I have been trying to change my thought process as of late. As I work to restructure the way I live my life, all sorts of thoughts have been swimming around in my head. I have attempted to organize my thoughts into five large lessons. These are things I am trying to remind myself of every day, and I hope you can find some value in them for yourselves.I work hard in an attempt to overcome my feelings of inadequacy. In addition, the modern concept of “getting things done” has caused me to live my life like a checklist. The longer my list of accomplishment, the more successful I believe myself to be. Now, if I were to actually acknowledge and reflect on my the progress that I’ve made, some good might come of this; I would be working with a healthy progress chart. Unfortunately, I do not. Instead, I look to the next project as a way of continually validating myself. Working on projects makes me feel wanted, important, and valued. As a result, I live my life as a constant series of final products. Everything in my life is compartmentalized; everything begins and ends. I have been living my life as a checklist.
Lesson one: A checklist is an unhealthy way to manage your life. Life is not about getting things done.
By compartmentalizing my life, I have been able to push aside my personal emotions. I can move between sections of my life so I don’t have to deal with failure. But it’s a two-way street; by avoiding failure I avoid true success. I would work myself to the bone, and would take no breaks. I was able to accomplish a lot and finish my checklist, but my product was missing things not on the list. Did it carry heart, individuality, and spirit? These things you can’t quantify. If my work had these things in them, they might fall flat, but they might also fly.
Lesson two: Avoiding failure can also prevent true success. Experience both, for you will grow regardless.
I attempt to raise the bar with each project, but am I truly doing so if I don’t reflect on my previous work, and see how I can improve? Of course there is some growth, but what if I could make more by giving myself the time to see how far I have come and what I can do better the next time? I should be able to reflect on the things that didn’t go well, without letting myself get caught up in regret. Living in the past will not change the future; learning from the past and moving forward will.
Lesson three: Reflect without regret. Living in the past is not truly living.
But when I take the time to do so, all I do is compare my achievements to some extremely high ideal, which makes me feel like crap. It’s easy to get discouraged, and I lose confidence in myself. I start to believe that the people around me are reaching those ideals, and this causes me to want to give up. So, like a vicious cycle, I thrust myself out of my personal feelings and back into work.
Lesson four: Don’t compare your life to some ridiculous ideal. It is a waste of energy.
I feel successful when I am in demand, when people want something from me. It means that I have something of value that they want, which means that I myself have value. But this also leads to me being taken advantage of, and most of the time leaves me no better off. I will give of myself so much, but not look to how this aids me. If these things didn’t improve me in some way, I was left feeling empty. Helping someone may not provide anything more than the satisfaction of knowing you did something for someone in need, and that should be enough. But living with a checklist meant that I subconsciously expect some personal benefit. Eventually this is how someone learns to say “no” in order to preserve themselves.
Lesson five: Spend your time giving to yourself as well as others. Give freely; just beware of thieves.
After living so long with a checklist model, I now struggle daily with the reality I am facing. I can no longer hide behind my years of teaching and directing. If this is indeed my true passion, I have work to do. My skills are weak, and I have moments where I want to give up. I am chasing a career that results in high levels of rejection. I am learning how to survive as an analytical person in a field that is often quite the opposite. But I am working to remember the lessons above. All I can do is keep striving for my goals, without letting them shut me down at the same time. I am tossing the checklist away, and though it is absolutely frightening, it is also liberating.
I look at the world today, full of people who live by the clock and by to-do lists. I see the education system becoming rigid and overly structured, with common core and rubrics. But with all this “progress”, people are unhappy, stressed, and depressed. These things cannot be unrelated. We must all stop thinking there is a final product in order to be happier, more fulfilled, and to live richer, better lives.
For after all… there is no final product.