cases a change of mind and heart within your own self will be all that’s required. A deliberate and honest evaluation of priorities can reveal answers you didn’t see before. Your life will look more and more the way you’d like it to, as soon as you firmly decide what it is you truly want. Your priorities are reflected in the way you spend your time and money. Food for thought. Most people are so busy running around they don’t take the time to figure that out.

Work hard, and reap the benefits of your labors. Just be sure to remember to call it a day when it’s quitting time, so other aspects of your life can remain healthy and vibrant too.

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