Drop the Juggling Act: How to Ditch the Struggle of Obligation vs. Enthusiasm

You’ve probably heard the metaphor about life being a juggling act. Everyone has multiple pins, or roles, that they have to keep in perpetual, balanced motion. In my case, the pins I’m juggling are my day job, Protagonist, school, family, boyfriend, best friend, personal fitness, and any other miscellaneous events or opportunities as they arise. That’s a lot of pins to have going at one time, and frankly, my juggling act is an unsustainable, stressful mess.

As far as I can tell, there are three reasons for this:

  1. I never learned how to juggle. My time management skills are pretty dismal. I have a lot going on in my life and at any given moment, I feel like I’m slacking on at least half of my roles, if not all of them. Every time I need to focus on a particular aspect of my life—my classwork, or my day job—I have to drop a different role to make the juggling act work.
  2. I don’t know when to say “no.” I just want to do all the things!  Every time I encounter another opportunity, I add it to my juggling act. Thus far, I’ve had pretty good success making things work through sheer force of will alone, but at a huge price—astronomical levels of stress during, and depression after.
  3. I treat all my pins as though they were created equal. In other words, I’m not great at prioritizing, and I tend to find everything equally overwhelming.

These problems are not new to me, but they’ve been on my mind this week thanks to a couple of articles. The first, from my philosophy text, was an essay by Moritz Schlick, in which he argues that the meaning of life is found in play; by “play,” he means the things we do purely for their own sake, rather than for their results or consequences. The second article came from Psychology Today, and suggests that one way to avoid over-committing and becoming overwhelmed is to learn the difference between feeling obligation and enthusiasm. “How can you attend to what most needs doing,” author Susan Biali says, “if all your energy and time is taken up by things that you don’t really want to do, shouldn’t be doing, and shouldn’t have ever said yes to?”

For me, these two articles painted a stark picture: not only is it worth figuring out which of my roles or pins are obligations and which I feel enthusiastic about, but the activities about which I feel enthusiasm are more likely to contribute meaning to my life.

So, I’m taking on an experiment (and I’m trying very, very hard not to make it just another pin to juggle). This week, I put my schedule down on paper, using the template from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I blocked out my time commitments, and I listed all the tasks on my to-do list. Then I went through and made a brief notation in pink beside each of my commitments: O for things I feel obligated to do; E for things I am genuinely enthusiastic about; P for things I enjoy doing for their own sake and which contribute meaning to my life; and ? for instances where I wasn’t sure how I felt or in which I felt torn.

As you can see, there are whole lot of O’s. There were only a few E’s and ?’s. And there was only one P. (It was almost an E, but I reconsidered.)

The next stage of my experiment is to start working out where I can make cuts in my schedule. It’s time to start setting some of my pins down, and focusing on the pins that matter most. I don’t have a choice about some of them; when it comes to work, I can’t exactly quit my day job, because I need to keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach, but I can start saying “no” to networking events I don’t need to attend or projects that aren’t my direct responsibility. When it comes to extra-curriculars, I can’t ignore my classwork, but I can bow out of meetups and just-for-fun lessons that are a drain on my energy, time, and money. And maybe, once my balancing act evens out again, I can start actively scheduling in some of the things that give my life meaning.

My challenge to you this month is twofold. First, write down your roles or commitments, however it makes the most sense to you, and categorize your feelings for them. Which are the most important in your life, and which bring you unnecessary stress? Second, give some thought to the activities you enjoy doing just for the sake of doing them. How do they add meaning to your life, and how can you work them into your schedule on a more regular basis? I’d love to hear your thoughts or see how your schedules and priorities differ from mine—drop me a line at hello@protagonist.life!

Posted by Calligraphie

I report from the trenches—I'm in the middle of my own journey to become the hero my life deserves. I feel I can best help others with their struggles and victories by writing about my own. None of us is alone! I love to hear from you. Drop me a line at calligraphie@protagonist.life or reach out to the team at hello@protagonist.life!

Leave a Reply