This week I celebrated another birthday, or “breath day,” as my step-dad affectionately calls it.  We always thought that was weird. “Happy Breath Day!” he’d say, and we’d roll our eyes and giggle, thinking that he was just being silly.  And it isn’t just birthdays, each note, email, and Christmas card is always closed with the statement, “Enjoy each breath.”

I never really got it…until now. It’s not really about breathing – it’s about living. It’s about the practice of slowing down to enjoy each moment – or each breath – and being present. I’ve been listening to my step-dad say this to me for almost 30 years, but I never really heard him.

For so much of my life, I’ve been so busy. Busy going to school, studying, socializing, dating, working, being married, and, after having a child, I became even busier because now I was doing for not one, or two, but three people. It was exhausting. Enjoy each breath? I didn’t even have time TO breathe.  And where did all this busyness get me? Nowhere. I wasn’t enjoying each breath…in fact, I wasn’t enjoying much of anything. I was there, but I wasn’t present. I was always thinking of the next thing, or things, that just had to get done.

With to-do lists an arm’s length long, I was always stressed out, always late, always apologizing, and never really present. It was as though the life was sucked out of me – all the air. I was missing each and every breath.

This past year has opened my eyes to how my busyness and drive to (and I laugh as I write this), “get everything done so I can relax,” has effected me and my family. It was crazy to think that at any point everything will get done, because it won’t – especially if I kept adding things to the list. I knew something had to change. I was never relaxed, I never had fun and neither did anyone else around me…and if they did, I became resentful and angry – thinking, “I’m doing all the work and everyone else is having fun. It’s not fair.” Yet, I kept doing it because…I was caught in a vicious cycle that I couldn’t stop.

Last summer I hit my breaking point. I realized that I really wasn’t happy. I felt that something was missing – most notably a feeling of joy – and I had to take a hard look at myself and my life. I had to re-prioritize and be honest about who I am and what I can and cannot do. I’m changing jobs to gain a bit more space and stopped accepting freelance work. I’ve freed up our family schedule to allow for more fun and downtime. I’ve put away the never-ending lists and began focusing only on what matters – my own happiness and that of my family. And, most important, I’ve started to ask for help – I accept the fact that I can’t do EVERYTHING myself…and if it doesn’t get done, so be it. It’s probably not that important anyway.

And guess what? I’m happily enjoying each breath.