What Happened to Free Time?


I fell asleep last night in my bed at 10:30ish, fully clothed and un-showered and un-morning-alarmed. I definitely had an AirPod in my right ear, which I am convinced is basically terrible for my brain in some way that science has yet to determine, especially when left in all night. And I definitely fell asleep watching some wild documentary show about women escaping cults. I tend to gravitate to those. 


[insert pause for yes courtney has a therapist]


In any case, this is NOT how I imagine my nights to go, certainly not if those nights involve any amount of free time. My nights, ideally, would involve board games, bedtime tea, reading, writing, sitting outside in the still evening air, and going to bed fairly early with electronics far far far away. Alas, over the past couple of years, I’ve run into some very bad habits around how I decompress, how I approach free time, and how I take care of the creative inner child me. And, for ease and simplicity, we can lump all of those habits into one bucket, with the giant label of: AVOIDANCE COURTESY OF BURNOUT.


I’ll say that I hate to admit this because the reality of my current free time usage does not match who I am and who you may know me to be. This is exactly why I am here. Things haven’t been matching lately and so much time has passed with these new avoidant, self-care-less behaviors that I now need to be like, HUH, what is happening here? 


I’m confident that, in the face of incongruence like this, I am not alone in that the first response to be basically a total jerk to myself. We know how effective this tactic is, right? It’s so effective that we end up just continuing the habits, but now with an extra layer of shame. So, I am opting in for self-compassion instead. And my curiosity here rests in the hope that with self-compassion, motivation will begin to grow and the changes I need to make will feel less cumbersome and more expansive and doable. In fact, as Kristen Neff, who wrote an entire book on self-compassion, says, “Once we start basing our self-esteem purely on our performance, our greatest joys in life can start to seem like so much hard work, our pleasure morphing into pain.”


This is exactly is, isn’t it? I’ve been approaching these changes in how I use my free time as some sort of indication of who I am as a person and making sure it all lines up, for me and my kids and anyone who hears my dreary tales. But the truth is that when I operate this way, I force myself into performance mode, rather than WHAT FEELS GOOD AND TRUE TO ME now mode. And that latter mode is where creativity waits, sitting by as you push the shoulds out of the way and just simply opt-in for the grace of being human.


NOW, I suppose the other fraught area of this conversation around free time has to do with the reality that for so many of us, it just simply does not exist. And when it does, oooooof, you don’t have any level of capacity to be still, or creative, or kind, or curious. I don’t know about you, but any time I have free time, the last thing I want to do lately is, um, listen to myself. ALSO, I am acutely aware that my free time is limited, which means it’s a ticking time bomb and my attention is spent on what I can get done in a short period of time before it’s all over and I have to go back to caretaker mode. For me, it’s like taking a time test in math class and all my brain can hear is the tick tick tick of the clock and zero computation is even remotely possible.


I don’t have the answer to this yet, except to say that I no longer want to keep chasing behind this stinky bus anymore. I am just living on the fumes of “not enough time” and “you wasted that time” and “tomorrow you should do” … enough already, you know? I want to get on the dang stinky bus and take a ride somewhere moderately awesome for just a short bit of time. And I am aware that I am going to have to do some work here to make this change. Nothing changes if nothing changes. But, that work will be fueled by love, at least that is my declaration here in this post now. 


FINALLY, one final and very simple note: The pandemic has dramatically shifted our relationship with free time because caretakers have just simply lost all access to routine, autonomy, community, etc. You are not alone if this feels like a new pain point and a painful pain point. I also feel the loss and I also feel the overwhelming burnout. There is a way forward. 


If you want to join me in figuring out what the heck happened to your free time and why in the world you feel like you can never use it the way that would feel good, then awesome sauce. Join us in our July Challenge: What Happened to Free Time? And in case you don’t know what the heck a challenge here is like, basically, you register, you join the challenge group in our community, you listen to one short episode of our mini podcast each week, and you comment or discuss as you like. OH, and you try to show up for 5-15 minutes of exercise as often as possible during the challenge. 


The challenge starts on Monday, July 4th, which we are aware is a holiday. However, I don’t know about you, but holidays means kids home and all up in your space, so maybe this is a great way to do something nice for you. I’ll also be doing a live 15-minute workout at 9am CST on our Instagram (@momma_strong) if you want to kick things off with me. Otherwise, if you are a current member, you can register by logging in to your account, clicking the “Challenges” link in the teal navigation menu and following the instructions there. If you are a new member, HELLO! Simply sign up for our 14-day free trial and follow those directions above. 


Ok, I’m off to squander more free time, I mean work time. I mean, I don’t know what is life.