Leave a Space

Senior year of college was challenging. I felt like I was dealing with the stress of being pulled in so many directions that I let that overwhelm me at times, and failed to probe the full wealth of opportunity in my various responsibilities, or pursue all the potential in many friendships.

While I still believe nothing is wasted, this fear of stress is puzzling at times.  After college I feel like I almost went in the opposite direction for a bit – not putting enough on my plate, and just kind of hoping that it would find me instead.

But eventually I felt like I found a better balance.   A balance of having enough without too much.

I’ve read that stress is like spice. Without it, the dish will be bland. Too much, and you choke. I’ve come up with another metaphor that I feel is also rather apt:

As a kid, I used to play sports, such as softball, for fun (I wasn’t very good, but that’s a different story). We would always bring water with us to the games – that was a necessity – and after a while we got into the habit of freezing the water bottles the day of the game, so that the ice would melt during the evening and keep the water cold the whole time.

It’s a great idea, but I think most kids at some point learn the hard way that if you’re going to freeze a water bottle, you can’t fill it up to the brim. Water expands as it freezes, and if the container is full to the top, the ice will burst out of it and crack the container. On the other hand, if you only fill it up halfway, you won’t have enough water, and will be thirsty by the end of the game. We learned at a young age to “leave a space” when filling up our bottles, so we’d have enough to drink, but not burst the bottle in the process.

In my life, I’m still wrestling with the idea of “leaving a space” – of planning enough activities/events to stay busy and productive, but also leaving enough time to throw some last-minute things in there if needed. If the time doesn’t get used, I end up with some extra time, which is fine, but if it does get used, I won’t feel like I’m bursting the brim by adding in another activity I really wanted to do, or feel guilty about saying “no” all the time because I’m just too full.

I don’t have it down yet… sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough, or letting some things slide. Other times I feel like I’m not leaving enough time to do “little” things like basic chores. But I’m trying to learn to always “leave a space” – and to always be open to what may need to fill it.

This was originally published on my Blogger site in March 2010.

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