In the 1860s, the merchant marine fleet of England suffered many losses. Ships sank in record numbers. Many sank in the harbor.
It fell to Samuel Plimsoll, a young naval officer, to spot the problem. As long as a ship had space, cargo kept coming. Soon, the weight pushed the keel lower until it sank beneath the waterline.
Plimsoll had the solution, a simple solution that remains to this day. He developed a series of horizontal lines on the hull of a ship. Once the top line slipped beneath the waterline, the ship had too much load. Today, the Plimsoll line is standard for all sailing vessels.
What happens when your life’s Plimsoll line gets breached? Ask author Laura Vanderkam.
Vanderkam is prolific, to say the least. She has written 8 books, speaks at business conferences, and has two podcasts, one of which happens five days each week. When the pandemic hit, a lot changed.
Without travel, her speaking business died. Kids’ classes came home and with it more responsibilities. Her fifth child had turned 3 months old. Like so many other Americans, she found herself weighed down by COVID demands. Dining room tables became home offices with the squeals and squabbles of children invading zoom calls.
Vanderkam decided to exploit this problem to help others. The result was another podcast called The New Corner Office. The show gave bite-sized observations and advice to the struggling newbie home worker. Where can I work with my office closed? My neck hurts because of hours in front of a laptop. How can I get it to stop? My kids interrupt me. What should I do?
The podcast became a success and led her to write a book bearing the same name as the podcast.
Everything is good, right?
In December, she announced that she was ending The New Corner Office on January 1st. Her reason? She was a mother to five children, as well as writing and recording a daily podcast. Besides, she co-hosted another show with a friend. It was time. Such a schedule was t not sustainable. She would continue her original podcasts and kept time to write. That was enough, more than enough.
Trying to keep from disappointing, we say yes, but that yes brings so many problems. A one-year commitment turns into a lifelong ball-and-chain service. A willing volunteer transforms into “we cannot live without you.”
Family commitments form the base of a full life. Then, over time, barnacles of activity accumulate. We grow optimistic about our capacity and take on more. But the “more” can unleash the unintended consequences of stress, fatigue, and malaise. At some point, even the good things in life are not worth it. As Shakespeare observed, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” Health suffers. Families can grow distant. Emptiness sets in.
No wonder people reach their breaking point! They, like Plimsoll’s ships, sink from the loads.
Vanderkam’s answer presents a healthy template. Stop and ask, “where’s my line?”
How do you determine your personal Plimsoll line? Have a candid discussion with yourself.
Do I have the bandwidth of time, energy, or interest? We cannot do everything. Instead, we must make choices. If you don’t make them yourself, life will make it for you. Think about stopping before life forces you to stop.
Does this contribute to what I want in life? As Vanderkam noted in her decision, she had other priorities in life. One more thing did not contribute to what she wanted. That’s when you must choose. It is seldom a choice between good and bad. Those are simple. Instead, it falls between good and best. As Abraham Lincoln observed, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”
Where is your Plimsoll line? In our times, it’s not hard for the loads to mount. If your activities don’t add to your life, they take away from it.
No one can do everything, but each of us must do what is best.
The best case for quitting is to have something better. Is it time to listen to Plimsoll and unload in your life?