You’re Sick- Your Goals Can Wait

by Elisabeth

Tuesday morning I awoke feeling pretty good, Phyllis had come into my room to purr and dig her claws into my skin. There was a stream of white, winter, light peaking through my cobweb-laden curtain. My brain was fizzing with a slight memory of Russel Brand and white wine and some sort of dream that involved both. Nick and I watched his comedy show on Monday evening and were intermittently pausing it to finish talking about ideas and issues that Russel and his beverage counterpart were loosening from our tipsy brains.

I did my morning, before-work routine and walked through the frigid, snowy, morning to the De L’Eglise Metro station. Once inside, my nose started to run like an Olympian. It had been about a month since my “epic cold” so I no longer had the hard, balled-up tissues (that come in handy for such a situation) in my coat pockets. I had nothing, therefore the only thing I could do was suck it back into my sinuses, which felt like sucking a smoothie through a very thin straw. By the time I got to work it was becoming apparent that this wasn’t temporary nasal congestion, and that this fountain of mucus had moved in to stay for a while.

For a few hours, I convinced myself that this was the Herxheimer Reaction to my liver cleanse herbs. Some toxin must have been dislodged and I must have “cold-like symptoms,” rather than a cold. But by 3:30 I started to face the fact that I would not be going to the gym, I would not be producing some brilliant piece of writing or making an ornate dinner. I was sick.

I’ll spare you the metal arguments that I maintained on loop in my head about why I should not have a cold, why it was unfair and cosmically insulting. I had realistic, yet well thought-out goals for the week. Things I was supposed to achieve. Things that were going to make me feel productive, and like I was moving forward with my life. Instead I had what felt like an extra 4 litres of fluid in my face and was finding it hard to focus, or hear, or think.

While mentally kicking and screaming as I watched my week of goals go up in smoke, my tantrum finally subsided and I succumbed to a little holiday of sorts. There was nothing to do but to get better. So I had to be ok with the lost time in the gym, I had to juggle around my schedule, I had to just admit that the only thing for me to do was take care of myself.

I think this is one of the key things about the art of goal-setting or planning. Life happens sometimes. If your trajectory doesn’t allow for deviations, or snap decisions, or a cold, then maybe you are taking life a little too seriously? Maybe you are missing out on one of the keys of goal-setting, which is setting priorities. If, for example, I went to the gym instead of going home with my hands in the air, I would have been putting my need for exercise ahead recovering. I also would be sweating my sick all over the place, and that’s just bad manners. I have, in the past, wanted to be thin so badly that I’ve gone to the gym sick anyway, which usually ended up in me feeling worse and more exhausted not to mention that it was a jerk-move.

While I agree with Stephen Pressfield in the War of Art that you have to keep pushing on like a soldier if you want to be a pro, I also believe that if you are in anything for the long-haul, then you have to make sure there’s still water in the well. I see it in activists, artists, workaholics all the time; people who are burning themselves down like a piece of charcoal because they “want it,” bad enough or the cause is so “important.” Some people are willing to sell their health/sanity/happiness to get “there,” often because they feel like happiness is a luxury, and not a basic need. But who wants to get “there” without your health or sanity? Not me- I’ve been down that road and it’s a tricky, lonely, serious, place where the sun doesn’t shine.

The next time a cold comes for a visit, changes your plans around, and forces you indoors when you have a big world you want to conquer- consider that right now maybe the most important thing you can do is take care of yourself. Getting Better needs to make it to the top of your to-do list. It’s time to switch from out-put to in-put. In doing so, you are right on track. The gym, the work, the cause- still need you. But they need you healthy.