I know it isn’t December yet, but I’ve been in a period of self-evaluation that feels kind of like what might strike around the New Year.
At the beginning of the year, I heard something on the radio from a Christian motivational speaker and writer (can’t remember her name now) who was talking about New Year resolutions. She said that she had a different method of motivating self-improvement in the new year, and it was to pick one word that she wanted to direct her throughout the year. Examples would be things like “love” or “service”.
Within 5 minutes, I had picked a word (because somehow at that moment a list did not at all appeal to me): discipline.
It’s been at the back of my mind all year, mostly to guilt me when I neglected to save up my last few weeks’ income, or in trying to establish good habits with my new class, or in exercising.
I think 2016’s word will be “balance”.
I’ve said recently that I determined to say “yes” to more things this year, and that’s gone pretty well overall; except that now I have moments where I feel positively overwhelmed with everything to which I have committed my time and attention. I’ve had to force myself multiple times to step back and determine what really is important to me and stop selling myself out to all the rest.
In the midst of that, I’ve learned a lot about myself.
Back at my old job, my boss used to say we were a lot alike, and that was why we got along so well. I didn’t think we got along very well at all for the most part; I’m just the sort who avoids conflict if possible and was raised to be polite and respectful to other human beings, even if they’re annoying or being ridiculous.
I held this internal argument on a regular basis because I was terrified that my boss was right, and that we actually were a lot alike. Maybe not in situation or interests, but personality. It caused a lot of added stress, which is probably why I about lost it when I was preparing to leave. I also blew the situation a little out of proportion, for which I am a little embarrassed.
But lessons learned! And that self-reflection has come back around lately as I try to adjust to my new normal. I’ve had to be brutally honest to myself lately and accept myself instead of sugarcoating the facts. The last thing I want to do is become content with my weaknesses and claim them as character faults I can’t possibly change. I do not want these things to ever hold me back.
So what I’ve learned:
- I have to be in control
I’ve known this one for years, but I tend to avoid it. I am very much a control freak. If I know how to do something well and efficiently and – more importantly – the way I think is best, I will usually take control of that task, even if there are people standing around and I already have enough to do. I don’t like giving responsibilities to people who don’t know what they’re doing and may mess up.
I also need to have a plan and a goal. This works well with my writing but not so much with my living, because I have to force myself to live on a whim and let myself be surprised.
- I can’t stand weakness
And I don’t mean the weakness that comes with never having learned how to do something. I mean people who claim weakness and use it as a way to never improve themselves or challenge themselves. I don’t want to be the person who writes myself off before I’ve ever given something a shot. I can’t stand people who assume they aren’t needed and because they don’t have the courage to try something new they’ll just step back and let more capable people take care of it. Sometimes more capable people are not available.
I also have a hard time asking for help. I’ve prided myself on being a fast learner (unless it’s chemistry or math) and I like to be dependable. I don’t like admitted I don’t know what I’m doing or I’ve lost my way and need someone to guide me back. I don’t like giving up on things I’ve committed to do or admitting that perhaps I’ve overloaded myself.
- I do not give sympathy to people who are not making an effort to help themselves
This one has been big lately, because Gram is in the habit of demanding sympathy. Dad articulated this last night as I was seeking his counsel, before I had ever said it out loud to anyone but Jo. Dad thinks “sympathy” is Gram’s codeword for something else, but we don’t know what. And whenever Gram asks why I’m so heartless and won’t give her just a little sympathy, I either say (often a little sharply) that I already have been giving her sympathy, or I bite my tongue.
Gram doesn’t do a lot to help herself. I know it isn’t all her fault, but she’s accepted her weaknesses and she refuses to challenge the limits she’s put on herself. It’s motivating to all of us, because we look at her and say, “That is not what I want to turn out to be.” (We don’t tell her this when she’s asking why God put her here, of course. I don’t think she would enjoy knowing her presence is a tool for our edification.)
Dad told me rather resignedly that this refusal to sympathize with stationary people is a family trait. He admitted that it looks harsh from the outside, but he also did not encourage me to change my ways. Maybe it’s not the most Christian of us, but I’m of the thinking that the best way to help someone is to not encourage them too much when they are down, but to drive them back on their feet and put their arm across your shoulders so you can help them move on. I believe there is always something we can do about our situation, even if it is only to cry out to God and listen for His answer. I crave motion, no matter how slow it is. I can’t sit still for long, and I can’t sympathize with people who have no desire to move.
My goal this next year is balance, in that I try to define the line between being helpful and being harsh; in learning to pick my battles and acknowledging that not everything can go my way. My goal is to determine what is truly important to me and to dedicate my all to it and leave everything else behind. I don’t want to be useless and motionless, but I also don’t want to wear myself into the ground. I think it’s a little too early for that.