[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end. I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]
Lately, I’ve been having some upsetting dreams. The kind that leave me with a lingering sense of unease and stress for the rest of the day.
They aren’t dreams with monsters in them, or dreams where a loved one dies, or any other sort of dire peril or heartbreak. No, my kind of “bad dreams” are something very nerdy, very Penelope, and very much related to the sort of A-student, overachieving gold-star-freak I’ve always been.
And after a couple months of having these dreams with increasing regularity, I’m finally beginning to admit that they may be trying to tell me something.
Bicycles, Comforters, and A Whole ’Lotta [Too Much?] Determination
Last night’s dream was perhaps the most extended one I’ve had yet. I dreamed I was bicycling into work the morning after a snowstorm. I don’t own a bike, I live a good 6-7 miles from work, and it was the freakin’ middle of winter, but dreams don’t consider that kind of logic. The main point of the trek is that it was hella hard.
I had to push those pedals with all my might to get through ridges and ridges of heavy, slushy snow, my wheels constantly getting stuck and threatening to topple me over as the cars on the expressway (yeah, it was an expressway) zoomed by me with ease. But I Was Doing It. Pedaling my little brains out. I was going to arrive to work exhausted, slush-splattered, and with screaming calve and thigh muscles, but damn it, I Was Going To Make It!
Then I realized it was my morning to pick up the office mail—from our P.O. box an extra 3 miles out of my way. It was almost 9:00 already. No biggie, I thought. I can still Do This. I’ll be a little late, but so help me god, It Will Be Done.
Until the nice postal worker handed me one of those plastic U.S. Mail totes with a good 10 pounds’ worth of mail in it. Okay, still doable. I’d just have to find a way to perch the tote on my handlebars…which, yes, would pose some trouble keeping my balance in the slush…and I was definitely going to be late now, because I foresaw myself taking numerous spills along the way…but still, I. Would. Get. There. There was no other choice. People needed their mail. I needed to be at work.
Oh, and then I suddenly realized I didn’t have a coat. (That was pretty stupid of me, dream-me thought casually.) Plus there was this big, fluffy bed comforter I’d apparently been lugging around this whole time, which I also had to find a way to carry. (How had I gotten it this far? Who knows.) Maybe I could wrap it around me to keep my dumbass coat-forgetting self warm, although that would make it harder to stay nimble enough to balance/pedal. Or maybe I could wrap the mail tote up in the blanket like a Santa sack and sling it over my shoulder! Transportation issues solved! Except a 10 pound, clunky plastic tote wrapped in a stupidly bulky comforter, slung over one shoulder, also doesn’t bode well for balancing.
I can’t tell you whether I made it into work or not, because that was the point when I woke up—tense, frustrated, and feeling vaguely mad at entire the world. For the love of ______, I was trying my little heart out! What else could have been thrown at me?
I’ve been waking up like that a lot of mornings lately.
My Worst Nightmare
Up until this particularly comprehensive dream, my “bad dreams” over the past couple months have been pretty simple and repetitious.
There’s the one where I’m back in high school the first day of freshman year and I’ve lost my class schedule, so I have no idea where I’m supposed to go. There’s the one where I’m in college at the tail end of senior year, and I suddenly realize I’ve never once attended one of my classes the entire semester, which means an automatic fail, which means no graduation. There are the ones where I oversleep and am late for work, can’t find any clean clothes to wear, the car stalls in the driveway, and I get halfway to the office when I realize I never showered. Sometimes I’ve accidentally brought one of the dogs along with me. You never know what could happen.
The overarching theme in all these dreams is my desperate, panicked fear that I’m not doing everything I should be, am not working hard enough, will never manage to stay on top of things, and will eventually have my entire life avalanche down around me due to one misplaced step, as the Price is Right “Do-do-do-do…Waaaaaah” sad-song announces that this is the end for me.
My worst nightmare, in other words? Not being Girl Friday On Top Of It All, Superhero Wonderwoman, all the time, no mistakes. And having everything fall to spectacular pieces as a result.
Things Are Good…Things Are Good…Things Are Good…
I’m at a fantastic, opportunity-littered point in my life. The ground around me is filthy with potential. (This is actually an apt metaphor for the current state of my housekeeping in the midst of all this opportunity.)
I’ve got this blog, which continues to gain steam and connect me with all sorts of amazing people and opportunities. I’ve got my freelancing, which is small but steady and keeping me busy with increasingly larger projects. I’ve got an ebook I’m working on, a novel I try chipping away at occasionally, guests posts and The Impossible League and a whole bunch of awesome books I’m reading.
I have a dozen different balls in the air, and I love every one of them.
But I’m starting to drive myself to the point of a breakdown trying to juggle them all.
Because in addition to all these “passion projects,” the other elements of my life still need attending to—my day job, my husband, my household, my finances, my friendships, my health—and I can’t help but feel incredibly guilty at all the things I have to let slide on occasion because I just can’t do everything.
Lately, my dishes (always my arch-nemesis) get done only when our backup set of silverware runs out and I realize we can’t eat unless I do them. My finances, normally strictly regulated by a monthly budget spreadsheet, have gone from “Here’s the week’s allocated expenses; how will we manage them?” to “Here’s what we spent the last two weeks; how do we damage control it?” I always feel like there’s something else I should be doing, like I could be doing more, like no matter what I prioritize, it will wind up being the wrong thing.
Even the things I love can get done only at the expense of each other. One long freelancing project means no work on the ebook or a belated blog post. Bearing down on the ebook means I’m neglecting my novel or falling behind on reader comments. I can never win.
Meaning: “I can never do everything.” Yes, Cordelia, that’s pretty Captain Obvious to say. But it’s a lesson I always manage to forget until I find myself burnt out trying to achieve it.
Stop the Madness; Delight in the Imperfect
In what seemed like cosmic alliance with my recent post on imperfection, one of the entries on my Twitter/Facebook feed recently was something along the lines of “My new mantra: Live imperfectly with delight.” (I wish I’d bookmarked it, because I can’t remember who posted it. If the author is reading, would you please raise your hand so I can properly attribute?)
I’d been thinking since that last post about what it means to be an imperfect person, but I’d never considered being “imperfect with delight.” For me, my failures/shortcomings/imperfections are more of an “accept it because you have no other choice” sort of thing—definitely not something I’d ever embrace, appreciate, almost revel in. That one little personal mantra really punched me in the gut.
What if I started actually delighting in living imperfectly?
Seeing my Mount Everest of dirty dishes and thinking, “That’s because you’ve got this big freelance project due this week. How awesome is it that you have freelance projects?”
Seeing the draft post I never managed to get around to finishing and thinking, “Yeah, but look at the progress you made on the ebook today! You’ve been struggling with that section for weeks!”
What if, instead of berating, guilt-tripping, and multitasking myself into insanity trying to keep every single ball in the air, I let some drop, enjoy the fun of keeping the rest in the air, and then pick those back up again while some other ones drop as replacements?
What if stop trying to balance a 10 pound tote on my handlebars while wearing a comforter in the snow, sit down on the post office curb, and call a coworker for a ride rather than trying to be a circus act of a human being?
What if I just do the things I can, be o.k. with the things I can’t, and love the hell out of my life in the process?
Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good idea. I think I’ll go with that.
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