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Tammy Kaehler | The Hamster Wheel and Life Lessons

August 6, 2011

Tammy KaehlerDEAD MAN'S SWITCHI’m a list-maker. I love making lists and crossing items off them. And yes, I’ll admit to adding items that I’ve just completed to the list for the sole purpose of crossing them off. My problem lately, however, is that I’m drowning in my cherished lists.

There’s a lot of good stuff going on in my world, and it’s been a busy year-and I’m not complaining. I’m grateful to be able to do all I’m doing. I’ve just had my debut mystery novel published, which means I’m doing lots of promotion and online networking. I’m (theoretically) working on the next book. In addition, I have a day job, and I volunteer for two annual literary events. And then there’s the rest of life, including food, shelter, family, husband, husband’s career, rental property we own, and so on.

Believe me, lists help, and I have a lot of them.

hampsterBut then there are the days when I feel like my head will explode from everything That. I. Must. Do. Rationally, I know I can’t do everything. That some of my lists-particularly those to do with book promotion-represent everything I could possibly do, not everything I will do or need to do. But it’s hard to break the habit of trying to accomplish everything on a list. I’m a natural overachiever, sure, but I also know there is a direct correlation between the success of my book and the effort I put into promotion, which makes it tough to give up on some opportunities that are possible.

I think the idea that one could “do it all,” not to mention the compulsion to actually try, is a particularly American one. We are the country of opportunity, where anyone can make anything of him or herself, given the drive and the talent. Which means we’re going to try! I have a good family friend in Europe who is aghast at all I’m doing (or trying to do). She’s one of the voices in my ear cautioning me to rest, enjoy, and not wear myself out.

And at some point, I started listening. I made peace with the idea that I wouldn’t take advantage of all promotional possibilities with this book. And I’m OK with that, because none of the success will be worth anything if I don’t also enjoy the process of getting there. So I’m learning to not flinch when someone says, “Oh, but you haven’t set up XYZ opportunity?!” I’m charting my own course based on what feels right to me … and if I make mistakes, I’ll try not to beat myself up about them.

beachI’m still on the hamster wheel, still ruled by my lists. But I’ve learned I can, and will, step off the wheel sometimes. I can run away from my responsibilities for a day-go on a walk with my husband, daydream about sitting on a beach, or enjoy a book guilt-free-and life will still go on. I’ve finally internalized the old saying, “take time to smell the roses.” In my case, I’m making sure there’s less stress and fear, but more fun and joy. And taking time to savor the new-book smell.

Do you find it hard to get off the hamster wheel? What do you do to take a break, and have you learned the same lesson about enjoying the process?

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