A blank canvas sits in front of me. Each splatter of paint I throw invades the clean, white space. First blue, then red, then yellow. The paint spreads out in intricate drips, dots and smears, just as I want it.
But the empty white space still dominates the page.
Next I spread orange, green and purple. The blank space departs, and I am finally pleased. But the colors start to blend together, making ugly brown in some places, light purple in others.
So, of course, I add more.
Soon magenta, turquoise and emerald splash the page. But now the artwork looks jumbled, so I try to fix it, adding more and more paint. The canvas is no longer recognizable. So much going on. Too much going on. It’s overfilled, overworked, overused.
This canvas is my life.
I have built up a life so chock-full of activities and responsibilities that the streaks on my page are not longer separated beautifully; the “colors” have seeped together, filling the page with dark mixtures. Harsh strokes overtake the allure of the original painting.
The first responsibilities I took on were necessary: eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios in the morning, sitting through seven classes a day and drifting to sleep when I get home. But other than sleeping, eating and school, I’m free to choose. I am free to decide what I want to do and who I want to be.
I tried new things as the years went by.
When I played my first tennis match, a rush of adrenaline coursed through me when I hit a winner. Completing the perfect pass during soccer practice thrilled me. A smile lit up on my face when the crowd applauded my performance in Bye Bye Birdie the musical.
These hobbies brought me joy, but I wasn’t satisfied yet. I wanted more contentment.
I began to master hard pieces of piano music and fundraised for diabetes research, feeling accomplished and needed.
But it still wasn’t enough. I kept searching for new ways to enjoy my time.
I found fellowship with my religious small group, and started vocal training, enjoying my refreshed faith and improved sound.
I increased the number of activities on my schedule without realizing that the amount of time would eventually increase as well. It wasn’t practice two days a week, it was three. In order to keep up with other tennis players, I needed to go to clinics throughout the year. To keep myself performed two shows in June instead of one.
I made my class schedule as difficult as possible in order to remain at the top of my class . I met with FCA Friday mornings because being involved in a club at school looked good on college applications. I volunteered for SHARE whenever I could because it was an easy way to get necessary service hours.
I went through the motions: school, practice, lesson, rehearsal, meeting. Repeat.
But there came a time on a Sunday night after a soccer game, a KLife small group, a choir rehearsal and four hours of homework that I broke down. I cried. I released the stress bottled up inside of me. After adding and adding to my schedule, I had had enough.
What is the point of it all? Why am I running myself ragged?
Society screams at me, “Add more. Do more. Be better!” Being busier means being better in today’s world. Someone with straight A’s who plays piano classically is accomplished. But another person who is a varsity soccer starter, pep club executive, volunteers at a local animal shelter and has straight A’s – well they’re obviously the better choice when applying for college or jobs. We spread ourselves as thin as possible in order to be accepted, successful.
Extracurricular activities transform into responsibilities instead of leisure. My mind pondered this idea on a night off from soccer practice.
Why did my whole day become better after practice I’m supposed to enjoy was canceled? Why did an early end to musical revue rehearsal make me happy? Why aren’t all the things I love the things I look forward to?
I know why.
Instead of focusing on serves during tennis after school, I pouted because it forced me to do my homework late at night. Instead of concentrating on choreography for a show, I despised that I was using up my only free afternoon to rehearse. Instead of loving early morning club meetings, I dreaded giving up the extra 30 minutes of sleep. It became hard to see the positives when the negatives kept piling on top of one another.
As I added more activities, I added more commitment. More time doing. More time planning. More time thinking. Each obligation chipped away another piece of me.
Somewhere along the way I had lost the rushing adrenaline, the quickening heartbeat, the eyes lighting up.
It’s time to get those feelings back. I finally realized how my mindset was truly bringing me down. I created the life I have because I love every single part individually. I need to figure out how to love them altogether.
I am not close by any means. My routine is familiar, habitual; it will take a while to recover. But no one else is going to live my schedule. No one else is going to be stressed or overjoyed or fulfilled by it.
My work of art is just that: mine.