I was looking through old posts and came across this. Today is a special day for me, as I am achieving one of my lifelong dreams: an art/anthropological project I’ve been thinking about for several years. It’s coming together with the immense support of friends and family, a renewed understanding of setting priorities, and an appreciation for how long achieving your goals can take. I’m feeling very thankful today.
Be Thankful for Yourself (First published November 28, 2013)
After Alzette was born I threw away my to do lists.
Not all of them of course. I’m not talking about the “take out the trash, launder the cloth diapers, and schedule a dental appointment” list. I’m talking about lists that looked like this:
Radio documentary with interviews of former prisoners
Research microfiche of Madison underground 1960’s newspaper
Start after school program for youth centered on art and music
It all started when I was in middle school, when I had a science fiction dream and decided it would make an awesome novel/movie. That’s the day I started my list with “write science fiction novel. “*
Of course I never wrote the novel, but it was always in the back of my mind to do so, and for years I felt horribly guilty and anxious about not getting around to doing it. Looking back, I think it’s a tragedy that an overachieving middle school girl spent so much time stressing over a project that she clearly wasn’t as interested in completing as she had convinced herself she was. I blame this atrocity on our society’s obsession with convincing children that they can “do anything” and should do as many things as they possibly can. Moreover, this message is sent without emphasis on the time and work that needs to be dedicated to those achievements in order to complete them. This message carries through to our adult life. The science fiction novel was only the beginning for me. From then on every time I had a big idea I immediately added it to the list, and I filled my head with aspirations that I would never achieve. In hindsight there were simply too many of them, and my need for constant achievement actually worked to my disadvantage because I never had enough time for anything.
Fortunately, giving birth to Alzette put an end to all of this, and provided the freedom I had been searching for to give myself a “clean slate” as far as my achievements in life. Not to say that I won’t continue to pursue my interests, but I have a much better perspective on pursuing things more naturally and at a reasonable pace. When I became a mother I did what I now think of as “letting myself off the hook” for all the things I always thought I should achieve but hadn’t.
But what I noticed after Alzette was born, and much more so after I quit going to work and started taking care of Alzette full-time, was that the rest of the world started letting me off the hook as well. Now people are always telling me how great it is that I am raising a human being, and contributing to the world by supporting the health and development of a great person, and that every day as long as Alzette is healthy and happy I should feel a great sense of accomplishment.
These people are so right. I should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Making food and keeping a happy home and spending time with those I love and simply living are more important than anything else. My only frustration is that everyone else should feel great about this too! Why is it that when we are working our achievements never seem to be enough? It feels as though we must constantly prove our success (however that is defined) and accomplishments to the world and to ourselves, yet we never seem to measure up. What does it actually mean to “give 110 percent” anyway? Perhaps more than 100 percent is too much. Our to do lists just keep getting longer, so that even during our vacations and down time we have this nagging feeling that we’re not getting anything done.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m suggesting you do what I’ve done: let yourself off the hook. Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s enough. The best thing you can do for yourself and the world is to be a caring, thoughtful person. The true measure of your life will be whether you were kind to others, and the time you enjoyed doing things like reading, walking in the forest, sitting on the beach listening to the waves, or sharing a meal with your family. At the end of the day, we’ve achieved a lot just by being human. So be thankful for it.
*For those interested, my dream was about this blob that two scientists had created that could be shaped into anything and manipulated with people’s minds. In one scene the blob was a spoon and someone was bending it with her mind. Yes, I am saying that I dreamt that scene in The Matrix eight years before the film was made. Matrix fans should be appropriately freaked out – let’s just leave it as further proof that living is enough.