Perfectly Exhausted

NaNoWriMo Day 18 Word Count: 31,187

Tonight, I am tired. It took a lot of mental energy to get myself to write. Yesterday was so easy. The baby napped for 1.5 hours straight and my daughter entertained herself for most of that time, and I got my writing done before my husband even arrived home, which gave me tons of time to write a long post about a real-women’s Victoria’s Secret catalog.

This morning, the baby woke up at 4:30 with his daddy. Of course, his daddy was going off to work. I suggested he take the baby with him, but he thought I was joking. My son and I finally got back to sleep around 6:30. Then my daughter woke us up at 7:30. Well, she didn’t think she was waking us up. She was hugging the baby as he slept and whispering in his ear how much she loves him, and she was rubbing my forearms gently with her cold little fingers while I tried to sleep.

And then the baby decided that all he needed was a 40-minute nap today.

So, I’m tired. And kind of cranky. But I feel somewhat better now that I have my writing done. And I’m glad I’ve been working ahead because I didn’t have to write a full 1,667 words to meet my Day-18 goal.

OK, now I’m done complaining.

Last night I found this post by Brené Brown entitled 12 Tips to Becoming Your Authentic Self. I’m generally not a huge fan of the “9 Secrets to a Slimmer Waist” and “Increase Your IQ in 3 Easy Steps” type things. They seem, for the most part, over-simplified. But I do find value in some things that are in numbered lists (this from a woman with Seven Personal Commandments), and Brené Brown’s list is one of them. Or maybe twelve of them.

Her list is all about letting go of perfectionism. I think her tips are a great starting point. They’re not the full answer, but they’re not meant to be. Just little jumping-off points to get a person thinking. Little things like, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best,” andPerfectionism is not self-improvement.”

It’s good stuff. Enjoy! And get some sleep. (That last one’s a reminder for myself, but if you’re tired, you can apply it to yourself, too.)

Compromising with Gravity

Last night I followed two of my commandments: Risk Looking Silly, and If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Poorly.

First I side-stepped my inner perfectionist by finally framing and hanging all of the prints I had made and the kids’ birth samplers that my aunt cross-stitched. We have a dentist we like, a place to service our car, hikes we love, farmers we know by name, and now I’ve hung photographs, which means we’ll probably move out of state within the year, given our history. If I find a church I like, it’ll be even sooner. (That reminds me, I had a dream that I tried out a church downtown, and they showed up the next day and mowed my lawn and poured us a new driveway. I thought, “Wow, what a great way to get visitors to continue attending!”)

But back to the topic of this post:

In the evening, I attended an Anti-Gravity Yoga class with some friends for our monthly “Ladies Night.”

For those unfamiliar with Anti-Gravity Yoga, it was developed by Christopher Harrison (a Utah native who now lives in New York City), and involves hammocks hung from the ceiling in which the practitioners sit, wrap themselves, swing, and flip, and out of which, with any luck, they do not fall.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog (and/or if you know me in person), you may have guessed that I’m not much of a thrill seeker. There were a number of things I wasn’t interested in trying in the class last night. I didn’t really enjoy the swinging part and was tentative about the flips. The fabric of the hammock kind of cut into the meat of my thighs and hips, which was uncomfortable and not really something I needed to see reflected in a floor-to-ceiling mirror. But there were some stretches, like downward-facing dog, a variation on pigeon, and warrior 1, that were greatly enhanced by the support of the hammock. The shoulder/heart openers were quite intense, in a good way. My abs and back muscles are quite sore today, which is a little surprising because I didn’t realize I was working my core that much. And man, savasana in a hammock was about the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done.

I was fairly impressed with my willingness to be a little adventurous and try out this new activity. My husband asked what I thought of it when I got home, and I couldn’t really come up with a succinct answer. I don’t generally like things I’m not automatically good at. I’m aware of this and adjust for it in my thinking, so it’s not surprising that my opinion about Anti-Gravity Yoga is nuanced. I think it would take attending 3 or 4 classes before I could say for sure whether it’s something I enjoy or not.

But I definitely enjoyed getting together with friends and meeting new people. If I’m going to hang upside-down with my feet hooked in a sling, I’d much rather do it in a room full of people I know than in a room full of strangers.

Week 12 Review: The Dangers of Openness

As I’ve come to expect at this point in the month, I’ve started losing my zest for my resolutions. I’ve not done much decluttering this week since my mom left. I’ve been buying things. I’ve made some headway keeping daily routines and examining why I have trouble keeping the ones I’m not keeping. I did complete another nagging task by re-caulking the bathtub. This was actually a task on my husband’s to-do list (it’s been on there since we moved in in January of 2009), but it was nagging at me, so I just did it.

I’ve found that after two weeks in a row attending Mass, I miss attending church. I’m considering doing some church-hopping starting in November to see if I can’t find something that feels right for me and my family.

Something else I’ve discovered this week is that I’m feeling really emotionally raw. I think this might be a side effect of all of the mindfulness and openness and emotional awareness I’ve been fostering in myself. I just feel really sensitive to rough treatment and rough words, even those not directed at me.

A friend posted a link to a story about a 5-week-old baby who died of pertussis. I felt so much pain for the family who lost their little baby. I don’t even care to imagine what that must be like for that baby’s mother, father, and brother. After reading the article, I scrolled down to the comments, against my better judgment. Some were outpourings of emotion for this family, but for the most part, it was an argument about vaccinations and whether people who don’t vaccinate are evil or not and whether they ought to be imprisoned and/or have their children taken away from them.

I wonder if this is an example of giving over to the “masculine” side and using our intellect at the expense of our emotions. Perhaps it’s more comfortable for people to argue causes and lay blame than it is to simply sit with the pain of realizing that sometimes babies die.

I know a woman who is a labor and delivery nurse in a local hospital. Several months ago, pertussis went through the nursing staff. It took an alarmingly long time for anyone to recognize it for what it was, and the nurses continued working through their illnesses, exposing goodness knows how many postpartum moms and newborn babies before the illness was identified. In my experience, most nurses are caring, educated people who work awful hours and get paid not nearly enough for the intensity of their jobs and the toll it takes on their health and their personal relationships. Also in my experience, nurses are pretty big proponents of vaccination. If an outbreak of pertussis can happen in this group of people, it seems to me you can’t really link it to negligence or poor morals or just not caring about others, which were some of the accusations lobbed in the comments on the article. Sometimes shit just happens, even when we do our best to prevent it. Contrary to what some of the commenters suggest, I believe that no parent “deserves” the death or serious illness of their child as a result of the decisions they’ve made.

From what I can tell, as parents, we’re all doing the best we can. We all have our children’s best interests at heart, even when we disagree about what the best decisions are for our kids. We gather the information, weigh the pros and cons based on that information, and make very difficult decisions, many of which we won’t know the results of for years and years, if ever. Nothing is black and white. But I can see the appeal of trying to make it so when faced with a reality as painful as the death of a baby.

And it really hurts to be open to these things. My inclination is to shut myself off again, bury myself in Facebook or reading or frenetic decluttering, anything to turn up the mental noise and distract me from these feelings. But another part of me doesn’t want to close down. That part of me actually enjoys in a way the feeling of connection I get along with this pain. It kind of reminds me of how it felt to give birth to my son. The sensation was so intense that it was difficult to just surrender to it and let my body birth. Much of me wanted to get away, to run away, or specifically to crawl under the floor to escape the intensity of the sensation. But in the days following his birth, I found I missed the experience. There was a part of me that loved that intensity. I felt alive and connected and powerful even as I surrendered to the power surging through me. I cried and cried in the days following his birth because I wanted so badly to have that experience again, to be in the middle of something so big and all-encompassing.

Perhaps if I’m able to let go and birth myself in this new wholeness, I’ll look back at the pain and intensity of the process wistfully while at the same time reveling in the release of the complete—and joyfully imperfect—person inside me.

Getting to the Nitty Gritty of my Perfectionism

My mom just visited for about a week and a half, which gave me the chance to observe perfectionism in action from the outside. Usually I’m just trapped inside, observing my own actions, which isn’t nearly so enlightening as watching from outside.

The way my mom’s perfectionism manifests itself during her visits is in non-stop projects. Those who have been reading the blog this past week or so have some idea of the frenetic levels our home-improvement (and “me”-improvement) binge reached. I get the impression that when my mom looks out at the world, she sees all of the things that are wrong with it. Then she focuses in on the things that she might be able to change and gets to work. I can recognize this because this is pretty much what I do (less with the home improvements and more with the self improvements, although I do move furniture an awful lot and used a caulk gun for the first time last night instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour).

This is where my perfectionism gets in the way of my happiness, I think. In addition to interfering with my sleep and causing me to ignore (or attempt to ignore) my children, the underlying belief driving all of this fault-finding is that things just aren’t right. There’s something wrong in my surroundings and there’s something wrong with me. There’s a related belief, which is that if I can eliminate everything wrong with my surroundings, that the wrong things in me will disappear, too, and vice versa. When I feel stressed and I get that “wrong” feeling, I immediately retreat to perfectionism. I make lists, schedules, routines. I track my food intake and develop rules for my eating. I either avoid social interaction or my conversations are peppered with long pauses as I attempt to say just the right thing (or at the very least to avoid saying the wrong thing). I can keep this up for a few days or as long as a week, and then I start to falter and quickly descend into chaos, from where I then lift myself out via perfectionism and the cycle begins again.

What’s interesting to me is that the chaos I feel inside doesn’t seem to show itself on the outside. We had dinner out with some friends from North Carolina last night whom we hadn’t seen in seven years. I don’t know how we got to it, but at one point the other three adults at the table all emphatically declared that I am very organized. I don’t often feel organized. I wonder if this suggests that the chaos and disorder I feel are mostly on my insides but because I don’t recognize that reality, I try to eliminate the chaos by changing my outsides.

My mom’s visit was like an orgy of perfectionism. Oh, look! This thing I’ve not done anything about because, you know, I’ve got two kids and I’m homeschooling…I can complete it and 15 other things I’ve not even thought of doing because my mom’s here to help. It was awesome and it was exhausting and now I’m trying to let myself down easy so I don’t drop into a pit of disappointment at my relative lack of productivity.

So here’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to follow my own advice and Not Jump to Solutions. When I feel that “wrong” feeling, I’m going to just sit with it. I’m going to observe it, take note of it, and just move along. I’ve got my decluttering, which I think will help to relieve some of the pressure that builds up when I just need to pull out the stove and clean behind it at 11:30 at night. But I’m going to do my best to avoid going to extremes and focusing so much on cleaning or on scheduling or on finding the perfect spot for the coffee table that I ignore the underlying feelings and beliefs that are driving my need to change things.

Last night I had a dream that I was in charge of planning nine weddings that would take place over the course of three hours. And I still had my kids to take care of. I had all of these favors and table decorations to assemble and the kids kept walking off with things I needed. I would stare at these tables covered in supplies and try to reason through how to get everything put together before the weddings began. Two of the weddings were for people I knew and one was for myself (the other six were for people I didn’t know). I updated my Facebook status (in the dream) saying that I was getting help from my friend in fixing my hair for my wedding. I remarked that it was something of a lost cause. My friend was getting exasperated with me because I was so clueless about how to pretty up my hair for an important occasion and because I kept trying to do more prep work for the other weddings. Then, even though I’d not finished all of the things I’d planned for the first wedding before it began, I saw that everyone was having a great time and the bride looked gorgeous. I cautiously considered devoting the rest of my energies to preparations for my own wedding, which was the last of the nine.

I don’t know. I think this dream just reinforces the importance, for me, of paying better attention to my own needs and improving my skills at observing and caring for myself. Most everything else can pretty much take care of itself, or at the very least won’t fall apart if I’m not in complete control 100% of the time. Another bit of my own advice comes to mind: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

Like Alice, however, I always give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

Remembering to Pace Myself: A Pep Talk

As the end of August approaches and my Facebook News Feed fills with pictures of smiling children in new clothes and status updates about the first day of school, my thoughts have begun to race ahead to all of the other resolutions I have planned for my Happiness Project. I find myself considering rearranging my schedule or reorganizing the project entirely. There appear to be many very good reasons for putting the things I’m excited to do first (and all in the same month) and putting the things I’m anxious about a little later in the year (or maybe just dropping them off the schedule entirely).

But when I pause and breathe, I remember that rushing through this project isn’t going to yield the kind of results I want (and that Personal Commandment #4 is Don’t Jump to Solutions). I remember that I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about tackling Mindfulness first, even though it made a great deal of sense to do so, because it didn’t seem like I would be doing anything. One of the lessons I’ve learned (or relearned) this month is that when I’m doing the work and practicing every day and feeling almost bored with the whole process, the most profound changes just kind of sneak up on me.

I’ve tried FlyLady Marla Cilley’s Baby Steps and Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and any number of other programs designed to improve me and change my life. They’ve all had great ideas behind them, and I’ve found elements of each very useful, but with each, I’ve jumped in full force and then petered out when the everyday practice became tedious. The difference with this Happiness Project is that I’ve designed it for myself. I know what challenges I have, what tasks I postpone indefinitely, and what thought patterns I’d like to change. I’m hopeful that having a self-designed program using Gretchen Rubin‘s template will yield more lasting results than my attempts to apply others’ programs to myself.

What’s been happening behind the scenes here is a lot of vacillating and journaling on paper about how I want to change my plans midstream and all of my reasons for doing so. I’ve decided that all of this is evidence that what I’m doing is working. I’m not sure big changes can be happening if I’m not at least a little nervous. I’ll take it slow, trust myself, and stick with the plan.

A Look Back at Week 2, and Looking Ahead to Week 3

This past week has brought me some promising experiences, like actually feeling happy, which is a nice treat, as well as more questions. I think the main thing the mindfulness is doing is opening a little path through the thoughts to the emotions that lie beneath. I think I buffer myself a lot of the time with my brain. This prevents me from connecting deeply with myself or with anyone else. Cutting through the mire of thought gives me access to the happiness underneath, but it also opens me up to the pain, doubt, and fear that reside down there. The past two weeks, I’ve found my eyes tearing up with surprising frequency, although I’m not exactly crying and I’m not exactly sad. It’s more a feeling of fullness. That leaks out of my eyes. I think it’s a result of just feeling more than I have been.

This week I’ve had the chance to examine some superstitions I apparently hold around feeling happy. And I’ve had the opportunity to see what happens when I pull back from mindfulness: I start feeling overwhelmed and irritable and uncharitable again.

Saturday night we went to a barbecue at a friend’s house. Most of the people there were my husband’s coworkers and their families. My children comprised 50% of the children there. I was the only one wearing a skirt. And Birkenstocks. These things may have contributed to my feeling outside of the group, but I had the sense that my mindfulness was keeping me away from social connections, too. Well, not the mindfulness directly, but my kind of pulling-into-myself defense of that core of feeling I’m just starting to expose to the world via mindfulness. I also noticed that I have trouble thinking of things to say when I’m aware of my judgmental thoughts. (How full of judgment have my conversations been in the past? I shudder to think.) I’m hoping that as I grow more accustomed to mindfulness and to feeling more emotions I will gradually be able to connect with others better and more empathically. Baby steps.

I’ve basically abandoned a written emotions log. I just can’t seem to record my emotions. But I am pausing several times a day, becoming aware of my emotions, and reflecting on the needs behind those emotions. While I don’t have a record to analyze for patterns, I am at least doing the work of being more aware of my emotions and needs.

The breathing is going beautifully, though. I really enjoy it and it really seems to help ground me.

For Week 3, I want to explore a bit more what happiness is. In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about defining happiness,

“I decided instead to follow the hallowed tradition set by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who defined obscenity by saying ‘I know it when I see it,’ and Louis Armstrong, who said, ‘If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know,’ and A.E. Housman, who wrote that he ‘could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat’ but that he ‘recognizes the object by the symptoms it evokes.'”

While I think this is probably a reasonable overall definition of happiness, I think I might be able to hone it a little more to define my own personal happiness. Specifically, what does it mean to be “happier”? Would I feel happy more often? Would my baseline emotional level be a couple notches up? Would I simply experience a deeper lever of happiness when I did feel happy? Am I still “happier” if the happiness I feel is still tinged with that underlying fear and superstition? Of course, that last question starts to get into the realm of “am I doing it right?” which is probably not terribly helpful.

I’m really intrigued by the idea, which I’ve seen attributed to both the Dalai Lama and Aristotle but which may well have been asserted by others, that happiness results from virtuous action. I don’t really know how to pin down a meaningful definition of virtue, so I don’t know how to analyze this assertion. It seems logical that happiness wouldn’t result from immoral or harmful actions. At least not lasting happiness. And then there’s the whole issue of the flexible definitions of “moral,” “ethical,” and “virtuous” that gives me a whole hatful of trouble. I would like to find a way to think through this without getting sucked into a semantic vortex. Or perhaps the trouble is that I’m trying to use my mind to understand something that exists in my heart. Did I mention a vortex? I’m clearly swirling about down here.

At any rate, I want to make sure that I keep a picture of my goal in mind as I go about honing and practicing my resolutions so I can be reasonably certain I’m following the path that I mean to. It’s very easy for me to seek refuge in my mind, where I feel safe and protected but alone, rather than exploring my emotions, where I worry there may be a Pandora’s box that, once opened, will unleash feelings and emotions over which I have no control. One thing of which I’m certain: growth and change don’t generally happen when I feel safe. Perhaps that can be one of my measures; if I’m feeling unsettled and maybe even rebellious, I’m probably on the right track. If I’m feeling safe, maybe I should consider shaking things up.


Maybe It’s Working?

I went to a step aerobics class last night.

Last night was the second class I’ve taken in 7+ years, when I used to take step classes twice a week at the gym at work. Back in the day, I loved step classes; they were the only time in my life that I’d ever felt coordinated (well, except for high school marching band). But the first class back after that long hiatus was pretty humbling. I couldn’t understand the instructor’s cues. (Did he say “sit down pongo”? What the heck is that? Mambo step pivot straddle, 180 over, exit to the back? Is that even possible?)  I especially had trouble on turns. For some reason, I always ended up facing everyone else in the class. I spent much of the time comparing myself to the other steppers. The woman in front of me never missed a step. The woman behind me looked lost a couple of times, but not nearly as much as I did. I started to feel frustrated and angry. When the class was over, I considered never going again.

But the time I had available to work out last night coincided with the time of the step class, so I decided to give it another go now that I’d had a week and a half of mindfulness. I still got lost. I still found myself face-to-face with everyone else in the class after at least half of the turns. But about halfway through I realized: I was happy! I wasn’t just tolerating the class. I was actively enjoying myself. I was even smiling. Embarrassment still found me several times, but the fact that I was happy at all was pretty remarkable.

I know it’s way too soon to conclude anything about the roll mindfulness may or may not have played in my uncharacteristic enjoyment of an activity in which I did not, to say the least, excel, but I found it encouraging that I had such a positive emotional response.

I wonder what need was being met in that moment. I was doing better than in the first class, so perhaps that met my need for competence or growth. One of the things I was really loving was moving to the rhythm of the music, so maybe there was some rhythmic need that was met. It certainly met my need for physical exercise. And I met two of my commandments in that class, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly,” and “Risk looking silly.”

Not only that, but I took the kids to the park today and didn’t hate it! I might be on a roll.

If it’s Worth Doing, it’s Worth Doing Poorly

This is another commandment intended to help me sidestep perfection. I paraphrased it from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. I would love to include the original quote here, but I can’t seem to find my copy of the book. It’s possible I loaned it to someone. I should probably own duplicate copies of my favorite books if I’m going to loan them out. The gist was basically that, when we’re trying to improve how we’re doing something, trying to learn something new or practice a newly acquired skill, we should try not to hold ourselves back because of a fear of not performing as well as we’d like. In the context of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), it’s acknowledging that what Rosenberg is introducing is a very different manner of communicating than what most of us are accustomed to. As a result, it feels uncomfortable or fake, and it’s easy to worry that we’ll mess it up and say the wrong thing, especially when we’re guessing at other people’s emotions, which is the cornerstone of NVC. Rosenberg reassures us that, since the point of using NVC is to form a connection with another person through empathy, even if we guess wrong or say the “wrong” thing, the intent is still there, and we’re still closer to connection than we were before we tried.

This commandment is similar to the commandment to Risk Looking Foolish, but to me, the “Worth” portion is a subtle but important difference between the two. Risk Looking Foolish is mostly just to encourage me to take a chance and not worry about what others think of me. My actions may or may not actually be foolish, but my concern is with others’ perceptions of me, which I can’t control anyway. “If it’s Worth Doing…” is about not just being perceived as foolish but maybe actually not succeeding at all or even messing things up. The implication is that if the thing one is trying is important enough, it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

I definitely try to apply this to interpersonal interactions, which is where I’m least comfortable. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with my foot in my mouth. I tend to be judgmental and opinionated, and I have many memories of interactions that make me cringe because of my unskillful and untactful communication skills. I’ve worked hard to improve on these skills, which is part of why my foot isn’t in my mouth as often these days. The other reason, though, is that I’m less likely to talk to people now than I used to be. Being a stay-at-home mom makes it easier to avoid conversations than it was when I was working full-time at a large corporation. But, like with my avoidance of speaking foreign languages with native speakers, I miss out on relationships and experiences by avoiding conversations.

Now, when I go to talk with someone I don’t know, or with someone I do know about a sensitive topic, I spend a few moments (or a few days) psyching myself up and reminding myself of the guidelines for effective, empathetic communication before I make the phone call or talk with the person face-to-face. This takes a lot of effort, though, so I’m glad to have the freedom to take a break and be a hermit again if I don’t have the energy to deal with talking with people.

One area I’ve applied this commandment more confidently is with parenting. I can’t avoid my children for long, so I get to practice the intensive parenting methods I’ve chosen whether I’m up for it or not. I worry that I’m messing it up and messing the kids up, but I also know that it would be worse for them if I didn’t try at all than if I tried and did a poor job of it. It’s the effort that makes the difference, not necessarily the successful achievement of the intended outcome.

What are some of the things that you find are worth doing poorly?

Coming tomorrow: Happiness Project Kickoff! I will reveal August’s resolutions as well as the focus areas for each month.

Risk Looking Silly

I blame middle school. Before middle school, I remember being fairly confident. Then between 5th and 6th grade we moved from San Diego, California, to Fairborn, Ohio, and with that move, I lost any confidence I might once have had in my understanding of how social interactions work. I worried about looking silly, but the things that were deemed cool — “Smurf trap” bangs, pinch-rolled trousers, spiral perms, those weird pants that were shaped like big triangles of fabric, the points of which fastened at the front of the pants — all looked completely silly (and I couldn’t do my bangs or roll my pants properly, anyway). I just couldn’t figure out how to not look silly because none of the rules were logical. I was also skinny and short, which didn’t help matters, either. The punishment for looking silly was severe and swift. As a result, I acquired a deep sense of self-conscious worry of which I still retain a shadow after all of these years.

Having kids has helped me to shed much of this worry. It is impossible to have an interaction with a toddler without looking silly (or even to bear a child without looking silly, at least if you’re me). For the most part, I find it helpful to just assume that I look like a fool and not worry too much about what people think about it. I’d be lying if I said I’m successful in this endeavor all of the time. I sometimes catch myself talking in a silly voice to the kids or wondering out loud with them what would happen if cats wore pants and I suddenly realize that other adults are around and that I may, in fact, look like an imbecile, and then I feel compelled to pull myself together and act more dignified.

I worry sometimes that being afraid of looking silly holds me back from interacting freely with my children and with other adults, and I’m certain it keeps me from trying new things. I mentioned a few days ago that I don’t ski. It’s not just avalanches that scare me about skiing. I’m fairly certain I’ll look like a total dweeb doing it, and I just can’t risk that level of ineptitude without a lot of forward-planning and deep breathing. I like to be good at things. I like to appear knowledgeable and capable at all times. Trying new things doesn’t fit well with these desires. I think a fear of looking silly is also what keeps me from speaking foreign languages. I pick them up quickly, but I lose them quickly, too, because I’m so worried about looking silly trying to speak them, especially with native speakers, even though I know this is the best way to learn short of traveling overseas. Which is something else a fear of looking silly keeps me from doing (that and a fear of physical discomfort, illness, and foreign bugs and other wildlife).

So, I’ve made Risk Looking Silly one of my personal commandments to help give myself permission to look foolish and to let myself try new things. I’d considered just making it “Look Silly,” but I don’t think I need to go out of my way to look silly, just accept that it’s going to happen and try not to worry about it. I think having a public blog is evidence that I’ve already made some progress in this area. I wonder how many more years of practice it will take for me to finally get a passport…

Give Until It Feels Good

This commandment could actually be, “Give until it feels good, and not beyond that.”

One year during pledge time in our congregation in North Carolina, the minister spoke about the joy of “giving until it feels good,” as compared to “giving until it hurts,” which is a more common saying. The idea was that we shouldn’t think of giving as depriving ourselves or as an obligation foisted upon us, but rather as a means to help us feel good about helping. In our denomination, we are encouraged (but not required) to follow a modern tithe (5% to the church, 5% to other worthy causes, either in money or in service). I’ve found that I really do feel very good when I give both money and time to causes in which I believe. I feel satisfied, connected, and like a contributing member of my community.

The trouble I have is that I tend to be an all-or-nothing type person (I think I may have mentioned this before). When I decide to volunteer time, I like how it feels to volunteer a little bit of time, so I start giving more and more and more until I burn out and don’t have anything left to give. I’m a bit more frugal with my money than I am with my time, so I’ve never experienced the analogous situation with financial giving. However, I do notice that when I feel a need to step back from giving of my time, I also step back from giving money. The purpose of this commandment is to remind myself to give in moderation, so that I continue to meet my own needs while giving of myself to other causes and individuals.

I don’t think I had as much trouble with this balance before I had children. I think the main reason was that it was easier to meet my own needs before I had kids. Pretty much all of my free time was spent in meeting my own needs, with a little bit spent meeting the needs of my husband and friends. I never had to go out of my way to have “alone time”. I also never had much trouble going to the bathroom by myself or eating a meal without getting up 173 times. It was easy to take on volunteer roles and put in a fairly large number of hours and still adequately meet my own needs. Back when I was working full time, I volunteered as a reading tutor, a co-coordinator of a teen program at our church, and did 12-hour shifts as a volunteer doula at the hospital on weekends. I also demonstrated for various causes and donated money generously to a number of organizations. As a mom, a lot of the energy I would otherwise put into service is given to my children. I have tried to continue to give of myself at the same level as I did before kids, but that’s not worked out as well as I would have liked.

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin lists her Four Splendid Truths. The second is: “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” This summarizes the balance I would like to strike. I want to meet my needs so that I have enough in reserve to give of myself until it feels good. And I want to keep this balance in mind so that I don’t overextend myself and end up throwing in the towel. I can love without reserve, but I think I need to be a little more careful when giving of myself.