If you’re like me, you’ve been a Type-A over-achiever since birth. Around the age of 3-4, you astounded your parents with the fact that you’d taught yourself to read. At age 7, you blew away your first standardized test. At age 11, you were voted by your classmates as “Most likely to attend MIT and discover a cure for cancer.” At age 12-13 you won the spelling bee - twice…and the science fair and the fiction contest and made the honor roll sixteen times.
You are the person who people have looked at your whole life and told you that you are going to BE AMAZING one day.
You are also the person who sobbed uncontrollably when you didn’t make National Merit Scholar and years later “choked” while taking the LSAT and have never told another living soul your score because you ‘only scored in the top 5%,’ a fact which you find hideously embarrassing.
You consider yourself a productive, capable and efficient person and constantly berate yourself for all the things YOU HAVEN’T DONE each day/month/year/decade. You feel guilty that you’re not living up to your 'potential' while wasting opportunities that others will never have.
2012 was the year that I sat down, thought about all that potential, and determined, “Fuck that. The only potential I want to worry about is the one for my own happiness and the people I love.”
Sometime last fall, it was a Saturday, and I had a list sitting before me of all the things I needed to accomplish that day.
I didn't do it. Instead I spent the day doing nothing…except as it turns out, I didn’t do nothing. (Back off, grammar nazis.) I spent the day meditating and looking at my stumbling blocks in my life. At the end of the day I’d scrawled out three pages of notes. What did I learn? Here are two items.
Well, for starters, I’ve had anywhere from 10-15 extra pounds hanging on my body this year that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. I sat down with my paper and a comfy pillow and pondered. I knew it wasn’t about food or hunger or anything like that. It was something psychological, but what?
Turns out, when I really thought about it, for the last few years a lot of people have commented on “how skinny” I am. While it’s considered rude to say something to an overweight person about their size, thin people are fair game, and even worse, people couch their comments under a bullshit façade of concern. “Are you eating enough?” “Did you eat today?” “You never eat lunch. Do you have an eating disorder?” What made it ten times worse is that I have always been slightly obsessive about my weight.
My thin weight was perfectly healthy, but I’d kinda developed a complex about it, and I realized that I was hanging on to this extra ten pounds in an effort to a) stave off the comments and b) convince myself that I could tolerate being a heavier weight.
That day I told myself that it was ok to be skinny. Since then, without any effort on my part, the extra weight is fading away, and I’m SO much happier when I put my pants on in the morning. When your pants fit, it’s the beginning of a good day.
Another fun thing I got from that day? I always seemed to have ‘just enough’ money regardless of whether I was making $20k or six figures a year. I asked myself WHY that was and came up with the theory that I was scared of being without financial worry. I know, it’s seems counter-intuitive, right? I was afraid that if I paid off my loans and saved up a fair amount of money, I would take on bigger financial obligations like buying a house or having a kid – and I was worried that those things would limit me in some way. Or worse yet, I’d become one of those douchebags with a lot of nice things and zero personality. Also, my parents have heavily manipulated, bartered, and coerced each other into doing things throughout the years with – you guessed it – money. (FUN FACT! My mother, who never wanted children, consented to my creation in exchange for a top of the line washer and dryer. To this day, I LOVE doing laundry.) Back to the story, with that one I realized that money wasn’t actually the issue. It was what I thought money would create, what money symbolized to me. I’ve since decided that it’s possible to be financially stable and not be a complete asshole.
At the end of that day, I’d crossed nothing off my to-do list. From a tangible productivity assessment standpoint, I was sitting on a big fat zero, but some of the realizations I had the day I did nothing more than sit on my butt have improved my daily well-being. And bonus, because I was navel-gazing rather than running errands that day, I also had the time to meet a good friend for lunch.
The point I’m trying to make here (probably poorly), is that there’s so many little things out there that we can do for ourselves and others each day that have no discernible level of achievement, but which ultimately have a much bigger impact on our lives than being named a National Merit Scholar. (That's right. Suck it all you National Merit Scholars....just kidding.) And those little things ARE our real achievements. And that’s what I try to remember every time I ask myself, “Is this really all the more I’ve done with my life? Is this where I’m supposed “to be” at this age?!?!” Then I go play with my dog and forget all about it.