Monthly Archives: July 2010

On excellence and mediocrity

So many of us are taught to excel at everything, from very early on. We are told that there is nothing that we can’t do if we put our minds to it. We are promised success in return for hard work, with a side of happiness. Work hard, and you’ll get somewhere in life, with the implication that if you don’t, you are nowhere.
Now, I’m not to say that this is entirely wrong. I’m going to save my opinions on the matter of happiness for another day, and I think we’re in agreement that if everybody gives up on working to achieve what she or he believes in, we may well find ourselves in dire straights. But I digress.
I took this ethic to a slightly odd extreme. For the longest time, I did only that at which I could excel. Anything I did, I would set the highest demands of myself, and perform impeccably. But on the other hand, if I couldn’t be excellent, I just would not, could not, do it, and would slog through lazily and without accomplishment.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a varied handful of useful skills, you can get through life this way for quite some time. But not forever. Eventually responsibilities and workload catch up with you, and not everything you do is such a spectacular success anymore. And when you’re so strongly conditioned to succeed, if it’s not a success, it’s necessarily a failure.
So, you have this new breed of humans walking the Earth. They are smart, capable, and talented. They do things well, with dedication, and are quite possibly creating their own little dents to make the world a better place. And they are slowly burning themselves out, seeing themselves from inside as a growing mass of failures.
You get to believe this about yourself too much, and you stop moving. And that makes it even worse. You get sucked into an endless cycle of feeling inadequate, like a disappointment to yourself and those who rely on you, of self-loathing, even. The deeper you get sucked in, the harder it is to unstick yourself, and slowly the terrible things you believe about yourself are starting to become true to others as well.
If you’re lucky, someone will unstick you. This someone might be yourself. This someone might be someone who loves you very much, but this someone could also not even be close to you, or even ever know this happened. This someone could be a group of people. This someone will deliver the slap in your face you need to get unstuck and back on track.
So you get back on track and keep moving. Go back to being your excellent old self. Until you start burning out again. This will keep happening, unless you change the rules.

I think I found a way to trick the system. To avoid, or at least stall the burnout.
Make a list of things you wouldn’t normally do. Because you’re no good at them and they are a waste of your time. Single out one item that sounds like it would be fun, or that maybe you’ve even harbored wishes of maybe someday mastering. DO IT. Do it with the full knowledge that you will NEVER be excellent at it. Enjoy it anyway, just because you’re doing it. Keep doing it. If you improve over time, pay no mind to this. Anybody will improve over time. You’re not in this for the improvement. This is your chance to be truly and utterly mediocre at something, and not give a fuck about it. Just because you enjoy what you’re doing.

Did you just spend 30-60 minutes of your day doing something absolutely useless?
Excellent. No. Just kidding.

Enjoy it. Savor it. Love it. Love yourself. Give yourself the credit of being allowed to be less than stellar at something. Don’t be excellent. Just be.

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Filed under Dare I Say Philosophy

Gateway

I know it’s not July 19th today. Still, walking back from my grandparents’ home to my mom’s after a brief visit stirred memories of July 19th, 2005. My gateway into a parallel universe. The last day before I became a mother.
Somehow, on that day, the emotions and thought processes of a person without children remained tangible to this other me, this mother me. And these emotions and processes are so very foreign to me now, that’s it’s kind of hard for me to believe that they were actually mine, and not something I read about somewhere.
Besides the obvious sudden presence of another, very time and attention consuming person in my life, it’s kind of hard to put a finger on the differences. I still go run errands and stop for a leisurely cup of coffee, if possible. I still frequent bookstores and can get lost for hours on end reading something engrossing or doing something seemingly pointless.
God knows that day was very marked with the promise of things to come, I was having contractions every five minutes or less from early morning, even though they were really not moving anywhere, and it took a good 36 hours from when they started until she was out. But still, there was one very big thing missing from that picture.
Everything I do nowadays, every breath I take, and whatever other cliches come to mind, is marked with this profound sense of responsibility and obligation. Everything else I had done in my life beforehand was reversible. Now nothing is.
Now, it so happens that I am actually quite good at motherhood. It challenges me, keeps me on my toes, and I do whatever I can to give my kids everything I think that they need and deserve. And they are really awesome kids. It really looks like I am doing my job well, if I may say so myself.
I still can’t help wondering what doors I have closed on myself, and trying to pinpoint the exact moment they slammed shut. Though I often realize, or maybe just really want to believe, that if I were doing anything else with my life, I would have been crazed with the ticking of my unsatisfied biological clock by now, and regretful that I hadn’t got a head start on it.
A major theme of my life for the most part, and from very early on, is that I don’t quite know how I ended up where I am right now. The feeling that I am the ultimate drifter, being carried by other people’s decisions and suggestions to some sort of latent nothingness, manifesting itself at different points in being able to say that I’m doing this or that, without really being committed to any of it.
Well, I am committed to motherhood. To the death, and I mean what I’m saying here. This is the one thing in my life to which I can trace the exact sequence of choices, all made with the conscious desire to become somebody’s mom.
I still don’t know if I can live with the concessions I have made to do this. I still don’t know if I have what it takes to keep it up for as long as I have to. And this terrifies me, because I know that I have chosen to give up my right to choose on this. Willingly, knowingly, gladly.
Sometimes I wish I could take off the adult costume, and go back to being the 4 year old me, which is still the “real me” with which I truly identify. And then I think about July 19th, 2005. What if I had passed that day, and woken up the next without any change in my life? And I think it’s the saddest thing I could ever imagine.

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Filed under Random Ranting