The Dance of Avoidance: Tiny Plate Syndrome

Waaaaaay back in late May I drafted a post called Tiny Plate Syndrome. I was undergoing a minor crisis at the time, and writing the post really helped me sort it all out. But for some reason I never published it.

Well…it’s that time again. Tiny plate syndrome has returned…and this time I’m going to tell you about it.

Imagine you’re at a buffet.

Lined up before you is a selection of dishes. Some of them completely lack appeal, but many of them look amazing and potentially life-changing. You want to taste them. You want to eat whole servings of them. But you look down and realize that you’re only holding a teeny tiny plate.

GIANT BUFFET OF YUM. (Image by gailf548 on Flickr.com)

So…what do you do?

My natural instinct is to ignore the size of my plate and go on a feeding frenzy. I will load up that tiny plate with as much as it can hold and then desperately try to add new things on top of that plateful. And eventually things start to fall off. And, worst of all, the absolute-must-try things? The ones I took first? They get buried under all the other stuff that caught my eye afterward.

Obviously, I’m not talking about food here. The “dishes” are projects, dreams, classes…things that could add to my life and take me in new directions, things I’d like to try. The plate is the amount of time I have in any given week.

I’m a full-time mom with a not-preschool-ready 3 year old and ZERO local support (apart from my darling husband, obviously…but he works in the video game industry and is often insanely busy). I don’t have a lot of alone time. There is only so much I can do, especially if I make a point of taking time for self-care and rest. It’s just a fact.  It’s a tiny effing plate.

And yet I keep trying to pile food on the damn thing. I add e-courses and projects and obligations until…yup, there goes something on the floor.

And the Really Big Dream, the one that I desperately want but am scared to work on? Buried yet again.

This happened in May, and I ended up cutting out work on my novel (yes, I have a novel), a Right Brain Business Plan book club, and an e-course. And now it’s happening again.

FOOD! (Image by gailf548 on Flickr.com)

After a long talk with Matthew (who is insanely insightful as well as supportive and sensitive and did I mention that I married my perfect man? OK, just checking), I admitted to myself that this whole “Tiny Plate Syndrome” thing is just a fancy and VERY sneaky avoidance technique. It’s all about the Busyness and getting caught up in “Oh, look at all the work I’m doing” without noticing that I’m not actually doing the Work I dream of doing. Time keeps passing, and I’m “too busy” to make progress on it!

Nice job, subconscious!

***DISCLAIMER: I am NOT anti-exploration. Obviously, my inclinations are PRO-exploration. It’s just that there’s a difference between exploring so that you can find your Right Work and already knowing what you really want to do, but taking on dozens of other projects as a fancy means of avoidance***

So I say ENOUGH. I am pressing the RESET button on this madness. I am clearing the damn plate off! *wipes plate clean*

Nice, empty (but still tiny) plate (Image by uberculture on Flickr.com)


And now I head back to the buffet with the intention of only taking manageable servings of the dishes that feel the most important (and the scariest…isn’t that always the way?) and the things that truly nurture me. And I will clear my plate before going back for seconds!

Next step: See how I can make the damn plate bigger 😉

I think I was a little hesitant to write about Tiny Plate Syndrome because I worried that maybe it was just me. Maybe NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD does this. But, really? Don’t we all struggle with avoidance when it comes to dreams that scare us, no matter the size of our plate? I think we’re very good at making ourselves “too busy” to make magic happen…but once we’re aware of this, it gets easier (please tell me it gets easier!)

How’s your plate looking today?

14 thoughts on “The Dance of Avoidance: Tiny Plate Syndrome”

    1. That post was beautiful! And JEEZ…how does she DO that?! It does sound like the same thing…I can’t decide if that’s comforting (because it’s not just me) or sad (because it’s so common).

  1. To continue the analogy, I’ve piled up three plates! Now I’m trying to juggle them and keep them all up in the air. I suspect hat’s what happens without a business plan but I’m not sure. It will be a couple of months before I can clear the dishes and get them put away.

    1. Eek! Yeah, I’ve felt that way before! GOOD LUCK with the juggling! (Your comment helped me realize that a business plan should probably be one of the very first dishes I put back on my plate!) xox

  2. Oh, heavens, no — it’s definitely not just you!!

    I think this is common among women in general, and stay-at-home moms in particular. We grew up with the promise of being able to be anything, but also with the pressure to be EVERYTHING. While we’re sitting at home reading those stories and wiping those crumbs, we feel like other parts of our lives that we’re supposed to be doing (and doing well and completely at the same time as this mothering gig) are wasting away to nothingness.

    I’ve definitely been feeling the pressure lately: other women can hold jobs and be moms at the same time. Some even add school to the mix, and things like volunteering and hobbies. How come *I* can’t seem to manage just the mom thing well? How will I EVER get back into the working world when my experience and references are already five years outdated? Most importantly, will I EVER sleep through the night fully again? 😛

    That last one is a joke… sort of. At the same time, I realize my kids are young and needy, and that this IS the life I chose and wanted. I’m doing my best. I WILL have more time to cultivate those other aspects eventually, when the kids aren’t so little and needy. And when I’m finally well-rested. 😉

    But, it’s hard. The pressure can be overwhelming. How do I measure “success” without promotions and paycheques and performance reviews? The wishing and dreaming and confusion are overwhelming at times, too. Do I actually REGRET this decision to be at home with my kids when it’s what I always wanted? No, not really. But it definitely comes with sacrifices I didn’t thoroughly understand until now.

    I think making wise “buffet” choices is a good method of coping. I also believe (or want to) that our plates will vary in size over time. Right now, with small children at home, the plates are pretty teeny. As they get older and more independent, I have hope that my plate will get bigger once again, and that instead of piling it up with the “desserts” like I probably did in the past before children, I will instead choose to fill it with a well-balanced, tasty yet healthy meal.

    1. It sounds like we’re in *exactly* the same space, Kerry. And I think you’re right —the plates will get bigger as the kids get older.
      I don’t know how people do it…I see someone successful and I think “Oh yeah, she must not have kids”…but then I find out that, actually, she has four. And then I struggle with the guilt of not being able to juggle it all, of not being satisfied, of not being blissfully happy at home while Matty struggles at work, and of (to be honest) not being a fully devoted mom because I’m trying to work on my own stuff at the same time.

      It’s hard to remember that everyone has their own problems and unique struggles, even the people who seem to have it all together!

  3. Your disclaimer is so true. It’s like when I KNOW I have to clean the grimy bathtub but I’ll dust the downstairs, vacuum, fold laundry, etc, etc, in the meantime. Those aren’t bad things and they NEED to be done, but the mildewy tub is much more important and is the Right Work.

    1. HA! Exactly! And you KNOW that cleaning the tub would actually make you FEEL better, but you just can’t make yourself go and DO it. So it sits on your to-do list (under all the other stuff you’ve piled on top of it) and it RANKLES. And everything you manage to achieve is just that much less satisfying because deep down you know that cleaning the tub was the one thing that REALLY needed doing! 🙂

  4. Yes. This.

    Also, I feel that as a stay at home mom, I have this pressure (self-imposed, but societally influenced) to do something other than mothering. To stay relevant to the world outside of small children. As if raising the adults of tomorrow isn’t relevant enough. I hardly ever get to the things that I want to, because at the end of the day, I’d rather just do crossword puzzles until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Then I beat myself up over not using my miniscule plate for something more worth while. I think this need comes from the fact that I am dehumanized as “Mummy” 24/7, and I am desperate to show (even just to myself) that hey! I still matter! I am still human! I am still Grace! But perhaps, being just “Mummy” is my Right Work right now, and I need to stop beating myself up for not keeping up with the things that I enjoy until I have more free time that I can do those things AND crossword puzzles.

    Great post, Meg!

  5. Well, Meg, no need to wonder any more about the relevance of your post! You seemed to have hit on something we all understand deeply.

    To Grace and other stay at home moms, I stayed home for 13 years. The Internet wasn’t going like it is now so not only did I have no local support, I had no electronic support either. I really lost my way for awhile. I felt guilty when I gave up my job. So guilty I cleaned every closet in the house! Eventually I adjusted.

    I just want to say, even though it feels like you are trapped in kid land and it feels like forever, it is NOT! The kids do grow up! You find yourself again! I’m on the other side of it all and can tell you it’s true!

    Just look for the good in what you are doing. I will never regret spending the time with my children to raise them. There are too many kids in this world who don’t have their emotional needs met. Being able to be present for your kids is a gift. One day you’ll look back and wonder where the time went. I promise.

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