I’m not normally a New Year’s resolution sort of gal. Like most perfectionists, I’m afraid of failure, so I choose not to set myself up for it on the first day each year. Secretly I wonder why anyone would walk this plank, because it’s only a matter of time before you take the plunge into exactly how you were before. The new January crowd at my gym drives me nuts because they hog all the spin bikes and have yet to learn the etiquette of wiping down the treadmill after they’ve sweat all over it. I calm myself down by remembering they’ll be gone by Valentine’s Day.
This year I broke that rule. I resolved to simplify my life. I know, how cliche. But as I shared in this post last week, my priorities were getting out of whack, and I’m making some changes to realign how I spend my time with what I view as most important. One of my most important values is my family. And I’ve come to realize that taking care of myself better enables me to take care of them.
With a Ph.D. in psychology, you’d think this would be a no-brainer for me. After all, don’t we all know that a happy mom makes a happy home? Doctor heal thyself is my new mantra. While it’s one thing for me to help you discover the right path for you, it’s something all together different to follow my own advice. Well, this year I vow to take better care of myself by being less productive.
A friend recently posted this link on her Facebook page: 16 Signs You’re a Little (or A Lot) Type A. I met 10 of the 16:
Waiting in long lines kills you a little bit inside.
You’ve been described as a perfectionist, overachiever, workaholic or all of the above.
You bite your nails or grind your teeth.
You have a serious phobia of wasting time.
You’re highly conscientious.
You have a hard time falling asleep at night.
People can’t keep up with you — in conversation or on the sidewalk.
Relaxing can be hard work for you.
You have a low tolerance for incompetence.
You make it happen.
And what struck me was that all 10 characteristics make my life miserable a lot of the time. Don’t get me wrong, things like being highly conscientious and making it happen can be very good attributes. But, in my case they are what we counselors refer to as an over-used strength, and, as such, they’ve become a liability.
And for me, all these things have a common theme — the need to be productive. Because if I produce big, important things, preferably on a daily basis, then I’m worth something.
As a mostly stay-at-home mom for the past nine years, this definition of worth has proved challenging for me. As any parent who’s left the work force to raise kids knows, we check very few things off of our to-do list each day while the kids are awake. A load of laundry, two meals (because breakfast comes out of a box most mornings), and dried applesauce and boogers scrubbed off the walls in between playing with and organizing our kiddos is a day worth applauding. The problem was, those simple accomplishments were never enough for me.
So, I’d find additional ways to prove my worth. I’d volunteer on several non-profit executive committees and board of directors, because I’m highly conscientious and need to do my part to better our community — right? And, if I am to volunteer, of course I’ll lead whatever it is I’m doing (because I can’t handle incompetence and no one can seem to do it right). I have a hard time relaxing, so in my “down” time, I’d organize freezer meal parties: planning meals, calculating per-serving costs, and laminating meal prep cards; and Christmas present wrapping parties; and wine tasting parties complete with prizes and homemade wine tasting journals for each guest. I’d work as a freelance consultant, adjunct professor, and start a business. I could go on and on. But whatever I did, I’d do it right, because after all, I make things happen.
And I did all these things at night and during my kids’ always-too-short nap times. I’d stay up way too late and bend over backwards to make sure things were done nearly perfectly — I mean, is there any other way? And over time, my family got less of my attention, my kids asked why I was so stressed, and I started to resent all these good things I was working for. And I started to resent everyone else because … why was I one of the very few who cared about and volunteered for these things? And why was I the only one who ever did things the right way?
But, what I know when I take a step back is that my anger, frustration and sadness really came from my need to prove my value. And the results of my labor were usually stellar and received rave reviews … which are like heroin for my productivity addiction. But, I can give to my community, to my friends and even to my family in a way that doesn’t run me down. It’s the way in which I choose to give of myself that makes the difference. And my value doesn’t come from what I produce. The adult, rational side of me knows and believes this. But it’s the child in me who somewhere along the line grew up believing this that is hard to convince.
This insight isn’t new to me, but I’ve finally decided to act on it. Like all change, we can know we have a problem, but until the consequences of the problem really hurt, we are reluctant to put in the work to be different. Well, I’m ready. Last year, for many reasons, was a down-right crazy one for me. And with a new baby on the way, I need to do differently. I owe it to myself and my family. And if I’m run down, resentful and stressed, we all suffer.
So, I’m going to be less productive. I’m going to go to bed earlier. Which, simply because I’ll be sleeping for more hours, means I’ll get less done. I’ll choose what I do more wisely. I won’t take on every cause or take advantage of every good-sounding opportunity that comes my way. I won’t give everything 110%. While I imagine that I will still strive for way beyond what most people would settle for, the fact that I vow to simply do less will give me the time and space to do what I chose to take on well.
This is a change that will take adjusting to. I’ll probably go through withdrawl and start looking for meaningful projects to take on. I’ll have to become okay with things simply not getting accomplished because I chose not to do them. I’ll have to let others take on tasks that I once thought only I could do well. I’ll have to wrestle with my self-worth and truly defeat the world’s view of value. Because, as a child of God, my worth isn’t liked to works. I know this. I look forward to the day where I no longer have to remind myself of this fact because it is written into my heart as well as my head.
And I’ll have to get used to looking at myself without puffy, sleepy eyes — now that’s a change I can get used to.