Back in my Boston freelance days––you know, the days of feeling both constantly busy and yet hopelessly broke–I experienced something that has stayed with me all these years. It’s something that I keep coming back to again and again whenever things start to feel burdensome or overwhelming.
I had a rehearsal downtown and parked at a meter a few blocks away. I only had enough quarters to cover 2 hours of the 5+hr rehearsal day, but I was close enough to move it to the school lot next door to the venue during the break. It would be after-school hours and open for public parking by then. No problem.
Of course, I got distracted during the break–probably chatting with friends, or off to the coffee shop–whatever it was, I forgot to move my car.
Rehearsal ended and, walking to my car, I could see it from about a block away–that scuffed-up yellow metal boot firmly attached to my back wheel.
But here’s where it got strange. I didn’t react. I didn’t feel shocked (driving in the city means a fair share of parking tickets are inevitable, and working 24/7 means not remembering to pay them is also a thing) I didn’t get upset. I didn’t panic about the costs or the time it would take to deal with it all (even though I had a student arriving at my house in 30 minutes for a lesson and a recording session in Worcester the next day at noon, and then needed to teach 45-minutes NORTH of Boston after that. And it was not going to be cheap.
I remember calmly walking past my car without even looking at it and just kept walking until I got to the T station. I rode to my neighborhood, walked to my place, went inside, and waited for my first student to arrive.
The next morning I woke up early and walked to the tow lot (It’s not close, nor is it accessible by public transportation) I waited for them to open, paid my tickets, got my receipt, and was told the truck would be notified to come by to take the boot off the car.
From there, I walked the 2.5 miles to my car–which happened to be parked in front of a Starbucks–grabbed a seat by the window, and did some work while I kept an eye out for the boot man.
He rolled up about 90 minutes later, took the boot off, and drove off. I finished up what I was working on, walked to my car, got in, and drove away. I stopped back at my place to shower and grab my cello, and made it to Worcester in plenty of time.
There are moments in life that are worthy of concern, stress, and even panic. When tragedy strikes, or if you are in truly serious trouble. We know these moments when they arrive as the ones that make everything else seem inconsequential.
What stayed with me about this experience was that I was somehow able to skip over the personal drama of “oh my god! Oh shit! What do I do? I NEED MY CAR! I have to get to Worcester tomorrow–oh crap, oh god, arrghhhh!” and I just did what I needed to do.
I went home. Taught my lessons. Checked my bank balance and looked up where the tow lot was, what time it opened, and what the process was for getting the car freed. I set my alarm, woke up, got my car, and got on with my life. In the process, the next day, I had a nice long walk and spent the morning working from a coffee shop.
Most importantly, I somehow avoided the self-hatred that normally would have accompanied such a moment. The “you’re such an idiot! Why didn’t you just move your car? Why can’t you remember to pay a stupid parking ticket? You’re terrible at this adulting thing!”
Is this what Ryan Holiday means when he quotes Marcus Aurelius as the definition of Stoicism?
I’m the first to admit, I have my moments where I feel overwhelmed by what I have going on–when things end up piling on top of one another, it can feel stressful. But what I find in these moments, is that it’s the internal narrative I’m telling myself that is stressing me out. It’s the judgment I am assigning to it that makes it feel so burdensome.
It’s the obsessing over that internal narrative that is ACTUALLY taking up my time. Not the tasks themselves.
When I have a full workday ahead of me and find that my husband hasn’t finished the laundry, or that he has left tools and clothes out everywhere and we have guests coming over later. I feel like I am going to burst if I have to add one more thing to my plate. my inner narrative starts going on about how “it ALWAYS falls to the woman to take care of the house. It’s not fair–doesn’t he realize my work is important too?”
My inner narrative will go full-tilt, off the rails about the patriarchy if I let it.
But actually, if I just walked to the laundry room and put the clothes into the dryer, and then came into the house and picked up the stray items, it would take me less than 5 minutes. 5 minutes that I absolutely had available to me even in my busy schedule.
The truth? My husband is THE biggest supporter of my work, and he does a TON around the house. (Also the truth? I *occasionally* leave stuff around the house, and he has to do his fair share of picking up after me, too.)
Life is so much easier when we take the emotional stress out of situations that don’t call for it. You go to the store for something and they are out, so you have to drive to a different store? What if we just did that? Without the drama.
Don’t feel like practicing, but you have a lesson/rehearsal/performance tomorrow? And you’re SO TIRED? What if you just practiced? Tired and everything. Just did it. Relax and unwind afterward, but what would happen if we all started calmly doing whatever it is that needs to get done?
Then, as we learn, we can adjust. Like how I downloaded the new parking app on my phone while I was waiting for the boot to be taken off my car so that I wouldn’t get caught without enough coins for the meter again.
But honestly, I channel that moment often. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by a situation, I go back in time and see myself walking calmly by my car and getting on the T that chilly fall evening in Boston all those years ago. I didn’t know what it was at the time, and I had no idea what a life-saver it would be. I hope it can help you too.
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I read recently (The Happiness Report) that they polled people who live together about how much work they thought they did around the house. The combined amount per household averaged 120%. He rationalized that we know what we did but might not realize what someone else has done. I try to remember that when I feel like I do all the housework.
Yes! And it’s so true, right? I have to keep reminding myself of that. Though I heard a hilarious story from a friend: When she and her husband were renovating their kitchen, he was removing the built-in dish soap dispenser from the wall and remarked (in all seriousness) “you know, it’s just incredible, that after all these years, this thing NEVER ONCE ran out of soap!” It never once occurred to him that she had been (stoically) refilling it each month! lol.