“Next year I’m really going to up my game, give it my all!”
My boyfriend looks at me:
“OK… and what did you do this year then?”
“Well, the same?! But I feel I could have achieved so much more.!
“Sure, you could have used the hours you wasted on sleeping so much more efficiently, right?
Maybe you should listen to self-help audiobooks at night to pump more info into your brain.
You know, to make sure no time is lost.”
He sees on my face that I start considering it.
“I was joking, Masha.”
The truth is, I have a long list of projects in my head that I’d love to start next year, a whole treasure trove of dreams I’d love to make a reality. The list is long, endlessly long. When am I going to have the time to do all that? How am I going to squeeze everything I want into the few hours available every day, especially when it comes to the projects that require continuous focus and attention? As these thoughts circle in my head, I realize the days will simply be too short for it all.
For a brief moment I actually consider cutting back on sleep, but that’s not really an option for me, I know that. I simply wanted too much. It happened again. And as every year, I can’t help but feel frustrated that I only achieved a fraction of what I wanted to get done. The feeling leads to a sense of growing internal pressure, a desire to make up for lost time, to catch up on projects I didn’t manage to devote enough attention to. What causes this pressure, though, where does it originate?
It’s a rhetorical question, to which I know the answer all too well: it come from right inside of me.
I am a true master of putting myself under too much pressure, and that means that there are few emotions I am as well acquainted with as a sense of failure.
When it comes to my work, I am not very loving with myself. I tend to focus on the mistakes I make, tend to consider my achievements insufficient, always see what I could have done better. And then there’s the self-ordained quest for constant optimization, the constant comparisons I draw between myself and others. Typically they are comparisons in which I come off badly. Whatever I do, it never seems to be quite enough. All too often I feel inadequate. I am an archetypical perfectionist, someone who is always sprinting without ever reaching any kind of finishing line. But what am I actually running towards? How am I ever going to reach any kind of destination if all I chase is the receding horizon?
I hear myself say “don’t compare yourself to others!” I dispense advice on how to love yourself more, but I am not really capable of heeding it myself. I say “don’t be so strict with yourself”, and “you’re achievements are wonderful!” I respect the work others do, marvel at what they get done. I never tell myself any of those things. I am my toughest critic, never satisfied with myself.
Why have I not written at least one book yet, headed a label, inspired others with public speeches? Why don’t I do voluntary charity work, why don’t I read more in my spare time (??), why don’t I exercise more and harder? Why does it look so easy when others juggle all this balls in life, and why are mine dropping all the time?
Why do I put myself under so much pressure? Because it’s all I know.
I would never expect as much from others as I do from myself, not even close. Why can’t I be a little more relaxed when I deal with myself? Wouldn’t I be happier, more content, if I wouldn’t always set the bar so damn high for myself?
Well, at least I understand that the relationship I have with myself is problematic. It’s actually improved a bit over the past couple of years. I have become much better at accepting what I can change, I am at peace with the fact that some things are simply out if my control. Above all, I seem to have learned that work is not everything in life, and I have found a healthier balance with more focus on my private life. The love I feel for my partner is stronger than my existential fear. Crucially, the love I feel for myself seems to be stronger at this point than the fear of failure. My job is no longer my sole source of identity.
I am also a partner, girlfriend and daughter.
Whirling in the self-optimization craze that governs the Insta-universe, I sometimes forget to put my wellbeing first.
What is good for ME?
What makes ME happy?
Above all: what’s the real purpose?
I go through my mental list again:
which of the items on there points to a wholesome future?
I cross some points off the list, add others, and I know that it’s still top crammed when I’m done. But I feel I made another step towards the balance I desire. Eventually, I add one last resolution: