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Making Sure We Get What We Need


I’m tired today, but I’m not surprised. For the last few weeks I’ve gotten just barely enough sleep. You know, enough hours to get through each day, but not enough to feel actually refreshed when I awaken. As we all do, I try to make up for it on the weekends, but one night of sleeping eight or nine hours isn’t going to make up for all the not sleeping that went before. It doesn’t help, either, that I haven’t had time to exercise. When I don’t move much, I start to feel sluggish and lazy and then it all goes in a bad circle. Knowing that, it’s amazing to me that I let this happen as regularly as I do.

I’ve lived a really long time—much of it conscious and intentional. And still, I don’t do a very good job of providing myself with the basics that I need on a regular basis. I don’t even mean this in a self-critical way. In fact, giving myself a break from my own expectations is actually one of the other things I need, and am occasionally successful at providing. But I’m not always so successful at providing some of the simple things I need in my life—even those I can control. Getting good, regular sleep is just one.

Much of how we figure out how to find peace for ourselves comes down to creating priorities.

When I am responsible for another being—like my dogs, for example—I do a much better job than I do with myself. It would never occur to me to regularly overfeed them, make them chase sticks until they’re exhausted, deprive them of sleep and exercise, or isolate them from each other, or me, or other people they really, really like. Instead, it brings me great joy to make sure they have everything they need every single day. Even if we have to be out of town, I’m very careful to find someone to stay with them who will pay attention to them, pet them, and give them breakfast and dinner when they need it.

With my own needs, not so much. Very frequently, I eat in a disjointed fashion—too much bad food, too little good. I regularly consume too much sugar, even when I can feel it in my energy level and my creaky joints. Reading a good book is one of my favorite activities ever and I almost always have one going. But I tend to overfill my days and evenings and give myself about 10 minutes before sleep (that sleep that is already beginning too late in the evening) to do it. It would be like letting my dog Nugget have her bone for only a few minutes at a time.

I also need more open time in which there isn’t a plan and there aren’t many conversations that need to be had. I try for this by getting up early in the morning to relax before work, but that cuts into my sleep and it’s another way that my needs tend to be at cross purposes. So, much of how we figure out how to find peace for ourselves comes down to creating priorities. For most of us, it isn’t until later in our lives that we’re ever able to do this—even a little.

It isn’t until our kids are raised and we’ve done most of the heavy lifting of careers that it even occurs to us that there are things we need in order to feel good in our lives, separate from other people. By this time, we’re so ensconced in the bad habits of trying to do too much with our time and taking care of too many other people, that it’s hard to imagine restructuring our whole plan and giving ourselves some of what we need. I suppose that’s what retirement is for, but what about those of us who still need meaning and structure? That’s why lots of us keep working.

There’s no perfect answer to how we do our time and our lives, but it’s sad that it takes us so long to understand the value of the few primary things that make us feel really good. For me, it’s time with my partner and a few close friends, playing with my dogs, a good book, some time to create, attention to fitness, and oh yeah—that precious, precious sleep.