Q: Recently I have become increasingly stressed out trying to do all of the things that are important to me. I have a career, hobby, girlfriend and social life, each of which I feel dedicated to. I think that I am good at time management, which seems like the logical answer. But when I prioritize one or two over the others, I end up wondering what I should be doing in the other areas, if I had the time.
Dear Rubber Ducky,
When I got your question I immediately thought that the name you chose to sign in with was interesting. Rubber Ducky. A rubber ducky floats around in the bathtub. They never sink unless you pop a hole in them but they don’t get very far either; they just float around in circles. It sounds to me like this might be what you are saying? If it’s not, then maybe it’s time that you take a long hot relaxing bath and contemplate what is really important to you and where you want your life to be in five years.
Your stress does not seem like a time management issue; it sounds more like how do I fit it all in or what do I really want? I suspect that you are young because the older we get, the more established our careers become and we usually have picked a life partner and have made the choices we needed to make. All of your interests sound important but if you are really honest with yourself, some are going to be more important to you than others. You probably want it all because most of us do, but this is rarely possible and only so if you are able to integrate all of your interests in some way. For example, can you connect your social life with your career goals? Is your girlfriend interested in your career and friends? Are you interested in hers? Hopefully so, because you will want to do some of these things together, if you intend on having a future. It’s also ideal if you share some of the same hobbies or recreational interests. Research on marital satisfaction has shown that you need to be highly compatible in four of five areas, if you are to be happy. These areas of intimacy are intellectual, emotional, sexual, social and recreational. Social intimacy means the sharing of a network of friends and recreational means enjoying many of the same things that you do for fun. The last two seem to apply to you.
Imagining where you want to be, what you want your life to look like in five years should really help you to prioritize. Take some time to really think about it and be honest with yourself. This should eliminate your stress and make you feel more comfortable for now. However, as you get older, if you marry and have children, your friends and recreational activities will change.
It’s important to have some friends and hobbies outside of your work and relationship. This makes for a good life balance and helps to ensure that you do not feel as if you have compromised yourself. Folks who already have careers and families sometimes discover that they have made some bad choices for themselves, mostly in terms of giving up hobbies or certain friends. If this is the case, hopefully they have emotional intimacy (can freely share feelings) and will talk about what they truly need.
It’s important that you do not let guilt get in the way; you won’t be doing your girlfriend any favors. If you cannot be honest with yourself and your partner, you will just build resentment. And I promise you, nothing puts the flame out faster than resentment. If you have already let this happen, you should not worry. The good news is that once the resentment is resolved, the flame almost always returns. Talk about it, work it out.
Lastly, we all need to learn that we cannot be all things to all people. It’s important to know who we are and what we want from life. Everyone is not going to like us and we save ourselves a lot of wasted time if we just learn to be true to ourselves, the sooner the better. When we do this, the other things will begin to fall into place.
Thanks for writing in and best of luck to you.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. E-mail your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.newshrink.com