Stress Awareness Month reminded me that taking on too much doesn't make me a good person
April is Stress Awareness Month.
It is second-nature for me to build my good karma, to make sure I am pleasing everyone. As a result, I have always stressed myself out by trying to be a good person who does the right thing all the time. But now I have taken on so much that my life feels like a stack of plates about to tumble to the ground. It's who I've always been, and let me tell you, it's a hard habit to break.
I grew up in a family where everyone relied on me from a very young age. I was raised by a hardworking single mother who usually worked more than one job to provide for her slew of children. Partially because I was the only girl (gender norms!) and partially because I was the Responsible One, everything fell on my lap. I have three brothers of varying ages, one of whom is quite a bit younger, so I naturally made it my sole job to take care of him from his birth onward.
I was the one who cooked dinner for the family. I made sure the house was clean (this ensured that Ma didn't rip our heads off when she got home from a long day of work). Even in high school, when I gained more personal freedom, I still did too much. I was in school, got a job, and still took care of my family. Then in college, I worked throughout my entire undergraduate career.
My mother never assigned me these tasks, but I knew it made her life easier when I took it all on. So that's what I did.
I didn’t need to care for my brothers so intently, but I felt safer and more secure being the person who did it all.
I haven't lived with my family in 14 years, yet I still struggle with the same issues. I take on too much because I want to do the right thing, all the time. To me, that looks like working a full-time job and paying my own bills. And driving my own car and keeping up on its oil changes and tire rotations. Doing the right thing means I need to continually make a dent in my credit card and student loan debt. The right thing means, even after working a full day, that I gotta come home and do my freelance work. That extra ~however much a month~ is a helpful contribution to my little savings account.
Because adults are supposed to have savings accounts…even if they never had help from their parents, never learned about money management, and can never even imagine affording a house or children.
Doing the right thing means prioritizing volunteer opportunities and saying yes to all of them — even when those volunteer responsibilities overwhelm me, and even though I already work for a nonprofit that benefits children in foster care.
But I must be good and reliable and functional and organized and be there for everyone.
That also means being there for my friends. Yes, friendships and companionship are important and make me happy, but I tell myself I need to say yes whenever anyone asks to hang out. My romantic relationship often relieves my stress, but it can never only be a walk in the park either — someone else's feelings, desires, dreams, and hopes are all wrapped up in me, one person. It is my greatest pleasure to make sure my partnership is strong and my boyfriend is happy — but when things are tough in our relationship, everything else feels even tougher.
That's not to say that these responsibilities I've listed only cause me stress.
I love my boyfriend. I love my friends. Working with kids and teenagers is a joy, and I get to do that through both of my volunteer jobs. I am fulfilled by my full-time job. I really like the creativity that comes with my freelance work, and earning that extra money — even if it means waking up earlier on the weekends than I'd like — is worth it to me.
But enough has to be enough. I have turned doing too much into my comfort zone because I have always done too much.
Keeping so much on my plate is usually my manageable normal, but lately, I am tapped.
Oftentimes, I dream of quitting one of my volunteer jobs (I think I might?). I imagine carving out more time for myself during the week, instead of freelancing every single night. I don't have the answers right this second, but I think I am coming to an important conclusion:
It is okay to balance my life.
I’m learning that overworking yourself and providing all of your time to other people is not what makes someone a “good person.” Doing so much for other people that you never have a free moment to yourself is not “the right thing” to do.
It's not okay to judge your friends who don't have separate work or volunteer responsibilities after their main job — something I have been guilty of doing. That's their career choice, and this has been mine. And as a now 30-something, I may just be getting too old to do all that I do.
During Stress Awareness Month, I've realized it's time that I prioritize what matters to me and brings me joy, and say goodbye to the rest. I think, sometimes, it actually might be okay to just chill and do…nothing.