How to step back from the things you love — guilt free!

This is the first post on this blog in about a year. There were a lot of reasons I stopped posting but the most important one is that I made a conscious decision to take a break. I didn’t fall behind on posting, I didn’t get bored with it, I didn’t forget about it. I decided taking a hiatus was the best choice for me. In this first post after my step back, I’m going to explain why I took a break and share some wisdom on how you can get rid of the guilt that’s preventing you from taking the breaks you need and causing you to spread yourself too thin.

It's hard to step back from activities you love, but it's important to hold yourself accountable and stop spreading yourself too thin! | HOW TO STEP BACK FROM THE THINGS YOU LOVE — GUILT FREE! | HONEYBEE JOYOUS

Make a list

If you’re familiar with me and how I operate, it’s no shock that my first piece of advice is to start by making a list. There’s a reason I love lists, though — they help you visualize all of the information that’s bouncing around in your head contributing to your overwhelm. Putting it all out on paper helps you tackle that overwhelm by figuring out what’s overwhelming you in the first place. This list should include all of your major responsibilities and commitments. From jobs to classes to relationships, get it all down on paper (or in a Google doc, whatever floats your boat) and get ready to start making some tough decisions.

Decide what you absolutely will not compromise on

Once you have your list of major responsibilities and commitments in front of you, the first thing to do is remove the things you cannot or will not compromise on. The items you remove are different for every individual. When I was evaluating my commitments, one of the major things I could not compromise on in any way included my job as an RA. This inflexible responsibility was new this past school year and was a big contributor to my decision to evaluate my commitments in the first place and step back where I could.

Sort the rest

Now that you’ve removed the commitments you can’t compromise on, take a look at what you have left. These are things you can (a) cut out of your life altogether, (b) take a break from for a period of time and revisit at a later date, or (c) step back somewhat but not entirely. Decide what action you will take on each of the items remaining on your list and start focusing on the items in column C.

Map out your compromises

You’ve now decided what you can make compromises on and your next step is actually holding yourself accountable for stepping back. The way to do this is to make a detailed plan with concrete steps on how you’re going to stop spreading yourself too thin. I highly recommend using a flowchart goal setting method (outlined here) to lay out your actionable steps and make them seem really achievable.

When I got hired over last summer to be an RA in a freshman dorm, I didn’t realize how much of a challenging commitment that job would be come fall. I was running this blog, had a leadership role on the student newspaper, had a side job in childcare, and was taking an extra journalism seminar I wouldn’t receive credit for until the spring semester, not to mention going to classes as a full time student. There was no way I could keep myself committed to all of these responsibilities, especially if I wanted to do any of them to the best of my ability.

I definitely couldn’t give up or step back from either of my two jobs and going to class is the whole reason I’m at college in the first place so those three were off the list. I ended up dropping the extra journalism seminar because that was the thing I could cut out with the fewest consequences. This left my role on The Flat Hat and this blog. I knew I had to step back from both but didn’t want to drop either completely. I decided to prioritize my RA job by putting the blog on hiatus until I felt like I could handle giving it the time it deserved again.

Be honest + ask for help

As for The Flat Hat, I was able to take a bit of a step back for the first month or so of school, which is the most stressful and busiest time to be a freshman RA, because my co-editor and the rest of the staff was able to step up, cover for me, and help me adjust to my new job while still maintaining my responsibilities on the newspaper. Because of this, I was able to really do my best in my RA job and then come back to the paper seamlessly, in full force, when I was no longer so overworked. My friends and coworkers were willing to help, but I wouldn’t have even known that if I hadn’t been honest with them about how I was struggling to do it all. Because I opened up about feeling spread too thin, I was able to ask for help and they were more than willing to give it.

Whether you’re holding back because you don’t want to be a burden on others or because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’re having trouble, stop! People are generally more willing to help you out than you’re giving them credit for. However, they won’t know you need their help unless you swallow your pride and ask for it.

Learn to say no

This point deserves a blog post of its own but something I have a very hard time with is saying no and sticking to it. If you keep taking on new activities, responsibilities, and commitments, all the hard work you’ve done compromising and stepping back will be for nothing. This will probably take time and practice if you’re always used to being overbooked, but once you get in the habit of saying no to things that you actually don’t have the time or energy to do, it will make a world of difference and you’ll feel that both you and others place a higher value on your time and effort when it becomes a scarcer commodity. If you say yes to everything that comes your way, people will stop asking and just expect you to pick up the slack. If you practice and get into the habit of turning down commitments you can’t actually commit to, you will not only be less overworked, you will also feel more respected.

{If you want a blog post on how to say no, let me know in the comments!}

Focus on your own mindset — not on others’ perceptions

I don’t know how things are where you work or go to school, but at my college there is definitely a culture of people taking pride in their stress. People tend to try to one-up their friends on how little sleep they got the night before, how many pages of reading they had to do, and how many extracurriculars they’re involved in. This kind of culture makes stress even more overwhelming because you’re constantly comparing yourself to others and worrying about if you’re “stressed enough.”

Let me tell you a secret: just like you’re not judging whether other people’s stress is “worthy,” they’re not judging yours. Despite the competitive culture of stress comparison, everyone is really just too busy being worried about their own stress to be too concerned with yours. Focusing on what others think about you is really just a distraction from tackling your own worst enemy: yourself.

The blog is something I do for fun and once it had started being something that weighed on me and I felt myself dreading, I realized it was something I needed to take a break from. It’s important to take care of yourself and there’s absolutely nothing glamorous or admirable about working yourself to a mental breakdown.

I took a hiatus from the blog because I realized it was starting to do more harm than good for me mentally. It was hard to step away from something I loved so much but I’m so glad that I did because now I am back and better than ever. Being in a better place mentally means that I am actually able to do better work on this blog. I’m going to keep practicing saying no to things so that maybe one day I will be able to totally stop spreading myself too thin.

What’s the hardest part about stepping back for you? What responsibilities are you having a hard time sorting out? Let me know in the comments!

  • Brendan Doyle

    Great post!

  • Phoebe Windsor

    I’ve been a competitive runner since the end of middle school, but I sat down the other day to write out some goals for the next semester, and running for a team didn’t make the top three when thinking about the upcoming months. This was a little surprising, but meant I had some changes to make. Learning to prioritize and also uncommit in order to fully commit to the things that are valuable to you is definitely important. Happy that you did what you needed to, and also happy you made it back to us!

    • I’m happy to be back! Thanks for sharing your story Phoebe, that must have been a really tough decision to make. You go for making the decisions that are smart for you and work with your priorities!!

  • Caroline Rose Nutter

    I wish I could do the clapping emojis but YES ! YES ! YES !

    • So glad you liked the post Caroline! It’s hard to resist the temptation to “do it all” but consciously stepping back has been so great for both my productivity + mental health.