Creating seasons or rhythms in your life (aka, how I survived while my partner deployed)
Busy is my go-to numbing strategy. As our family prepared for my partner to deploy, I knew I didn’t want to “survive” the deployment as a single parent by staying so busy that, while seeming to go quickly, made me want to tear my hair out. I decided I wanted to be deliberate about what I said yes to. I wanted to be careful not to add to many things to my plate. I decided I didn’t need to be high achieving in all areas of my life (an unsustainable expectations tend to place on myself).
I decided to create a period of hibernation or torpor in my life. Torpor, like hibernation, is a period of lower activity to conserve energy and survive when environmental conditions dictate (like diminished resources). During this season of torpor (which was going to be a long, long season), I wanted to see to the basic needs of my family. I wanted to do things that nurtured our family, that made it feel like we were doing well, not just surviving this difficult time.
If nature analogies aren’t working for you, maybe a sport one will. An athlete doesn’t spend all year “in season.” Not only that, an athlete phases the training and activity they do based on their competitive seasons (this is called periodization). Athletes have four basic seasons: preseason, in season, post season and off season. During pre-season, athletes are focusing on targeted strength and endurance training for their sport, and they are focusing on building sport specific skills (for example, building neural pathways or “muscle memory” for plays). While in season, athletes are focusing on maintaining the strength and endurance they built to perform well in competition, and refining skills and technique. Post season is a period of rest, to let the body and mind recover. Off season is a period for play, for cross training, and a great time for mental skill development and goal setting. Elite athletes phase their strength training, sport specific skill development, mental skill development, and even nutrition, based on the season they are in.
Let’s take this sport analogy one step further. More and more we are seeing either “multi-sport athletes” that compete in a different sport every season, or “year-round” athletes that compete in a single sport all year long (often times on different competitive teams, so they are perpetually “in season”). What happens in both of these examples is the athlete loses the opportunity to cycle through the seasons, and to benefit from what each season provides.
My partner deployed, leaving me to be a single parent for our young son, while still trying to grow my business, while living far away from extended family. To survive this deployment, and to feel like I did more than just survive, I leaned on my community for support, and I changed what I expected of myself. It was to be an off season or torpor period for me. I prioritized activities that we could do that brought us joy and connected us with our community. I limited the number of networking events I attended (and therefore became very choosy about what I did attend). I said yes to some family trips and no to others. Yes, I missed out on some things. Yes, the deployment was still very hard on our family. Yes, my reserves were nearly depleted by the end of the deployment. But had I tried to keep the same pace I was going when my partner was still home while he was gone, I would have been depleted a third of the way through it, and I don’t know what shape I would have been in by the time he came home.
In our lives, we have an intense pace of go-go-go that has reduced the opportunity for reflecting, goal setting, personal development and cross training. On top of that, right now we are facing a global crisis. For some of us, we are suddenly “in season” and it’s game time (I’m thinking of healthcare workers, grocery store workers and other essential personnel). For some of us, this time of social distancing and changing work environments has forced us into a sudden off season. We are so used to the perpetual “competitive season” that we don’t know what to do or how to make the most of the off season.
We are facing a global opportunity. This is a time where we can enter a torpor, or off season, and focus on our basic needs. What brings us joy? What brings our family and friends closer? What are the things we were doing “in season” that maybe weren’t serving us? That took energy and attention and resources away from what was most important? What are boundaries you need to put in place to thrive?
I’m now shifting to pre-season. I re-evaluated my goals and priorities. I took classes and learned new skills. I’m slowly getting more active in my networking groups. I’m building up my strength, skill and endurance for what’s to come.
Let this be a time we don’t expect as much from ourselves. A time we have permission to go a little slower than usual and see to our basic needs. A time we reflect on our priorities and make sure the right ones are driving our commitments. When the social distancing mandates are lifted and the crisis seems to be waning or over, don’t jump back into “in season” mode. Instead, make space to be in pre-season; a time we are ramping back up to full capabilities. It will make all the difference when we are coming out of this crisis. Instead of “getting back to” our lives, we will be able to elevate our lives.