former high-capacity rule-follower trying to make a plan and stick with it

(side bar - please do not judge for it is 2:02 am and i am posting on my blog. can't sleep. no apparent reason. too hot and humid perhaps? it's uncomfortable to sleep when the backs of my knees are sweating.)

please note: this will be a rambling rant. stay with me.

so, kirk and i often talk, with no attempts to disguise our envy, of "high-capacity" people... you know the type: those people who have intense jobs, busy personal lives, loads of kids, perfect yards, and still manage to impeccably renovate their old houses, run 10 miles every morning before dawn, and cook an organic gourmet dinner every day with foods grown and harvested in their own sustainable gardens. ok, i really do not think anyone is that ideal, but my hyperbolous (i know, not a word) description appropriately illustrates the image that i think we all measure ourselves against. anyway, the bit that really causes a twinge of pain in my heart when we talk about such people is that i used to be a high capacity person and somehow lost that version of myself over the past 10 years. here's what i think has occurred:
1. i am not 20.
2. i have "adult" responsibilities now (mortgage, job, graduate school, household projects, retirement fund, the need to "keep an eye" on cholesterol).
3. i've discovered that i'm actually an introvert (for years i got by being outgoing, but really i am totally energized by time by myself and drained of energy when i do not get to be by myself).
4. i learned how to say NO. high capacity mendy cared more about being a people-pleaser than being honest. the new mendy is less afraid of offending people (believe it or not, but i really don't enjoy offending people, i'm just resigned to the fact that i probably will offend at least 5 people every day). former mendy would have agreed to coordinate this, organize that, attend this, pick up that, deliver this, schedule that, and bake 5 dozen cookies by tomorrow for the other thing... that's just not going to work for me anymore. first of all, i don't like to bake all that much. secondly, (see item #3) i don't want to be around people every waking minute of every day. thirdly, being good at planning, organizing, and other administrative duties, and enjoying them are not mutually inclusive. so, with my new self, you can pretty much count on my yes being yes and my no being no; if i say i want to do something, i probably mean it. i wouldn't agree to it otherwise... unless the consequence of saying "no" outweighs the positive effects of not being over-committed.

is this making any sense?? am i the only one that has lost the capacity to be high-capacity??

anyway, 12 years ago, not only was i high capacity, but i was also a rigid rule-follower (goes hand in hand with the people-pleasing thing). i'm not just talking about parental rules, or rules of the road, or the 10 commandments, or constitutional laws... i mean that if a person i respected or a person of authority told me "you should do x, y, and z" i did it. because they told me to. and they know what is best. and if i could not follow the "rule" i would commit myself to penance of regular doses of guilt, shame, regret, and remorse until i felt i had adequately compensated for the failure to comply.
rule: "you should do devotions every morning"
failure to comply: did not get up until 8:10 am when i have 8:30 am class halfway across town = oh crap! = no bible-reading until 10:00 pm = layer after layer of guilt slathered on my conscience until i have thoroughly shamed myself into having daily morning devotions at least 3 consecutive days!

rule: "you should not swim until 30 minutes after eating"
failure to comply: having to eat lunch was just an annoying distraction from my sole purpose for living as a child in the summer: to spend every daylight hour at the pool. so i usually wolfed down the pb & j, ran like i had ants in my pants to the pool, and cannon-balled into the deep end before 10 minutes had elapsed. result: hypochondriatic cramps in the tummy ("oh no! i'm probably dying because i ate and then swam 10 minutes later!"). cramps more likely due to the child-ulcer caused by feeling guilty for every blasted broken rule!

point being: in any given day, there are so many rules to follow/break and these rules were very important to me. so, if i made a rule for myself i was pretty good at keeping it. plus, i was a high-capacity person back then, so i could juggle quite a few rules before my systems started to shut down.

at some point, i decided to free myself of these stressful ways and began to embrace my rebellious side. this may or may not have been a noticeable change to the outside observer, but for me it was a definitive shift in my thinking. i would say there are a lot of positives that have resulted from this shift. i'm more of a grace-giver (to myself at least, and i like to think i do the same for others) and i've finally allowed myself to receive grace (that's huge, isn't it??), i've experienced new freedom (freedom to do what i'm good/gifted at, not just do what i "should"), i've mellowed out (this is virtually undetectable by anyone not inside my brain), and i'm more honest with myself. all good things.

however, i've noted a few downsides as well, chief among them is my seeming inability to STICK TO A PLAN. it's like i have commitment fears or ADHD or something. i've always been one for plans. i like to look at the big picture and break it down step by step. i like to have a goal and work toward it. i like to have time to prepare, brainstorm, sketch, collaborate, and then attack. but now, i spend time planning and preparing for ___________ (fill in the blank with any scenario... grocery list, lesson plans for school, exercise plan, healthy meals for the week, etc), but fail to follow through with the plan. i plan, but do not execute. or i change the plan mid-course to avoid failure or the discomfort of having to discipline myself. you all know what that is like, right? take new year's resolutions, for example: who among us has not started out with a supremely ambitious resolution, only to fall off the wagon by january 8th and find yourself cleverly revising the resolution?? "no soda" becomes "no soda on weekdays" and then mutates into "no soda on mondays." pretty soon, you're drinking more soda than you were before the cursed resolution was ever uttered!

so now i'm struck with the dilemma: should i keep my plans realistic and overly simplified (dumbed-down, if you will) so that they are achievable? or should i take the risk of saying the thing that i really, ultimately, want to achieve only to look a fool if i cannot accomplish it? and don't tell me that "the answer probably lies somewhere in between." well, thanks, i never thought of that (sarcasm). sure, sure, balance, moderation, whatever, that's the ideal. but if we're honest, we probably spend the majority of our time pin-balling off one extreme or the other.

i have so many things i want for myself (goals) that i'm literally afraid to say out loud, afraid to write them down, afraid to commit to them, because i'm afraid i can't achieve them. i may have been afraid to disappoint people, afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, etc as a 20-year-old, but i NEVER thought that i would not achieve the goals i had set for myself (pardon the double negative). with all the fear, anxiety, stress, insecurity and whatever else i had as a kid, it never occurred to me that i might not accomplish what i said i would do. i was ruthlessly optimistic, maybe a little naive. so, i don't know when exactly that i stopped believing that i could do anything, but that is not a good thing. that's not good fear. how can i tell my students that it's ok to experience failure, not to be afraid of it, because you'll learn from it and it will make you stronger, when i'm afraid to dream for my own self? i think it's the ultimate dilemma, isn't it? it's really impossible to achieve a personal goal that you have not set. i don't want to say it or write it for fear of letting myself down or having to face others that are actually living out their goals/dreams (isn't that the worst?! it's like looking in a mirror of everything you're not! please, you all know you think the same things!). so i could keep on NOT stating my goals, not writing down the plans for how i'm to achieve the goals, and i'll have guaranteed results: i will continue to NOT make any progress towards the fictional, imaginary goals. but, at least i will have met my expectations.

my goals for myself include how i want to spend/save my money, what projects i have in store for my house/yard, places i want to visit or live, what i want for my emotional/behavioral disorder program (EBD program for short, but i never know if people know what in the tarnation i'm talking about when i use all these acronyms!), what sort of eating habits i want to abide by, what i want to look like, what i want to accomplish as a runner, and the list just goes on. i'm sure you all have your own things to add to the list, maybe you're afraid to say it too, maybe not. maybe you're one of those darned high-capacity types that's already living out your dreams as a marathon runner/super-mom/dad/employee-of-the-month/organic gourmet chef who looks like a model and who's home is featured in House Beautiful magazine and who has raised all gifted children and prize-winning pets. in which case, i would like you to please not take it personally that i will not be able to be friends with you any longer. just kidding. no i'm not. ok maybe. not.

so here's the question: how do i make a plan (that i will stick with) for these goals? i don't want to do anything crazy that only lasts for a short while. i don't want to just run one marathon and then flame out. i want to be a runner. i don't want to do a "diet", i want to have healthy habits. kirk and i have a list of "need to do" projects for the house and then we have the "in our dreams" list, so we need to make choices and budget for them, but we also recognize that being good homeowners may mean being willing to spend some money to invest in improving the house. i don't want to make the "rules" for life too rigid to follow, yet i know that to achieve the results i have to make sacrifices. what is the right amount of sacrifice?

these are the questions that have been rattling around in my head and the conversations i've been having lately. my guess is that these are not unique to me. they're not even new revelations to me; they're recycled, revisited, and newly-worded versions of the same conflicts within myself for the past 12 years. i have no great intentions or purpose for sharing them, other than to get them off my chest, have a little fun, find the humor in life, and test the water with my proverbial tippy-toe to see if there are any like-minded people out there asking the same questions and trying to measure up to the same idealized versions of themselves. and i just really could not sleep.


Michelle said...

I LOVE that you posted this. Actually, I'm pretty sure any blog I wrote in the middle of the night wouldn't be so insightful. I'm always so impressed with you, Schmend. You are a verbal processor and I learn about new ways to challenge myself everytime I'm with you. Reading this blog, I feel like I was with you. I have been a rule-follower, too. For instance, there is a path at work between the boys lodge and girls lodge. It jigs back and forth several times. They could have just made the path straight, but made it jig-jagged. Whenever I'm walking a boy back to the house, I follow it back and forth back and forth. They ALWAYS start to cut across and eventually jig-jag with me when they see I am jig-jagging. This has brought about many conversations in therapy about the good and bad parts of following rules. Did any of this make any sense? Not sure. Anywho, loved your blog. Love you.

Anonymous said...

You have to try. You see a shrink.

You learn a lot. You read. You think.

You struggle to improve your looks.

You meet some men. You write some books.

You eat good food. You give up junk.

You do not smoke. You don’t get drunk.

You take up yoga, walk and swim.

And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.

You don’t know what to do. You cry.

You’re running out of things to try.

You blow your nose. You see a shrink.

You walk. You give up food and drink.

You fall in love. You make a plan.

You struggle to improve your man.

And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.

You go to yoga, cry, and swim.

You eat and drink. You give up looks.

You struggle to improve your books.

You cannot see the point. You sigh.

You do not smoke. You have to try.

© Wendy Cope

Paprika said...

Love your thoughts Mendy and your willingness to share them!! I think most anyone could relate to you - I certainly can!
My thoughts: Obviously an issue that we could die trying to find an answer to because we live in such a fallen world, with fallen people, and fallen systems of making life work. That's sure to yield a less-than-perfect life. Any image of that is certainly not true. (Not that the person who has the perfect image is necessarily guilty of trying to deceive everyone...they could be living totally authentically. Or not. I think both are possible.) I've noticed in my life, what's helped me to have "balance" is not finding the "right" amount of rigidity and trying to settle there. Because that still ends up being a self-centered goal. The more I let Jesus define who I am and what is important, the responsibility I feel to not fail goes way down and I am free to do/say/commit to things in a way that genuinely wants His good, not just my own. In a sense, the pressure is off. But Lord knows it's a battle to maintain that perspective. I am weak!

These are just thoughts. I totally battle with similar things. I like getting the chance to process things because I ask similar questions.

Love you!