I talk a lot about juggling balls in my life, and trying to find a balance between work, my young kids, and my art. And I am definitely a work in progress, because transitioning from being a full time mom to a student, then to working an hour away (only two days a week, but that’s still 2 days that I’m gone most of the day), and being able to give writing the attention it needs is very hard for me. I do tend to let things slip, and I also give myself a lot of permission to not be productive AT ALL after the kids go to bed. When it’s just me on days my husband works, the complete silence is a gift. My poor brain gets so over saturated by noise and sensory input during the day that if I don’t get some quiet alone time, I start to unravel.
This post isn’t really about writing, but it is a lot about learning to balance parts of my life, and about honoring my needs and limitations, and celebrating successes. I, like many people, have structured my life around should. “I should be doing this”, “I should be able to manage”, “I should be more patient with my kids”, etc.
Should is poison in our lives. It’s toxic and damaging when we let it overcome the celebrations and positive strides we take. On days where my brain feels like it’s shutting down (I really get over saturated by sensory input sometimes), I should only leads to guilt and low self esteem, which spreads into other sections of my life until my failings and shortcomings speak a lot more loudly than anything else.
I often feel as though I am failing at balancing part of my life, and that enjoying writing as an outlet with rewards that are intangible to my family but necessary to me, are bad.
I have long admired women like Joy Harjo, Marge Piercy, and countless others whose stories speak to tremendous will and hard work. Challenges they faced, triumphs they managed to pull out in difficult circumstances, balancing so many things in their lives, are things I often feel like I should be able to do, because I have the intelligence and capability to do so.
I often feel incredibly lazy because there is a lot of time in my life that I could be using differently.
But that really means that I’m not listening to my body and mind. That I am discounting my need to take care of the things that I need for mental health, for good interactions with friends and family, and for flourishing creativity. I discount the many things in my life I balance. All I see are the balls I’ve dropped. Last November and December, I was trying to balance classes, work, trying to get into grad school, my mother being in the hospital for two weeks, NaNo, and edits for Hush; I had a friend ask me if I kept elves in my pockets in order to do these things. But what I saw were the things I didn’t get done, or the ways I should have been able to do them better.
I don’t know if there is a clearer way to convey the message, to you and to myself, that should has the power to destroy positivity, self love and appreciation, and good outcomes in our lives.
In those moths, and January, I helped my mother through a two week, two surgery, emotional roller coaster of an ordeal. I got into grad school, got a perfect grade in my course. I finished edits for Hush, even though I was an emotional wreck that perhaps made it harder than it could have been (oops). I spent two weeks literally on the floor after a debilitating back injury, and I wrote the rough manuscript for my upcoming book.
Should is a word I want to burn away (in the fireplace might be nice, because this winter has been cold as fuck), so that I can let myself say “I am fucking awesome”, It’s incredibly sad to me that tearing ourselves down is a natural state, but that owning how incredible we can be is often, especially for women, seen as bragging, ego driven, self centered hubris.
This week’s confession: I want to learn that I am fucking awesome. I’m not there yet, but there’s not room in my life for not appreciating myself, especially when it takes up or hinders precious time I could be enjoying the gifts in my life.
Well and working on this manuscript, because it’s due soon, but also because it’s a story I love, want to tell, and desire to give my very best to.
Anyone reading this: I would love to see us all working on these positive statements and telling should to fuck off. If you want, I would love to see these messages in the comments or reblogs so that we can all support each other, and cheer for our successes.
First off, I want to say that you *are* fucking awesome, right now, and don’t let yourself or anyone else tell you different.
Should is fucking hard. The way I’ve learned to manage it is to remind myself that feeling guilty for not doing the things I “should” be doing is a waste of time and energy I could be using to actually *do* those things.
Outside pressure is also really, really hard. One of the things I’ve learned the past two years is that no matter what I may think, no one else knows what is good for me, and what I need to be do to be happy and satisfied, but me. Learning to trust myself, about what I want to write and when I need to sleep, when people close to me who I have obligations to are telling me different, is hard. But it’s so necessary. So go you, for doing all the things. 🙂
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Thank you so much Erin. You are such a positive and encouraging person in my life. You are fucking awesome too!
I’ve read this post with the “oh my god, she’s reading my mind” kind of feeling. I’ve been struggling with the “I should” attitude for years, but it’s become particularly hard in the last year, and it took me a long time to realize just how harmful it was to my creativity, my self-esteem, and my mental health. I couldn’t write because I SHOULD be doing the paying projects; I couldn’t focus on the paying projects because I SHOULD be writing (and writing a lot, and writing well, and writing the right stories…); and overall I SHOULD SHOULD SHOULD so much… ugh.
It takes hard work for me to switch off the perfectionism, I still catch myself with the “I should” every day, but hey, baby steps. And I’m much more productive when I don’t spend the majority of my time berating myself for not doing what I SHOULD. And on the days when the voice of perfectionism gets too loud, I make I DID lists to prove to myself that I may not be perfect, but I get things done, at my own pace 🙂
I am so glad this post met you at a good time then! You describe the difficulty of being trapped between several shoulds, because in this space, it becomes nearly impossible to get anything done with the care you’d like.