Ending The Rat Race: Rethinking ‘Me Time’

My first few years of adult life, I was somewhat of a mess. I was working 2 to 3 part time jobs while I finished classes necessary for my long term job hopes. Between work and classes, my schedule was pretty unpredictable. I didn’t want to lose touch with friends or miss out on fun things, so I went to EVERYTHING I could in between shifts.

meg at bar
Meg out with her friends.

I stayed up way too late—even when I had to work early in the mornings. I was eating out almost constantly—which wasn’t good for my body or my bank account. And my room at my house where I lived with roommates was often a mess.

But, I wanted to be at everything, I needed to work all these jobs (at least for now) to pay my bills, and well, having a clean room wasn’t exactly a priority. Being with my friends—whether it was just at one of our houses or out on the town was my necessary “me time.” I figured, this must be what adult life is like: a rat race.

The chaos continued for months. I was tired more than I was rested. I was short on cash and even overdrew my account a few times. I wasted time searching my messy room for particular clothes or pieces of jewelry I couldn’t seem to find. I even had a few fender benders that at the time seemed like simple car accidents, but looking back I think they maybe could have been avoided had I not been sleep deprived and distracted. In short, the rat race was wearing me out and it was starting to show.

I’ve heard people say “when I’m married, things will be different.” I’ll cook at home more, keep a cleaner house, and have a better sleep routine (minus of course the unpredictable middle of the night baby feedings, nightmares, etc.). But the longer I ran the rat race the more I became convinced that 1) marriage was not going to magically bring stability to my life 2) there were things I needed to do right now to bring stability to my life 3) my relationships, romantic and non-romantic, would be better if I set aside a little more time to take care for myself –clean my room, sleep, etc.

Flickr/Jamelah e.
Flickr/Jamelah e.

It was a slow process to slow down the rat race, and I still find myself plenty overwhelmed, grasping for some stability. But I’ve realized also–through watching my friends’ marriages–that marriage and parenting brings its own “rat race.” And in order to minimize it, it’s important to develop some stability before marriage. Here are a few things that have helped me get out of the rat race and find stability.

1.) Set aside one night a week just for me—no friends, no phone, no computer. On these nights I cook myself dinner, and do something I enjoy, like read a book, go for a run, play piano, or write a card to a friend. Week to week, it varies what night this can happen, but I’ve found that this night has turned into a very refreshing and energizing night for me. I tend to go to bed a little bit earlier on these nights and look a little nicer the next day. I’m also usually in better spirits, which helps me to be more excited and engaged on dates or even with my family and closest friends.

2.) Learn a few quick and easy dinner recipes. When you have a busy schedule, cooking seems like a chore, and sometimes you just don’t have time to make a good meal. But I found that it’s fun to cook with a friend, or to listen to music while cooking. It’s more of that “me time” that is energizing. I also have a few go –to dishes that are fast, make enough for leftovers, and are tasty:

• chicken tacos (brown chicken in a pan with oil and cilantro to taste, bring to a simmer once the chicken is cooked and add your favorite salsa. Serve with lettuce and cheese in hard or soft shells. It keeps great in the fridge for leftovers).
• English Muffin Pizzas (pizza sauce, cheese, and your favorite pizza toppings on a sliced English muffin, baked at 350 until cheese is golden. One of my favorite as a kid, and much healthier and tastier than frozen pizza).
• Pasta with pesto sauce (cook noodles in boiling water, drain, add a small jar of pesto, grape or cherry tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. Sort of fancy and tasty!).

3.) Set a monthly and weekly budget. Include every expense—rent, cell phone, food, etc. and make sure to save even just a little money each month. This may sound like way more work than you are cut out for—but if I could do it, so can you! It may even become a fun project that you enjoy keeping up with. I wrote down every dollar I spent and made sure I stayed to my budget. I even calculated the price difference in say a sandwich from the local café and making my own sandwich (pro tip: you can have a week’s worth of your own sandwiches for the cost of one or two sandwiches from a café).

For certain things like groceries, I started buying the store brand instead of the name brand, and secondhand or sale clothes instead of new. I sold books I no longer needed to places like Half Price Books, and picked up a few freelancing projects (like writing) where I could. Neither of these paid too terribly much, but the way I saw it, $5 from Half Price Books paid for my coffee at the grocery store (which typically lasted a few weeks), or $50 for an article paid my cell phone bill for that month. It sounds like a lot of work, I know. Most people don’t enjoy writing down a budget.

It can be hard to say “no” to a night out with friends. But the longer I made these changes in my life, the more I realized I was happier, and actually had more time for fulfilling relationships and freedom to live my life the way I really wanted. In the end, my fear of missing out actually almost led me to miss out on a better me and a better life. And that’s what it’s really all about!

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Ending The Rat Race: Rethinking ‘Me Time’

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