Like many women of my generation and region, I like to be considered a badass who leaves all who pass her wondering, “How does she do it?”
Well, truthfully, it’s somewhat more negative in my mind, as I really fear them wondering, “What does she do all day?”
For me, the motivation for overachievement is the desire to prove that I am worthy of existence, that I am not taking advantage of others (like my hardworking husband) and lounging my life away but rather that I am always making progress by doing what needs to be done, whether at work or at home. I am also a creature of habit, so when my daily life changes, I tend to go a bit berserk.
Enter winter and summer vacations.
Now, most people go into teaching with the idea that they will work long hours for 15-16 week semesters but then be rewarded by weeks (or months) totally free of professional responsibilities. During this time they travel, write, nap, go see movies, and engage in all of the other activities they enjoy but can’t seem to make time for during the academic calendar.
Not me. I can tolerate about one day off work before I begin to get stir crazy. This has only worsened as I’ve gotten older and my husband’s and daughter’s schedules have not exactly matched my own. What I’m about to say might enrage some readers, especially mothers and fathers out there who never have a minute to themselves, but here goes:
I don’t like being home by myself without any work to do.
I have some strange combination of first world guilt, Type-A perfectionism, and Big Brother/stage syndrome in which I must always be accomplishing something. This has it’s pros, as I was able to write the bulk of my dissertation in six months while teaching two classes and publishing an article (that had little to do with my dissertation. Oy). That’s on top of trying to keep the house clean and everyone fed, dogs included.
But for some reason I find much more peace in that chaos than I do in these days off work, and this is not new for me. When I was growing up, I dreaded summer vacation; in fact, one summer I signed up for a summer school class just to have something to do (well, it was a literature class, so I also simply enjoyed it, but the motivation was also to get out of the house and have something meaningful to do with my time).
I’m left wondering if this is just my makeup and I should embrace it, or if God is trying to point out some insecurities that need to be addressed. I think the latter is at least as true as the former, since when my husband asks me what I did on any given day, I feel slightly defensive if I don’t have a laundry list of tasks accomplished. Also, when he asks me what my plan for the day is and I don’t have one that I find impressive, I practically slug him for even posing the question and highlighting my empty schedule.
I recognize that I am someone who could benefit from meditation, yoga, and any other practice that could relax this conditioned rat racer. But I hesitate to engage in these practices, for one simple reason: I fear being seen as selfish. The ideal of the Proverbs 31 woman haunts my waking hours, and I fear the judgement that I believe awaits failure to be always and forever achieving. I have now set myself on such a high pedestal, that the fear of falling seems like certain death.
I am not alone. At my daughter’s dance class last night I overheard two women struggling to justify their lifestyle choices. One is a stay-at-home mom; the other is a doctor. The SAH mom was visibly shaken when her friend told her what profession she had; you could sense the shame radiating from her. The other mother was quick to quiet these fears, expressing her own feelings of inadequacy as a working parent. Both women were anxious to plead their cases for why they choose the paths that they did; moreover, BOTH of them apologized. If this is the fear we have about how we have chosen to work, what fears exist regarding activities that are not perceived as work?
I can listen to and understand both women’s reactions, and yet even as I feel great compassion for them, I cannot seem to remove myself from the rat race of modern womanhood. I have always hated vacations and standing still, but perhaps by doing so I might better understand the value of being myself, independent of outside demands and distractions (including social media, which always seems a stage on which we display or busy (and therefore meaningful) lives), and learn to own my choices rather than constantly feel the need to apologize or explain. In truth, don’t our male counterparts often simply state what they do for a living or for enjoyment rather than justifying why they do such things? And are they not happier, at least in this self-assuredness?
So, for this break I am going to try something different. I’m not going to let my house fall into ruin while I drink mimosas in front of “my stories” or anything dramatic like that. But I am going to make a list of all of the things that I truly enjoy and have certainly earned after weeks of intense work, things like reading books for simple enjoyment (rather than for future publications), watching old movies, journalling, and meeting up with friends. And, as I engage with each activity, I hope to ignore the devil on my shoulder who asks, “Is this the right thing to do right now? Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive? What will Bill think if he comes home and there’s a mess? (True Answer: he won’t notice it)” I can’t say that the questions won’t be there, but it is my goal to simply ignore them, and choose joy in the present rather than unknown (and probably non-existent) fear.