Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Over-Achievers Anonymous

I want to foster meaningful relationships, practice my hobbies and develop new ones, weigh ten pounds less than whatever I weigh at any given moment, cook all locally organic food from scratch, read books that will teach me more about the world, and excel at my work. For some reason, I can’t quite pull that off. So, I end up feeling vaguely guilty when I am sitting on the couch eating canned soup for supper.

And it’s not just me – I’ve had this conversation with multiple friends recently – when I summed it up as I have at the beginning of this post, one of my girlfriends said “Get out of my head!” – that’s exactly the way she feels too. So here we are, a bunch of over-educated thirty-somethings paralyzed by the weight of the expectations we put on ourselves. And what we expect out of ourselves isn’t bad. It’s good to want to be creative and to want to care about our footprint on the earth and our physical health, so it’s hard to break out of the pattern.

On the other hand, though, we just can’t achieve everything that we want to. And while I don’t want to make it an excuse for spending every night of my life sitting on the couch eating canned soup, I’ve been trying to give myself grace for the times when I can’t achieve everything – maybe sometimes I need to give up the organic meal or adding another workout into my weekly schedule to spend time with friends, or get a bit of quilting done.

I also try to acknowledge the little steps that I have taken – I am not eating all local organic food cooked from scratch, but we’ve moved to eating about 90% local organic meat, and trying to make sure there are homemade soups and stews in the freezer at all times. It’s a good step. I am not learning any new hobbies, but I am finding a few that I like and trying to make time to keep them up.

Another way to get over the guilt associated with falling short of your over-achiever expectations is to honestly examine how much of those expectations really come from ego. Yes, it’s good to be fit and well-rounded and competent at work, but do I want these things so that people will look at me and see how good I am at keeping all the balls in the air? If I examine my motivations, and they aren’t as pure as they might seem on the surface, this also helps to let go.

I am a long way from being a recovered over-achiever (though going to law school was great for putting things in perspective . . . I’ve managed to find a profession where I am slightly less type-A than most of the other type-As, so I look positively slackerly at times . . .), but I am trying to keep a balance, and giving myself grace to accept that I am only one person with only so many hours in the day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

plus ca change . . .

I recently read Three Nights in Havana, a book ostensibly about Trudeau’s state visit to Cuba in 1976, but more generally about the Cold War, the Cuban revolution, the personalities of both Trudeau and Castro, and Canada-Cuba relations. In reading that book I learned that the FLQ was socialist (which makes sense, considering the time, but I’d never made that connection before) and that anti-Castro Cubans bombed Canadian government buildings. Missing out on the height of the cold war (I was a blissfully ignorant child regarding the significance of the wall coming down, even if I am old enough to vaguely remember it happening), it had never really struck me how much uncertainty people lived with for the whole period after WWII until the late 80s. And it made me realize that in every era there has been some kind of uncertainty and upheaval. I think it’s easy for our generation to feel like the “post 9/11 era” is completely uncharted territory. And, in some ways, it is – but I guess what I realized is that every generation has faced its own challenges and its own uncharted territory. In a way, it is the uncertainty of the situation that links us with history, and I find that oddly comforting. Maybe the world that we know it is coming to an end, but maybe the world that we know is always coming to an end and every day a new one, in some ways better and in some ways worse, is being born to take its place.