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  • Writer's pictureRobert Norton

Put down the balls before someone gets hurt

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

My last post must have struck a chord because I got a ton of responses from working parents. Apparently, there are a whole lot of terrific lists out there who would prefer to be remembered as great mothers and fathers.

It begs the question: what makes it so hard to be in the here and now? One answer comes from the physiology of stress. We go into fight-or-flight mode when we are overcommitted, leveraging a potent mix of hormones to keep the crazy train on the tracks. When that becomes our set point, it’s hard to shake off the sense of urgency and be in the moment—even when our loved ones need us to be.

I was working with a client, a talented division leader and devoted father of two, who described himself as constantly on alert, always scanning the horizon for the next fire to put out. He shared, “I feel like a spring, coiled tight, reverberating with frenetic energy.” We chuckled a little at the visual of his family members bouncing off his wiry frame.

I asked him what he first notices about himself when he starts to feel the urgency ratcheting up. Upon reflection, he said in the earliest stage, he finds it harder than usual to listen to the day-to-day details of his wife and kids' stories.

How would you describe yourself when you've taken on too much? What are the early warning signs that tell you it’s time to slow down?

Typically, my first sign is irritability. I read a line from an old journal that said, “I haven’t dropped any balls yet, but I’m about to start throwing them at people.” I hope you’d agree; that is highly uncharacteristic of me.

When I feel myself starting to get grumpy about things that I would normally shrug off, I know it’s time to prune my commitments and move some nice-to-dos off my have-to-do list.

Or, at the very least, place connection at the top.



 

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