The Work of Slowing Down
My therapist once remarked that I do a lot in a day. I scoffed. I had just left my full-time job so that I could complete my counseling internship. I was also in graduate school, writing my capstone, and preparing for two national presentations the following month. I told her it was less than I had ever done.
And it was true.
As a young kid, I was praised for doing well in school and being smart. I enjoyed learning and immersing myself in school. I struggled socially, so it was nice to be good at something.
As I moved into junior high and high school, I continued to struggle fitting in. I threw myself into school more and busied myself by running clubs, joining sports, doing volunteer work, and more. If I had a “reason” or “purpose” to be somewhere, I felt more comfortable. Plus, people admired me for being a “good person” and a “leader.”
This trend continued into my adult life. My schedule was always packed with work, learning, volunteering, and more.
But the truth is I was never very happy. I also wasn’t very nice. I was nice on the surface to the people I was “serving” (I’ll save the topic of white saviorism for another time), but unkind and resentful toward my coworkers. I always felt they weren’t doing things well enough or good enough.
I thought that if I could do it, they could do it.
What I was doing wasn’t healthy. My relentless schedule and expectations were exhausting, and I was thrusting them onto others.
In 2020, I had the chance to start slowing down when I started my private practice. Although I was going “slower” than I ever had before (not volunteering anywhere else, not in school at the same time, etc.), I quickly built my business to a hectic level.
I had 40+ clients on my caseload and was seeing about 27 hours of clients a week. It was emotionally exhausting. What was different this time was that I could see it was solely my fault. This was MY business, built solely by me and my vision. I had no one else to blame but myself. In the past, I could leave “unhealthy” work environments and find a new one. But this one I had created myself.
I took responsibility and restructured my business. I reduced the days I worked to 4, reduced my caseload to 12 max, and scheduled my clients in the afternoons. (You can read more about how I did that here.)
The amount of free time was startling. My previous habit of packing my time caught up with me. I started providing consultation to fellow therapists who wanted to start private practices. I also started interviewing therapists for a book about starting a private practice. I also created and ran consultation groups for therapists and much more.
So although I was “working” less, I still felt tired. It wasn’t the same level of emotional exhaustion as when I had a giant caseload, but it still didn’t feel good.
As January 2022 approached, I thought about my goals for the upcoming year. After watching the documentary 14 peaks, I was inspired to achieve more. I began drawing little mountains on a piece of paper. I started filling in each mountain with different goals, such as “pay off student loans” or “become s-corporation.”
The more I wrote, the more ideas came to mind. Suddenly, I had dozens and dozens of mountains. It was overwhelming. My goals were all over the place. I was spreading myself too thin with goals and visions. I had so many thoughts and ideas going in different directions.
I decided I needed to take a step back and discern where I wanted to concentrate my energy. I needed time to critically think and give my mind space. So, I decided I would write 100 essays in 100 days. For those 100 days, I told myself I would make no changes in my business.
I started December 20, just as some of my clients concluded therapy, leaving my caseload at just 8 clients. Instead of scrambling to get more clients, I reminded myself of my commitment. No new marketing things. No new website overhaul. No changes to my business.
I accepted I had 8 clients and slowly wrote an essay day by day about whatever was on my mind.
January ended up being one of the happiest months of my life. It was so fun to wake up with the sun, write an essay, have some time to do whatever I wanted, and then head to the art therapy studio.
I liked it so much that I wanted more space. I realized how full I had packed my free time - with consultation groups, meetings with other therapists, new classes, etc. Even though I was only seeing eight clients, I was spending an equal amount of time in extra meetings and classes.
In February, I concluded many of those commitments, or moved them to Monday-Thursday. I declared Friday-Sunday “no plan days,” where I did not make a single commitment.
It’s now May, and I can say, it feels glorious.
I see my clients, do the essentials to keep my business running, write my essays (I’ve written over 150 now), and do whatever else I want.
Some days it’s an extra nap. Some days it’s making a collage. Some days it’s a bath. Actually, now that I write this, many days it’s all of those things in one.
It feels wonderful, but it is not without effort. My mind still comes up with new ideas. I still get occasionally scared I need to do “more” for my business. I sometimes battle guilt I’m not “helping more” or “doing more.”
I protect myself by reinforcing myself with good books and good people who understand.
And then I return to it being wonderful.