When I was in my early 20s, I was introduced to a personality test called the Enneagram. The test comes from the Greek words ennea (nine) and gram (something drawn) and refers to the nine points on the Enneagram symbol. The different personalities, identified as number one through nine, represent nine types who think, feel and behave in diverse ways. Each of us has one number on the Enneagram that best represents us and when I took this test I learned I am a number 2, also known as the helper. I find meaning and gratification in life through helping others, but as I explored different aspects of my personality, I learned I can often wear myself out helping people, if I am not careful.
The wisdom of the Enneagram has taught me that I become the best version of myself when I take breaks from helping and allow myself time for rest and self-care. If I am not careful, I end up trying to validate my sense of self through helping others. I have learned that it is when I create space for meditation, prayer, rest and my own interests that I find a strong sense of self within me, instead of trying to affirm myself through taking care of others.
When I cultivate more time for rest and play, I end up finding so much more significance and fulfillment in my vocation and life. When I am practicing self-care and in a place of balance, I have observed that instead of using my work to prove myself, I help others for the joy of it. I have much more to offer my counseling patients and loved ones if I take time to care for my mind, body and spirit. When I am too much of a helper and keep my calendar excessively full, I end up not having much to offer others.
Several years ago I traveled with a friend to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. While we were there we noticed how happy the people seemed to be. Everywhere we went people had smiles on their faces and had kind words. The people in Mexico appeared to be living life to the fullest. Mexicans spend more time with their families than Americans do, and they also take breaks during the middle of their work day for a siesta. Yes, their standard of living is not as high as our own, but my observations left me feeling like they have a greater level of happiness than we do. As soon as my friend and I left Mexico and arrived back in the States, we noticed the difference in the people here. Everyone seemed hurried and not as friendly as the Mexicans we encountered.
Even though I rarely take siestas, I have noticed that whenever I take breaks during the day, including lunch with friends, a yoga class or a pedicure, I have so much more to give my patients. It is when we learn the art of rest and play that we end up finding gratification in our labor. When we take the time to fill our cup, we nourish ourselves and have so much to offer others. When we neglect to care for ourselves, sometimes what we have to offer can be rather dry.
I remember a conversation I had with a woman who was applying to be the CEO of a large company. This person definitely has what it takes to be a CEO. She is an intelligent and successful young woman who could probably run for Congress if she ever wanted to pursue this. Yet, as she talked about this opportunity, she also shared her realization that taking this job would mean sacrificing precious time with her two young children and husband. She also worried about the ramifications that the long hours could have on her health. Because of these factors, she made the brave decision to give up her dream to be a CEO and decided to stay in a job that would allow her to have a work-life balance. She could have chosen a job that would offer her a great salary and title, but she knew it would be at the expense of pursuing her hobbies and spending time with her family.
The American Dream often comes at a great price to our health and relationships. We work ourselves to death in order to prove our worth through job titles, caregiving and many other ways. We might end up with money, power or praise from others, but the price is loneliness, depression, anxiety and poor health.
Just like I sometimes try to validate my sense of self through helping others, many of us try to affirm who we are through prestigious titles, material goods, cosmetic procedures and other ways. But instead of working so hard to prove ourselves, maybe we can find the courage of the woman who decided not to pursue the path of being a CEO. We can also learn from Mexico’s slower pace and find more sabbath time for ourselves. It is when we take time for loved ones, play and rest that we find abundant life and in turn are able to offer our gifts and graces to the world.
Let’s find spaces to recharge,
I originally wrote the article above for the Mountain Mirror. http://www.mountainmirror.com/