Reader QUIT: Expecting to Disappoint (by Rob Farquhar)

They say that childhood, especially your school years, are the happiest years of your life.

Often, I wonder who the hell “they” are and what “they” know.

One of my most powerful memories of my childhood was going to see a Phil Collins concert with Mum and Dad in my first year of high school. (Yep, I thought and still think Phil Collins is great.)

I was sitting there in the Sydney Entertainment Centre next to Mum and Dad as Phil sat at the front of the stage and sang “I Wish It Would Rain Down,” remembering that just that day my English teacher had told me she was going to be getting in touch with my folks tomorrow about some work I’d not done. Then, I knew, I’d be in for it.

Strange mix of sonic pleasure and utter terror. Wish it would rain down indeed

Here’s another: I’m at (my one year of) university (before I failed out). People have been telling me I have a voice for radio for a while. I’ve been a little curious, I’ve talked about it every now and again. But I’m walking along the concrete path to the university’s radio station not because of curiosity, or because I think it will be fun.

No, I’m terrified again. Because I don’t want to tell Dad I haven’t done anything about it yet.

 

Damned if I do…

Now, I’m out of my Mum and Dad’s, have been for 12 years. My home is a few thousand kilometers away from where I went to school and university. I’m married to a wonderful woman named Vickie. I’ve got a good full-time job with good colleagues.

Yet I’m often tense. There’s always so much on. Do I keep checking my e-mail for the Capital-U Urgent stuff that someone’s just sent me? Can I devote five minutes to the job that needs a little more time, care and attention than all the two-minute knock-overs that keep coming in? What if I miss something vital?

What about all the stuff that’s going to take even longer to do? Where do I make the time to edit the interviews I do for my podcasts, write the stories I’ve been wanting to write for years, do those freelance writing courses I signed up for, all these things I(‘m supposed to) enjoy?

Vickie already thinks I’m a loony for getting up at 5:30 in the morning, and I still don’t feel like I have enough time to do good work. What if I get up at 5:00? Will she resent me spending less time with her because I need to go to bed earlier?

And what about the future? Jeez, the future…With everything I’m not doing right now that I ought to be, how the hell can the future wind up being any kind of good? Penury, bankruptcy, poverty all wait right around the corner.

How can I be anything other than a grade-F disappointment?

 

Because I’m not.

When I actually think about my life to date, I have heaps of reasons to be cheerful.

Vickie has stuck with me even when my own insecurities tried to paint her as an ogre. (We have mutual thin skins, you see—mine against criticism, my wife’s against bullshit.)

We have a great house with a nice big block of garden in which we grow as many of our own veggies as we can. We have two great dogs.

Not only have I had some good jobs in the past, but my current job, while still a source of stress, lets me work with some good folks and keeps Vickie and I in new books while we review them.

I’ve spent the majority of my 35 years being miserable, waiting for the next person to tell me how disappointed he or she is in me. Yet things keep turning out better than okay.

And for the record, Vickie has never told me she’s disappointed in me.

After so many years of being ruled by this choking fear, this horrid habit of expecting to disappoint, I’ve decided to quit it.

 

So how do I change my mind?

As doing stuff is my main course of stress, it has to be my primary zone of change. The trick to success is, I think, to ask myself this whenever I start to stress out:

If I can only do one thing at a time, what one thing do I want to do right now?

Once I pick that one thing, I stick with it until I’ve either finished it or made as much progress as I can before needing something external (research, talking with someone, etc.).

If something else comes up or if someone asks me something, I assess how long it’ll take and its priority compared to what I’m working on now. Any non-priority jobs I write down so that I remember them when I check my lists of stuff to do later.

(If you’re curious, I use a rough implementation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. My panic-brain keeps nagging me about how it’s not perfect or complete, but it definitely does the job of keeping me sane and my workload under control.)

The great bit is, I’m realizing that answers of “rest,” “watch TV with Vickie,” and “sleep” aren’t ones that will lead to me disappointing someone.

There are some things I need to improve in order to make this Quit stick, like communicating better. To my conditioned brain, telling someone that something isn’t going according to plan or taking longer than expected is inviting that person’s disappointment, so I ought to just keep mum.

There are also those situations where I make a mistake. I misplace something I think I need, forget something I ought to remember. Those are nasty little traps; I spiral into a panicky, defensive state that can last a good half an hour, even over the smallest stuff. (You never can tell what’s going to make someone disappointed in you.)

But I’m getting into the habit of stepping outside those feelings, seeing them from the outside, and reminding myself that they’re not the end of the world. I’ve felt that way plenty of times before and life has not just gone on, but gone on well.

I’m not 100% successful. I backslide sometimes. But as I’m learning, some progress is better than no progress.

Things are happening. I’m making/helping them happen.

Right now never disappoints.

They say that childhood, especially your school years, are the happiest years of your life.

Nowadays, I wonder what happened to “them” that makes their adulthoods so sad. How did they go from having a ball to being surrounded by demons of misery?

I mean, if I’m going the other way, from sadness to strength, how come “they” aren’t going from knock-about happiness to sheer, unfettered awesomeness? With such great starts to life, why can’t they look at their futures with optimism?

Maybe it’s because they think they had to give something up, something they’re too busy to get back.

But I don’t think they lost whatever it was. I think it turned into something better; they’re just too busy grieving over what’s gone to notice.

I was originally going to end this post by talking about how I could look to the future with optimism, but I reckon it’s better to just focus on the right now. The good place I’m in, whether in terms of location, emotion, or health. The good woman I’m loving. The good people I’m friends with. The good things I’m doing.

See, the future is expectation. And if you expect, you’re always going to be slightly disappointed.

But right now never disappoints.

 

After a life of complete geek-out excitement and utter freak-out panic, Rob Farquhar is working out how to lead a happy life (hopefully one that includes authoring a bestselling science fiction adventure novel) by simply following his curiosity, blogging about exploration at The Blog of Living Curiously.

Rob also hosts a podcast where he interviews folks who have turned passions into incomes, whether sideline or self-supporting. It’s called The Paid to Play Podcast, which you can like on Facebook or subscribe to on iTunes.  (You’ll be sure to love his interview with Cordelia for Episode 15!)

He does the 9 to 5 helping a newspaper ad sales team beat targets, then returns to his wife and their home outside Cairns, Queensland, Australia and plays more Halo than is good for him.  Check him out on Facebook or follow him on Twitter!

 

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  • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

    I can so relate to your “if I can only get one thing done at a time” section. My biggest critic (who I ALWAYS seem to disappoint) is myself–I’m not doing enough, I’m not being productive enough, I’m not cramming enough into each little second, I’m not driving myself hard enough. I’m the only one putting these expectations on myself, but I am merciless when it comes to berating myself for them.

    I’m also the same in feeling that “unimportant” activities like spending time with my husband in front front of the TV don’t “count” towards my daily quota…whatever that quota is. I’m so with you on this Quit–just live each day at a time, be the best person you can be, remember to include some of those “unimportant” activities…and then let it be. Days are to be lived, not plowed through feverishly.

    Excellent Quit, sir!

    • Rob F.

      Very good points, Kelly! I do my best to remember them, even if the screaming nag in the back of my brain gets pretty loud at times.

  • http://clubthrifty.com/ Greg@ClubThrifty

    Honestly, I loved growing up. However, I am happier now than I have ever been. Luckily, I’ve never had deal with anxiety issues, yet my wife definitely has. I know how crippling it can be sometimes. Congrats on being able to focus on one thing at a time now! It certainly helps, doesn’t it.

    • Rob F.

      Thanks heaps, Greg! It’s hard work sometimes. You never quite know what will set it off…

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  • Rob F.

    Writing this QUIT was pretty scary. I go into more detail here here: http://www.robf.com.au/2012/11/22/opening-a-vein/

    • http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com Cordelia

      LOVE this examination of the writer’s process. (Especially the confessionalistic writer’s process.) I can so relate, my friend…

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