Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fullfillment...or "Too-full-ment"?

I had a great conversation with my friend and coaching mentor, Galadriel, this past week about a perpetual struggle I have with experiencing fulfillment in my life. In the process, I learned a fun (and I think very apt) new word: Too-full-ment. (Thanks to Galadriel for that one!)

Too-full-ment is what happens when you fill your plate, not with things that drain you or don't bring you life, but with too many things that do. You go after too many good, life-giving things at once, and the paradoxical effect of that is that your life actually becomes less fulfilling. For a dunce like me, this experience can be very confusing. After all, more is more, right? More life, more joy, more good meaningful work, more deep relationship. The more of that you can get onto your plate, the better your life is. So how come when I do that--when I fill my plate to overflowing with tons of great, meaningful, life-giving things--I end up feeling less alive. Drained. Even burdened.

My problem is this: I tend to treat life like an all-you-can-eat buffet. So many wonderful choices, so many flavors to try, so much to consume! I fill my plate to the rim and eat it quickly (because some part of me knows my stomach will soon betray me and signal "full") and go refill it again. It's all good stuff (OK, I realize most buffets are actually full of junkie foods, but for the sake of the analogy, let's assume that my buffet has nothing but the best-tasting most nutritious food imaginable), and I take it all in with passion and vigor. But when I can finally take no more, what I find at the end of that experience is not fulfillment, but suffering. I feel awful. Like a stuffed whale begging to be put out of its misery. Instead of being fulfilled, I'm over-full--a condition that's anything but life-giving.

As Galadriel said during our convo, it's not that you can't have it all, you just can't have it all at once.

Part of living a life of fulfillment involves respecting the limits of your own capacity. Too much of a good thing does not make Jack a fulfilled boy. True fulfillment means consciously choosing to say no some things that really do bring you life, in favor of balance, breathing room, and a healthy, life-giving pace.

What about you? When does fulfillment turn into "too-full-ment" for you? How do you know when you've crossed the line? And how do you get back to a truly fulfilling life?


Anonymous said...

Too-full-ment...what a concept!!

Personally, I've never reached that place. I see others so busy doing things, things they enjoy and things they love, and get tired just watching them. Watching watching others live in a whirlwind caused me to determine that being that busy isn't the sort of life I want for myself.

In thinking of the buffet analogy, it seems to me that the tendency of people is to go to a buffet when they want quick and easy variety, regardless of whether what the buffet offers of healthy. The idea of "greed" comes to mind. Like Gordon Gekko said, "greed is good!"

Is it, though?

Is it possible to be greedy when it comes to good, life-giving things? Is it possible that being greedy for all of the good, life-giving things causes us to miss out on the best thing?


Kristina Bailey said...

"Too-full-ment"...great word - and I am so there!

Typically, I am one who guards against a lot of "doing", but have recently stepped into more of the opportunities placed before me. Less like the analogy of the buffet where I am reaching for things to put on my plate, the imagery I have is more like standing outdoors and breathing in the crisp, clean, pure mountain air that surrounds me. I just want to breathe it all in and fill my lungs with it. The problem is, when your lungs are filled to capacity with cold mountain air, they can start to ache and eventually you need to exhale in order to breathe again!

In pondering this, I am realizing that for me, the line between fullfillment and too-full-ment is a buffer zone of margin space, and when I cross over it or fill it, I enter that place of maximum capacity; when it's so full that there is no room for any more breath.

The key, I think, (I am discovering as I am going here...) is to intentionally build-in margins. I have recently heard the definition of margin as: "The space between load and limit." There is a need to purposefully carve out margin space - allowing for the unexpected and creating moments of breathing room.

And it may need to be a day by day choice as to where to place that buffer or what needs to be "exhaled" in order to reclaim it.

Yes, it's all good. AND it's hard to enjoy it if you aren't breathing.

Anonymous said...

How do you know when to say "no" or "not now" to something? If the things are good or life-giving, how can you tell when it's not the right time for it?

Michael D. Warden said...

Anon #1--great thoughts, thanks!

Anon #2--great question. In response, I think this is where your strategic mind comes into play. We have to get really honest about how much margin (breathing room) we really need in life for life to be truly fulfilling and balanced, then make the hard call to decide which things we'll say yes to now, and which things we'll say no to, or "not now."

As for discerning which good things to say yes or no to, I think the main thing is not to get caught in the trap of perpetual indecision, which is really just a creative form of avoidance. You to take an honest look at the options, listen to your heart, and make the hard call.

Lisa said...

This is a great post -- and one that is always timely in a busy, stresed-out world.

I just made a book recommendation in your more recent post, but I'm going to make another one here. Have you heard of Anne Jackson's book _Mad Church Disease_? I haven't picked it up yet since I haven't seen it on Kindle, but there is a sample chapter on her web site, and I've heard a lot of great things about it from people I respect. It's about the dangers of burnout in ministry.

For myself, I've definitely been there, done that, got the free t-shirts. Now I take some time to ask God before I pick up new things. I'm much more guarded with my time and energy. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but there you have it.