For three days this week, I hung out in Brooklyn. Before arriving in New York, I planned on fitting in as much time with my close friends and family as I possibly could. A close friend and I planned on having dinner together and spending my last night at an “Oktober Fest” event. With my childhood best friend, we planned on lunch and shooting hoops. And with my god-sister, we planned on spending an afternoon together at my mom’s house conversing and enjoying a home-cooked Jamaican dinner.
My main priority for my trip was to spend time with my three-year-old niece and seven-year-old nephew. They haven't had many opportunities to go outside and play because of the pandemic and my goal was to change that--at least for the few days I had.
I had great plans set with my niece and nephew. One afternoon we would have lunch and play at Prospect Park. I’d spend the last day in New York with them at The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. And in between spending time with them, I planned on spending time with my friends and other members of my family. But my plans quickly turned to shit.
The weather failed me for two of the three days I was in town. On the day with nice weather, family came to visit. Faced with bad weather—my niece, nephew and I decided to play games inside. Imaginary-lightsaber fights, Hide and Seek, I spy, and Simon Says, a version of Monopoly where the goal was to not land in jail—the games and rules of their choosing.
Although my days didn’t go according to plan, I had a fun three days with them. While I was able to see family and have dinner with a friend, I had to cancel my lunch and basketball plan. And even though my niece and nephew weren’t able to go outside, we still managed to have a good time. All that was left was to meet up with my boy for the socially-distanced “Oktober Fest.”
After saying my goodbyes to my family, my nephew came to the door and asked with a shaky voice, "why are you leaving so soon?"
I gave my nephew a hug and told him that I’ll be back soon. His eyes welled with tears. After another hug and letting him know I loved him and had a great time hanging, I walked out the door and went to the train station. On the platform my heart ached. I kept picturing my nephew’s tears and decided to turn back.
My friend was not happy that I canceled and I don't blame him. I tried reassuring myself that he will eventually understand why I canceled. I only did so to spend more time with my niece and nephew. However, irrespective of the reason, I know it isn't right to cancel on someone at the very last minute.
While thinking through my many trips to New York to see my friends and family, I’ve realized that I always seem to overextend myself, wanting to make time for everyone. I notice this behavior showing itself in other parts of my life as well. Welcoming more responsibility at work, at home, and promising to help others. There have been many days this year where I’ve felt stretched.
What’s wild is that this is a behavior that I’ve identified on several occasions throughout the year and have taken steps to address. But like a lot of learned behavior, it is not the easiest to conquer.
It’s often when I reread/re-listen to “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, a journal the Roman emperor kept to better himself, that I remember that it is entirely in my power to change.
“External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.
If the problem is something in your own character, who’s stopping you from setting your mind straight?
And if it’s that you’re not doing something you think you should be, why not just do it?
—But there are insuperable obstacles.
Then it’s not a problem. The cause of your inaction lies outside you.” - Marcus Aurelius
I know the thing that I shouldn’t be doing—overextending myself. It is entirely in my power to say “no” to plans of meeting up or to tasks that are being thrown my way. It’s better to say no than to cancel plans at the last minute, or follow through on plans when I feel drained. Both are a disservice to myself and my loved ones.
This won’t be the last time that I feel stretched thin, however, it is my belief that thinking through weeks like the one I had and writing down my thoughts help. If you’ve been in a similar situation of stretching yourself thin, I hope my words reassure you that you are not alone. And if you have any advice on how to deal with this, please do share.