I should be working on my novel, not writing a blog post. Yep. I can feel my blood-pressure and anxiety level rising right now. I should be working on my latest knitting project, not surfing the net. I have so much work to do and I’m wasting valuable time not doing it! Oh boy, here come the palpitations! I should be reading right now. I haven’t read anything for weeks and it’s crucial for a Writer to be reading all the time to hone their craft.
Oh no! What am I doing with myself? I’m wasting so much time!
Once upon a time, several years ago, the company that I was working for paid for us all to attend a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop. I distinctly remember filling out a survey to determine how much time you spent doing the four different areas of activity that was talked about in the workshop. I tried to be honest with myself. Lo and behold, I ended up scoring myself as spending a lot of time idling and not getting things done. I felt terrible.
Okay, but here’s the thing. That 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshop also talked about a habit called “Sharpening the Saw”. In fact, other than “First things First”, which I repeatedly saw on someone’s bumper-sticker on the street where I lived, I couldn’t tell you what the other habits are. But “Sharpening the Saw” is all about taking time off from all the work you have to do to enjoy yourself so that you are fresh and rested whey you approach the work again.
Yes, but is that what I’m really doing? I’m not writing, I’m not knitting, and I’m not reading. So what am I doing anyhow? Nine times out of ten the answer is “working”, but does that count? I could be putting this time to better use, right?
I have another issue with the term “wasting time”, a far more emotional one.
So several years ago I had moved to Alabama to be closer to my father. He left when I was six and spent the next 25 or so years playing this game of “in my life, out of my life, in my life, out of my life”. I moved to Alabama after my Mom died to try to rebuild my relationship with him. Well, it didn’t work. I moved back home to Philly. I was having a hard time finding a job, so I called him for some emotional support. Long story short, he told me that my life was a “waste of time” because I had majored in something useless in school (History and Theater) and worked pointless jobs, and that I should have gone into engineering or accounting or gotten married. I hung up on him. I’ve talked to him for about 30 minutes in the 7 years since he said that.
However, the specter of WASTING TIME remains.
I get extraordinarily anxious when I feel like I’m not spending my time the way I should spend it to get things done. I agonize over every moment that I’m not writing, not producing. The other day at work (and by that I mean the job that they pay me for) we had a ginormous project handed to us and I was unable to write a sentence all day. I think I broke out in hives. And yet technically I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Technically the writing I do during my day job (*cough*like this blog post*cough*) is wrong. I have nothing to feel ashamed about.
So what is it about the pressures and expectations we put on ourselves to get things done? Or is it not really our own expectations but the haunts of the past that push us beyond the reasonable? I thought my dad’s statement about my life being a waste of time was so ridiculously off-base and out of line that I hung up on him. I definitely think he gets a giant parenting FAIL. But is there a part of me that believes him? That thinks I need to prove myself to myself every moment of the day? … God I hope not!
The fact is, I like to feel like I’m getting things done. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a novel or a pair of socks. The victory of completion is my crack. But I’m not completely convinced it’s healthy. And sadly, I’m equally unsure what to do about it except to remind myself to cut myself a break now and then. That saw needs sharpening and there’s only one way to do it.
So am I alone here? Does anyone else give themselves a hard time for something subjective? How do you deal with it?
“It’s bad enough that you waste time, but do you really have to kill it?” -The Phantom Tollbooth (sort of paraphrased 😉 )