Could you give up eating out for 90 days? Not spend any money, unless it was on absolutely essential items? Could you also go home from work every day on time – for the whole three months?
When Sunshine Coast radio broadcaster and author Sheridan Stewart set herself this very challenge, with a view to simply spend less money, she had no idea how momentously her life would change.
And it wasn’t just the welcome benefit of a healthier bank balance that made a difference – it was the profound realisation, after years of striving to have more, do more, and be more, that she actually was already enough.
She was so inspired in fact, she wrote a book about it – I Am Enough: A 90-day Challenge to Find Contentment. Told with insight and humour, and sparked by Sheridan’s 90-day challenge – or quest, as she calls it – the book is an antidote to the constant pressure we all seem to be under to do more, have more and be more.
The light-heartedness with which she writes (she’s always had “bad undies” as her penance for not having the “perfect bikini body”) underscores the very serious issues of burnout, anxiety and other health problems, all of which Sheridan has experienced first-hand and which are the inevitable by-products of the relentless quest for perfectionism that pervade modern life.
As a journalist, speaker, writer and broadcaster, self-declared driven over-achiever Sheridan has had a stellar career.
She grew up in Sydney, Hawaii and Colorado, and at age 11, became the youngest person in the country to be awarded a grant from the Australian Film Commission to produce a film based on an original script.
She’s been an FM presenter, music journalist, comedy producer and exhibiting artist, as well as having facilitated personal and professional development workshops for women, before joining the ABC Radio in 2014. Sheridan currently broadcasts from the Sunshine Coast and contributes to ABC online.
It was during her time working in emergency broadcasting through the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20, followed closely by the COVID pandemic, that she began to realise something was seriously amiss.
“As I went through the quest, I realised these things were becoming more serious,” Sheridan tells salt.
“I was paying lip service to the fact that I knew I was struggling with burnout to some degree, but perhaps didn’t think of it as something that I needed to address immediately. I just kept thinking that if I could just keep going, if I could just get through this next challenge, there’d be an end to it. But it’s life.
“So what I discovered during the challenge, was that if I want a different result, I actually have to change either what I’m doing, or how I’m doing it, or the amount of it I’m doing.”
Firstly, she says, there was a stripping back to what is really essential; using what she already had instead of buying more. Then, taking small actions that better serve her physical, emotional and financial wellbeing, such as de-cluttering a room or wardrobe, listening to music she loves, or getting more sleep. Over time, this led to the ability to make huge and lasting changes in her life by questioning lifelong attitudes and habits and the real reasons she had formed them.
Having a negative body image is one of the issues that Sheridan, a chronic dieter and lifelong bad undies-wearer, has struggled with all her life – a struggle shared by many. It led her to avoid the beach when she was younger, even though she loves swimming. She’s now far more accepting of her body, largely thanks to the example set by her close friend Mel, whose inspirational attitude is highlighted in the book.
Five years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Mel was then also diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), but was able to find joy in life and be thankful for the strength of her body.
“It was as though as her physical body was becoming more restricted, her essence or her soul or her greater self was expanding,” Sheridan tells salt.
“How can I take for granted that I can go for a swim every day, no matter what size or shape I’m in?
“We often punish ourselves, don’t we? It starts really young – put a picture of your dream body on the fridge to stop you eating – there’s this punishment/reward going on around some sort of ideal. It’s unachievable, it’s not real, and even though we know that everybody’s tweaked and botoxed and full of fillers and they’re taking photos at their best angles through filters and all that sort of thing – we know all of that, and yet we’ve been trained, and we still want it.
“It’s deeply ingrained. We could search our whole lifetime and perhaps not entirely lose that, but we can choose to set it aside. If today was my last day on the planet and I didn’t go for a swim, that would be a bigger tragedy than never losing weight.”