When you’re in over your head

My youngest daughter learned to swim this summer. I held my own breath as she slipped under the water, legs fluttering and arms twirling, pushing, striving, reaching, until she resurfaced, breathless, on the other side of the pool. My pride was surpassed only by her exuberance as she exhaled mightily, gulped in oxygen and fresh air, and exclaimed, goggles raised to her forehead,

"Did you see that Mommy? I was under the water!"

, When you’re in over your head

Being underwater is a rush, When you’re in over your head

But most of us don't see it that way. For us mere grownups, the thought of being under water or in over our heads is not associated with exuberance, but rather with overwhelm.

We've all been there. We stare down what's ahead and murmur, "I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to do this." And our brain just shuts down in a misguided attempt to protect us from...

  • The to do list that's never ending
  • The promotion we're not quite ready for
  • The deadline that's looming
  • The child who is spiraling
  • The carpool conflict we can't resolve
  • The decision we can't make
  • The piles of laundry that are multiplying

When we're standing at the edge of one of these oceans, we feel powerless. Our thoughts are muddled and we're anxious. We struggle to make sense of the work ahead of us, to break it down into tasks we know how to do. Instead of taking action, we turn to distractions and bad habits - ones that keep us occupied and prevent us from making any meaningful progress at all.

I've been there. I'll bet you have, too.

We just continue to assess the situation from afar, dipping a toe in the water and pulling it back, fretting about how hard it is and how uncomfortable we are. We're afraid that once we jump in, we'll be in over our head and we'll drown.

Now take a deep breath, because...

If you're a parent, you are about to be in over your head. , When you’re in over your head

It's August. And the back to school rush has begun in earnest. While it's still officially summer (It really is - all the way till September 22nd!) we're starting to feel the pressure of the list.

You know the one. It's comprised of those approximately four million details you need to handle before your littles can get on that big yellow bus and begin another year. There are shoes and supplies to buy, summer reading lists to complete, sports schedules to add to iCal, class lists to receive, teachers to meet. There are closets to be converted to school clothes and lunchboxes to find and math facts to be refreshed.

As we enter this stage of frenzied preparation, let me remind you of a few things.

1) There is no right way to do this. Stop chastising yourself for being behind. Stop assuming everyone else has it all together. What you are doing is enough. It really is. It always is.

2) It doesn't have to be pretty. You will get to the other side of the proverbial pool. Flail a little if you must. Just keep moving. Find your stroke.

3) Let yourself have a little fun!  Say yes to the hot pink highlighters and the cupcake-shaped erasers and the glitter-drenched folder. (You're welcome, kids.) While you're at it, buy yourself some new Sharpies and that notebook you were eyeing. If you have to be underwater, you might as well enjoy the swim.

4) Keep your eye on the finish line, but remember to breathe. You're going to do this in short bursts, with plenty of breaks. One stroke at a time. And when you get to the other side, it's goggles up, baby. You made it.

You were under water! Thank goodness you know how to swim. , When you’re in over your head


PS - If this is resonating and you'd like to talk about ways to end overwhelm and stay focused on building the rhythm you really want in your life then you're in luck. That's one of my favorite topics, and you can grab a spot on my calendar here. (at no cost, by the way)


*This post originally appeared on this blog in July 2015.

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