If I do not have a barrage of immediate deadlines, goals, and to-do lists, I revert into a nearly motionless lump of mindless television consumption and procrastination. It's like watching evolution happen in reverse.
|Me, by late December.|
But I've found that I can only make time for all of those lofty self-imposed deadlines when they are happening in the midst of a greater external structure. If I know that I have to be at work from 8am-2pm, then I can plan to get up at 6am to work out, study for my exams until 4pm, pick up my kid from daycare, and make dinner. If I don't have to be at work? All bets are off. There are no other structures in which to create my plans. I am paralyzed by the possibilities.
This is why I have decided to take on even more external responsibilities during one of my busiest semesters yet. I am taking my comprehensive doctoral exams in a few months, but I've also joined a roller derby team. Roller derby will require me to make practices and bouts. It will require rigorous physical exertion. It is, I'm convinced, exactly what I need.
Here's what I've figured out. I once thought that my tendency to revert into near-catatonic states whenever I had more than 48 hours of unscheduled time was simply a matter of laziness. I suspected that at my core, in my soul, I was a lazy person who simply took on a bunch of responsibilities to put on a guise of productivity.
But I don't think that's the case anymore. Instead, I think my true problem is that at my core, in my soul, deep down under it all, I'm a horrendous perfectionist.
I know. I know. I sound like the person in the job interview who's asked "What's your greatest weakness?" and starts making their weaknesses sound like a strength. But I am here to tell you that this perfectionism is not a strength. It is a flaw, and it has the potential to be a fatal one.
When left with unstructured time and a sense of tasks uncompleted, I am motionless because of their enormity. If I have all the time in the world (or, in this case, all the time in three weeks) to study for my exams, then all I can do is think about the best way to study. I find myself needing to be in the "right" mind frame to read. I convince myself that I need to take the "right" kind of notes. I start creating elaborate plans for spreadsheets and discussion questions that I will write for myself and then answer. I am so overwhelmed by how good I should be able to make the work with all that free time that I don't do the work at all. It's ridiculous.
I did the same thing with my fitness goals. If I have so much time to work out, then all I can think about is how much stronger I should be. I start measuring myself against the weight I can't lift or the miles I can't run instead of what I do accomplish. I get dejected. I blame myself for the "failure" I've concocted. I freeze.
But when I came back from Christmas break, I started hitting the gym and the books again. I panicked for a moment because I couldn't read these books the "right" way or lift these weights often enough. I didn't get to go in and give full one-hour workouts or four-hour study sessions (like those I'd planned for break and never completed). I had to run in and give the weight lifting session 20 minutes. I had to read in the dim light of my daughter's room as I tapped her back while she fell asleep. These conditions were very, very far from the perfect ones I had created for myself just two weeks ago.
And you know what? They work. The notes I took in the forty minutes I had while my husband gave my daughter a bath were fine. Better than fine. They were good. When I went back to the gym, I did less than I had wanted, but I was stronger. The weights got heavier.
Things got done.
Once perfectionism is off the table, I can move again. When my schedule is hectic enough that good enough has to suffice, good enough is actually quite impressive.
Photo: Jo Simon, Paul David Gibson, George C. Slade