Lighten up

Are we too serious? If we are, sometimes, we probably hear that phrase: “Lighten up!” It implies the other person has a better handle on our frame of mind than we do. They see the big picture or some detail clearer than we do and they are giving us unsolicited advice based on their superior insight.

Just the fact that they would say such a thing suggests to me that THEY should lighten up. Be that as it may, the fact that the statement, or more accurately, the directive, seems necessary to someone may indeed indicate that we’re being too serious.

There certainly times when more seriousness is appropriate. But more than what? At the extreme end of the seriousness scale are the folks we often refer to as “drama queens.” And believe me, there are “drama kings”, too. You know these folks. They’re the ones usually scurrying around with wide eyes because everything that’s important to them is a problem. Everything. There’s too much to do. Deadlines are too close. There aren’t enough hours in a day. And that’s just the workday. After that, it’s getting the kids where they need to be, fixing dinner in two or three sittings, committee meetings, home maintenance projects. It really can be hard to lighten up under such a heavy load.

I think it’s time to re-define “lighten up.” I don’t think it’s helpful to reflect on other people’s impressions of what we should do. Nor is it helpful to shirk or wish away responsibilities. So what does that leave us to work with?

How about how seriously we take ourselves? You know, it just might be that we are holding ourselves to too high a standard. We want to do so much so well and we set the bar so high that we can’t possibly reach it. Then, in this vicious cycle, we get even more frustrated because we aren’t measuring up to the too-high standard we set for ourselves!

So, what does lightening up a little on our own look like? Imagine a big brick wall with some windows. Imagine the wall as the issue you deal with. Make it as tall and wide as you want. Imagine standing in its shadow. A dark image, isn’t it? Now imagine that these windows open from the bottom. Suppose you reached up and opened one even a small crack. Can you envision how the light would stream in?

Now it would be relatively simple to imagine what that light may represent: a day off, going to a movie, coffee with a friend, taking time for a hobby. But as soon as you think that way, the vicious cycle sets in and we say to ourselves: “Nope, no time for that.” And we linger in the shadow.

But what if we focused on the action of reaching? What does that represent? Basically, it’s about taking an action. We don’t just think about doing something positive for ourselves, we DO it. And we shouldn’t wait for the “perfect time” either. All the ducks will never be in line.

We hear the term “24/7” all the time. It represents every hour of the week. There are 168 of them. Allowing for a scant six hours of sleep a night, there are 126 left to get things done. I’ll bet you’ll get just as much done if you devote 112 to what we call “productive” activity. That still allows two hours a day to let the sun shine in! I think you deserve at least that much, don’t you?