I always spread myself too thin. I did it this week, I did it last week and I did it all quarter long. I also did it last quarter, which I can barely remember because I had to move into a new apartment halfway through it. I also spread myself too thin during every other quarter before that. As a matter of fact, I spread myself too thin before having a seizure in 2015, and, like an arrogant adolescent, I continued to do so for the rest of that quarter. Like the last teaspoon of peanut butter left in a jar, I can never cover all the toast — no matter how hard I try. And when you don’t have enough peanut butter to cover all the toast, it’s time to reevaluate your life.
All wordplay aside, the biggest challenge of my adult life has been balancing my time. More specifically, I have a bad habit of not just taking on too much, but wanting to take on too much. And after doing so for several years — with school, relationships, work, creative projects, and saying “yes” every time a friend needs a two-hour phone call for emotional guidance — I find myself wondering: how much can a person take on before they finally give themselves a break?
I can’t answer that question, but what I can say is this: spreading yourself too thin isn’t worth it. It’s just not. And if you think that stuffing up your free time like some kind of congested Renaissance person will make your life more fulfilled, think again. Let me make this very clear: I believe people should engorge themselves with their passions. I realize that following your dreams requires some excess activity and occasional overstimulation. But I’m talking about excessive excess.
So, what’s the solution? I believe a good starting point — as well as the thing I struggle with the most — is simplification. In other words, would you rather be excellent at one thing — like playing the guitar — or so-so at five things? Do you value quality over quantity, or vice-versa? Do you want to be able to say “I accomplished so much doing a few things” or “Man, I did so much while I was going to school, but I never excelled enough at any one of them to really feel accomplished.” While taking on several hobbies and extracurricular activities may be alluring, you’re only one person. And it’s easy for one person to become burned out, even if the excessive activities taken on are innately pleasurable.
Also, don’t be afraid to say no once in a while. If your life is already jam-packed enough, it’s okay to turn down creative projects, nights on the town and six-hour phone calls.
One of my biggest regrets of the past few years is thinking I had the capacity to not only work to support myself, but also facilitate being in a band, perform in an improv group, be a good boyfriend, and manage to keep myself sane in the process. And then I threw full-time schooling into the mix. Eventually, my lack of total commitment to the band fractured our momentum. And if I shifted focus over to the band to save it, the immersion in that — as well as my schoolwork — put stress on my relationship. If I focused too much on my relationship, I felt my grades slip and my creative endeavors suffer. And if there’s anything you need to know about me, it’s that a life without creativity is no life for me. Something had to give before everything gave out at once.
Filling my free time to the brim kept me busy, but it distracted me from something even more important: stopping to smell the roses. My band finally fell apart, which ended up being a blessing in disguise — it gave me more time to do other things better. By making a more conscious effort to simplify my life, I’m happier, more fulfilled and more engaged with the smaller, quieter moments in my life.
With that, I end here with a call to action: don’t spread yourself too thin. It isn’t worth it. Focus on a couple activities and give them your all. You don’t need to give up other things entirely, but a little simplifying in life will keep you from giving up your sanity.