Oh, how I love metaphors! Have you ever talked with someone that told you their “plate was full” and they couldn’t possibly take on another project? I’m sure you have. I’ve said it myself. Have you ever looked at a person that said that and thought, “Not as full as mine, and I seem to find time to help.” It seems we don’t all have the same size plate, the same appetite, or the same strength to carry it with.
From the outside, my life looks simple and full of time to take on new projects. But to me, my plate is balanced perfectly and I work hard to keep it that way. I don’t have too much to do because I’ve made the choice not to, and when I make other choices, like adding to my plate things I think other people would like me to do, I’ve learned by experience that it never ends well.
Here’s a question for you. What if we’re not born with an empty plate at all? What if we have one, we know it because we can feel it in our hands, but the goal of living is to figure out how big the plate is, what’s already on that plate, and how to balance it so it’s easy to carry? When we take more onto our plate before we’ve figured out how to balance what we already have, or even know what we have for that matter, we cause ourselves stress.
Why would people around us give us more to put on our plate? Because they haven’t learned what’s on their plate and how to balance it, so they’re passing it to you. “It’s too much for me!” they say, and they pass it to you instead of letting it fall to the floor.
Many days, I know what’s on my plate and I can balance it easily. When someone offers more, I politely decline. “No, thank you. I have enough.” Some days I see friends and family with their plates so piled high, I feel bad and wonder, “Well, maybe I can take some of that off their plate and help.” When I do, I quickly become overwhelmed and drop it all. It’s not a good feeling.
Some days, overwhelmed friends with plates piled high, see my relatively empty plate and think, “She has barely anything and I have so much! Take some of mine, you have to help me.” I feel guilty and try to help, take too much on and ultimately fail us both.
What if instead of passing items off our full plate to someone else, we just dropped those items away and let them go? What if we did less? What if we produced less? All of us? What if we just did without those things instead of insisting that they exist and that someone pick up the ball?
What if we prioritized mastering the art of doing what we need to do for ourselves first? And then started adding more of what we want until we are at a place of balance for us alone? And allow others to learn and do the same at their own pace, with their own plates? It seems like we would all get more done and feel better about our lives at the same time.
And then there are more questions. Do we think the plate is empty when we first realize we have a life to live? We think we must start fill it with things to feel productive. What if we spent our childhood just learning the size and weight of our plate and how to balance it with the essentials we are born to do on it? What if we are overloading our children with responsibilities, more for their plate, before they’ve mastered what they already have? Could that be the real curse of losing a free and peaceful childhood? Could that be why depression and anxiety are on the rise?