In high school, I was on the swim team and ran cross country and track. People always asked me why I picked such boring sports and consistently wondered what I thought about during the long workouts. I always told them the not-so-exciting truth: I did math in my head. I'd take my splits and divide them by the distance I'd run. Or I'd find different ways to flip the yardage in the pool around in my head - if this, then that, with math.
I guess I didn't really dispel their perception that I'd selected boring sports?
I started swimming on a team when I was four and didn't stop until my sophomore year of college. Many of my childhood memories revolve around the pool and the smell of chlorine can still elicit more positive memories than any other scent besides my childhood home. For a while, I think I felt more comfortable under water than above it.
After swimming for so many years, by high school, I was able to do a lot of different races. I could sprint a 50 freestyle if I needed to just as easily as I could grind out a 500 (which, for those who don't know about swimming, is a big mental difference). For a while, I constantly competed in different races - distance one meet, sprinting the next. It wasn't until later in my career that a good coach finally forced me to specialize. He started having me train for primarily distance races, understanding that while I could sprint if needed, it was better to develop my slow twitch muscles more thoroughly.
I thought about this recently as a client mentioned she was struggling to specialize in her career. She is really good at a lot of different things. What a gift! Right? Right. But, it can also be really overwhelming. You can wind up pulled in a lot of directions in your career. Also, a lot of people will want you to be on their nonprofit boards and business councils and run their clubs.
When you're good at a lot of things, people would like your help with a lot of things.
I guess I wanted to tell you two things, dear readers, in case you share this same situation with my client:
1. Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you have to do it.
Different seasons of life call for different commitments. Some seasons are for leading, some for following. Some are for caring for others, some are for letting yourself be cared for. We are not meant to do every thing in every season. We must harvest & rest. When we let go of something, we make space for something else. You cannot be everything to everyone all the time.
2. It's OK to say no.
Do you want me to repeat that? It's OK to say no. It took me until I was pretttty much 30 to believe this enough to act upon it. You don't have to make up a reason, either. You can just be honest and tell someone: I'm sorry, I am just not up for that right now. I believe in you and want you to know I support you.
I've learned (mostly through therapy) that there are two types of people in this world: people who have boundaries and people who don't. When you tell someone with boundaries that you aren't able to commit to something, they'll say: OK! Thanks for being honest with me. And thanks for believing in me. Someone who doesn't have boundaries might not be so gracious in their response and it's simply because they aren't giving themselves the same permission to say no. We can only give to others what we first give to ourselves.