If You’re Busy Taming Lions (Some Thoughts on Stress and Procrastination)

If You’re Busy Taming Lions (Some Thoughts on Stress and Procrastination)

If you were to open up my Senior High School year book and turn to the section where “best smile” and “class artist” are listed, you would also find my picture. My snarky one eyebrow raised visage can clearly be seen peeking out from behind the book I was actually reading at the time. It is captioned: “Class Overachiever.”*

The next day, I mentally made a list of goals for college:

  1. Get some B’s.
  2. Don’t work so hard on things you think are stupid.
  3. Have more fun.
  4. Stop basing life decisions on what other people think.

Putting in the effort had only gotten me a bunch of good grades based on work that I mostly didn’t care about or like, and the ridiculous slap-in-the-face-epiphany: “you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.” I had thought if I worked hard people would like me, or at least respect me.  But trying to please people is like taking a bath with a plugged in toaster: idiotic and terrible for your health.

I’ve been thinking about that stupid stupid picture in that yearbook a lot this week. After a long  time of really not ever trying to take on extra responsibility and only achieving privately whenever I could manage it, I’ve finally decided that high school me had some good qualities and trying to DO stuff and take on responsibility might be something I’d like to try again. I’ve signed up for some writing, a little speaking, creating a little bit of written material for an event, some event planning of my own, and just some extra hospitality for the people I care about. Nothing crazy. And this stuff is spread out over months.

And right now I’ve turned into a sort of lion tamer with my stress.

“Back! Back I say you dirty beasts!”

A friend recently asked me “did you just take on too much?”

“No,” I said. “I know I can do the stuff I volunteered for, and when I will do it. It’s all very manageable. But somehow also terrifying.”

When I get in this state, no amount of organization seems to cure that sickly feeling behind my belly button. No lists or schedules can tame it. And no amount of trying to get a jump on the work and do it early helps either. In fact, usually I just find myself staring at my computer or phone almost unable to push the keys. Or I DO push the keys and what comes out is absolute garbage. And then all the little chores I could do around my house catch my attention and I let whatever I was trying to do disappear to somewhere in the back of my mind where tomorrow Andi can worry about it. Today Andi is going to go take a bath. Or read. Or cane a dozen episodes of the Great British Baking Show (and if you ever need a pick me up and some time to idealize the world beyond all sanity, I highly recommend it. British accents and cake are miraculous).

But I saw this video recently: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QetfnYgjRE&index=95&list=PLwxNMb28XmpckOvZZ_AZjD7WM2p9-6NBv

I am not too busy, which is an excuse I always used in college. I am not unable to complete the work. I have not signed up for too much. I absolutely have time for leisure and things I enjoy right now. But I am absurdly afraid of failure.

And not just failure mind you, because I know that everyone makes mistakes and that many of them can be laughed off and learned from. But I am afraid of creating something so bad that my life will be objectively worse off from trying to do a thing than if I had never attempted it at all. I’m afraid I will be summarily judged as too much or too little and discarded with nothing but a stupid picture and label condemning my effort.

Deep breath.

But here’s the good news: this is the first time I’ve ever ever admitted that. I do not have too much to do: I’m afraid to do it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step right? So here’s my list, for now:

  1. I am no longer trying to please people, nor do I expect to.
  2. Risk is part of a full life.
  3. Being an idiot is part of the human condition and I need to practice at least a little crashing and burning so that I can get better at it.
  4. I can  trust that I have everything I need to accomplish what I signed up for, even if it means knowing who to go to for help.
  5. I was not created to sit on my butt, even if it IS safer.

As far as I can figure, to get good at something you have to tolerate being bad at it for awhile. And I think doing things on a reasonable time frame and without worry about risk or what other people think is something I just have to do and be bad at for now. And luckily, adults don’t tend to make yearbooks or vote on “most” or “best” anything.

So instead of cleaning up elephant poop because it’s safer, this week I will head into the lion cages with my whip and chair ready to make those lions behave. Wish me luck, and try to figure out what part of that metaphor actually works and which part is just silly. (Answer: all of it.  All of it is silly).

*I begged to hold the book upside down as a sort of protest, poke at myself, and ironic comment all at the same time. I was refused.

If You’re Having Trouble Staying Awake (Adventures of a Wayward Lenten Fast)

If You’re Having Trouble Staying Awake (Adventures of a Wayward Lenten Fast)

For Lent this year, I decided to take a fast from self comfort and fill in the void with self compassion and intentionality. Basically I’m trying to force myself to feast on mindfulness until Easter. And you know what? So far I’m failing pretty hard. Even though I’ve totally refrained from coffee and tv and social media outside of communication (ok I slipped a little out of forgetfulness, but really I’m doing ok!), but it hasn’t really kept me mindful. It turns out that I can slip into a self comforting state of forgetfulness and distance from any pain in my world without any prop whatsoever. I literally have the ability to just sit there and turn off my brain. How on earth do I have this ability? I didn’t used to be this way.

I don’t know at what point exactly when everything became so hard. When I was a kid, I used to spend hours digging up rolly pollies just so I could watch them crawl across the ground and curl up into those funny little balls when I poked at them.  My best friend and I used to dig under bushes in almost religious silence, wondering about the complexities of the smallest thing.  Rain was glorious and produced fantastic puddles.  Chocolate was good. Tag was fun.  Blowing bubbles was a majestic miracle. And when you liked someone and wanted to be their friend, by golly, that’s exactly what you did.  The world was challenging, but always simple.

But as an adult, I flop the equation.  Most of life doesn’t seem that hard anymore. I fold laundry. I sweep floors. Money must be made to buy food. Kids must be bathed. Maybe when the challenge and wonder goes out of so much of life from repetition and familiarity, the sacred goes with it. I don’t see wonderful tiny creatures in the ground, I see dirt that can be tracked in. I don’t see the beauty of rain, I see the inconvenience that comes with being cold and wet. I don’t see playing tag, I see exhaustion and how out of shape I am. Everything is complicated but nothing is sacred and valuable. Things are easy but joy is hard to find.

I think at some point I decided that if I trip along, mostly surviving, never intentionally doing anything (good or bad, because I could mistake one for the other and that is not a risk I’m willing to take), arriving at the end of the day without any idea really how I got there, it was somehow better than making real decisions with actual responsibility taking. I want to be doing more than surviving and avoiding blame. I want to be awake to life!

So I decided that in order to accomplish this, I might actually have to consider planning my day. This is not something I really ever do. And I realized as I sat down to make my first plan, that it horrifies me. That much intentionality highlights what probably undergirds the whole problem: I don’t even know what I want to do because I am so afraid what I want might be wrong or it might not work. And that’s not a silly fear. I want a lot of wrong things and I do a lot of stupid stuff when left to my own devices. What can I do?

Quite awhile ago I was reading through The Jesus Story Book Bible with my oldest son. To my great frustration, he kept flipping the pages on me instead of letting me read. In my usual habit I unnecessarily flipped out at him. Bedtime was almost over. I was almost free! I couldn’t handle the delay.

“If you aren’t going to pay attention to me reading then I’m just going to be done reading to you!” *huff huff grimace.

“But mommy,” he said. “I just want to look at Jesus!”

My heart melted. I was a jerk. I let him look at Jesus all he wanted. I apologized for being rude. We talked about who Jesus was and why he is so good. I was  grateful that my son had managed to draw in my focus and push me up out of my need to just move past the things in my day that I had to do.

Every time something like this catches me, it feels like waking up. And every time I don’t really remember why I fell asleep again. Until I do.  Why is this so hard?

I’m only a few days into this, and I’m not sure I have any idea what I’m doing. Why on earth did I pick such a big huge thing as being mindful? But I have a feeling my son had the right idea. I can’t do this thing alone. And after all, it seems that what I’m continually looking for is cheap comfort in the face of a world that is too terrifying to think about very often, if I can stomach it at all.

But there is real comfort out there. So again and again, every time I’m feeling tired, or very mortal, or like eating when I’m not hungry, or tuning out to tv, or books or movies, or even just sitting still and thinking about nothing at all–I try to think about how my son knew exactly what he needed to be doing.

And I just want to look at Jesus.

This could totally be yet another example of how I really suck at picking reasonable project scope. But let’s face it, even if I crash and burn horribly at this and drive up to Starbucks tomorrow demanding a Venti-triple-shot-half-caf-mocha (Oh goodness, that was just off the top of my head. I don’t drink anything like that. Don’t judge me!), I’m headed in the right direction. And I will be present a whole lot more which is really good. And I will look at Jesus a whole lot more, which is priceless.

That’s my plan for now. That and maybe blowing some bubbles. Is there anything more like paying attention to the tiny pieces of the moment than blowing bubbles?

Anybody else out there feel like they may have bit off more than they can chew for Lent?