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#46 - Stretched Too Thin

I was giving a workshop in a building where art is displayed very prominently, and I stood for a time in front of a large sculpture made up entirely of rubber bands. The person walking with me explained that there would be nothing left of this piece in a decade, maybe less. The bands had yellowed with age and were snapping slowly every day.  Many were already shrivelled into small balls and knots, on the once smooth surface.

The parallel is not hard to make with how thinly some of us are stretched in our lives. If each elastic band represents a commitment or task, how many bands are stretched to the limit, leaving us with little ability to bounce back? What are the circumstances we are creating that require such a stretch on so many fronts?

In my clients’ lives, and in my own, I am noticing two underlying causes of the stretched- too -thin syndrome: The fear of saying NO to others, AND the accompanying fear of saying YES to ourselves!


Could it be because we have this burning need to people please? Is it an unconscious, almost child like, need for approval that we willingly place most everyone’s needs above our own?
Sometimes, this has to happen for a time:  A person we care for may be suffering and we want to support them. At work, there can be a real emergency, pressing requirement, goal to achieve that requires that we work full tilt to fix a problem or to meet a bigger objective. There can also be a personal imperative of proving myself in a new position or field, of setting a more ambitious goal for myself, of building momentum.
Saying NO and Saying YES: Drawing the line
Can you relate to any of the following declarations?
I am stretched too thin when:
  • There’s never time for the activities in my life that are important to me.
  • My calendar is always full with emergencies, priorities, meetings and tasks.
  • I derive no sense of satisfaction from the tasks I engage in.
  • There are repercussions on my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Some of my clients, stretched to the breaking point, have been able to say No to others… and say Yes to self. Here’s a few examples of how they successfully shifted their focus:
  1. I want to be of service. On airplanes, they tell you to put your own mask first in an emergency before helping another. Be in service to myself so that I have the resources to be of service to others.
  2. It’s temporary! What if the ballooning requirements were a way of testing your resolve, to force you to choose, to remember what is truly important? When there is too much going on, take the opportunity to choose what really matters. Take the time to ask myself if I have enough or if this is good enough.
  3. I am a high energy, high performer! There are individual differences, but all of us have our limit and reach the point where we can’t even find our next breath.  Am I listening to how I really feel? Take the time to ask myself if I have enough or if this is good enough.
  4. Do I fear scarcity?  I need to take this job, or this project, because that’s all there is right now. Then something better comes along that I can’t accept or I now have too much on my plate! Remember, nature hates a vacuum. Leave one and you may be pleasantly surprised by what shows up.  Leave some empty space for opportunities that truly match my aspirations.
Very few of us achieve a perfect balance between our needs and those of others.  The next time you find yourself stretched too thin:
  • Start with you
  • Choose what truly matters to you
  • Stop when it’s good enough
  • Leave some empty space
When the stakes are your personal well-being, drawing the line is definitely worth a try.