Monday, June 22, 2015

Yes Woman

By Lisabet Sarai

Our Grip topic for the next fortnight is “Weaknesses”. Now, there are a lot of ways one can interpret this (like most of our topics), but as is often the case, I’ll consider the most obvious: personal weaknesses, bad habits or character flaws.

Of course I have many—don’t we all?—but there’s one that seems to have become all too prominent recently. I have a low tolerance for stress, particularly stress induced by over-commitment. I absolutely hate the feeling of pressure that comes from having too many tasks to complete in what seems like too little time. I’ve been known to throw literal tantrums when faced with apparently impossible deadlines, screaming, crying, banging my fists on the table, tearing at my hair, hitting my head against the wall... Really, I’m not exaggerating. Fortunately, I don’t go to these extremes too often, but I’ve given myself sore throats and lumps on the skull in the past after allowing my panic to gain ascendancy. My poor husband (who’s much better at coping with stress than I am) tries to help, but I know he’s wondering just how his intelligent, competent partner suddenly became a shrieking madwoman.

I think I’ve always had this weakness, even as a kid. I’ve attempted to compensate by starting assignments early and planning my time well in advance. Through four years of college and four of graduate school, I never once did an “all-nighter”, nor did I ever turn in an assignment late. This wasn’t a reflection of virtue, but rather, of terror at the way I knew I’d react if I wasn’t on top of all my work.

The strategies I’ve employed throughout my life still function reasonably well. These days I have tasks in so many different realmsteaching, research, consulting, writing, editing, reviewing, marketing, and more. If I didn’t have a detailed to-do list, and a pretty clear vision of when I was going to tackle what, I’d drive myself (and my DH) crazy. I also try to set priorities. Marketing always comes last, for example. That’s partly because I know that no matter how much I do, it won’t make much difference!

Unfortunately, I have another weakness that tends to exacerbate the first: I can’t say no. When someone asks if I will take on some task or project, my first inclination is almost always to agree. Indeed, when I see the need for some work, I’m perpetually tempted to volunteer my time and efforteven if nobody has asked. I want to be helpful, especially in cases where I think a task is important. And I know, honestly, that I can do a better job than many other people who might agree, half-heartedly, to take on some work. Furthermore, exactly because I’m so terrified about not fulfilling my commitments, I know that I, at least, will get it done...somehow.

Like most weaknesses, this one’s a problem only when it manifests to excess. I believe that, in moderation, my willingness to make commitments is a desirable trait. (I see far too many people who expect that someone else will be responsible for solving all their problems.) My concern about following through is also a positive trait. There are few things worse than depending on someone else to get something important done, then having them drop the ball.

However, I’ve learned that I need to sit on myself, to refrain from raising my hand, to avoid putting myself in a position where I’ll have another tantrum. I need to remind myself that I have a finite number of hours in the day and also that my relationship with my DH is more important than any task that might beckon. When I go ballistic, as I’ve described above, it hurts him. I really don’t want to do that.

This week, I’ve already squelched a bunch of ambitious plans I was thinking about proposing: editing a new Coming Together book, offering a crit of a new author friend’s story, creating a set of trailers for all my books so that I can build a You Tube channel... The list goes on. My to-do list looks more manageable today than it usually does. I have to remind myself that’s not an excuse to take on more work.

Still, I’m so very tempted by that latest call for submission...

No. No. No, no, no.

That’s so difficult for me to say.


16 comments:

  1. There's an old adage that if you need a job done right and on time, give it to a busy person. A busy person has lots to do. The reason they're so busy, we surmise, is because they are good at allotting time and are able to arrange things to accommodate the deluge. Busy people get things done, and that feels good for the sense of accomplishment alone. Sometimes I look around at younger people who have nothing to do besides video games, and are not likely to cultivate that sense of accomplishment.

    Friends and colleagues recognize your talent because of your obvious commitment to a project. Face it --you're good at what you do. The process has become second nature. Now, the trick is to better delegate time, because in a few years, your energy level will decrease. Things take longer to do. You'll need more rest. Start practicing saying "No" now.

    After you do everything I need you to do, of course. ;>)

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    1. What I meant to say regarding your working with second nature would perhaps be better said that you have learned to manage chaos. Like having a talent for herding cats.

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    2. Thanks, Daddy.

      But you know, that kind of reputation is really hard to live up to.

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  2. Lisabet, were we separated at birth? You know you're a chronic volunteer when the president of the PTA at your kids' school asks for volunteers for a project, then quickly turns to you and says directly, "And YOU sit on your hands this time, missy!"

    My problem is that since I don't seem to be able to find any full-time employment with a regular source of income, I frequently take on projects that will earn me little, but make me feel like I'm contributing more. Only afterwards do I hear from my family about how much of a bitch I turned into while I was in the middle of trying to get something done. So now I've been taking baby-steps towards learning to say "no."

    And Daddy X, I'm also distressed at how early I seem to fall asleep these days. I used to be able to get things done all day, then start writing when the family was all in bed...writing until 2 or 3 in the morning. Now I fall asleep by 11pm, while I'm sitting with the husband watching his TV shows. I'm also usually crocheting, since I don't like to "waste" time with TV unless I'm actively doing something useful also. He's warned me that I may poke an eye out with my crochet hook if I'm not careful. Ha ha. Is this because time is marching on for me? If so, I guess I need to start getting up earlier (I HATE early morning!) or I'm never going to be able to get enough things done.

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    1. See? I like mornings and that's when I get the bulk of my writing done. I don't like working on the computer at night since the screen (or energy generated by the story) fucks up my sleep patterns. I'm usually up by six or six thirty-- and, like you, in bed by 11. But then again I take an hour or more nap at three or four in the afternoon. Getting sleepy as we speak. zzzzzzz

      But the phenomenon here is that my general energy has dwindled over the last five years, plus whatever physical duties take longer than they did before. Comes with the gettin' older compromise. Prioritize!

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    2. Getting married decreased my productivity (LOL). I was always a morning person. In college and grad school I'd be up at 6 AM, studying or reading. Now I get up at 8, because my DH is a night person but we want to have breakfast together. (He thinks 8 is horribly early! Marriage is about compromise!) I still start getting sleepy around 11. So, fewer hours to get stuff done!

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  3. Lisabet, I don't see what you described as your weaknesses - I think you are the kind of person who commits to a project then works hard to bring that project to fruition - I call that strength!

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    1. Thanks, but they become weaknesses when I take on more than I can reasonably handle. That's not doing ANYONE any favors.

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  4. Maybe having too many strengths can be a weakness, and so can being someone who can't say no; I'm not sure. But it's certainly a stress magnet, and if stress were't hard to deal with, it wouldn't be stress.

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    1. Hi, Sacchi,

      Some people handle stress much better than others, though. My DH amazes me. One of his computers crashes or won't boot, and though he may have as many deadlines as I do, he stays cool. I so admire him for that. Me, I'll rage and cry. Then hope that he can fix the problem!

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  5. I can say no to anything. (just ask anyone who's asked me to do something or join something or participate in something or go somewhere or... the list goes on)

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    1. Yeah. And because the willingness to commit is a GOOD thing -- in moderation -- it's hard to know when it becomes a negative. You don't really find out until it's too late.

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  6. I could almost have written this exact post, Lisabet. Now I have to think again for my own post tomorrow (my time)!

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    1. Chuckle. Maybe this is something common in authors.

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  7. This has to be common in authors! I was also wondering if we were separated at birth, though I have to say I don't think I'm as good at managing it all as you are.

    A funny problem has emerged for me over the past few years. As you describe, I used to handle things in large part due to the intensity of my fear about what would happen if I didn't. But I started working on increasing my self-confidence and decreasing my fear of the disapproval of others... and found that this fear no longer worked as "well" as it had in the past. Now abject terror doesn't get me through projects anymore. The good side of that is that I've found more positive motivations. The bad side is that I can't rely on the tricks that have helped me make deadlines in the past.

    It's wise what you say about the relationships between weaknesses and strengths. For a while I've been thinking that those traits are often two sides of the same coin for me.

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    1. I know what you mean, Annabeth. I'm less anxious than I used to be about failure or disappointing people (so just imagine what I used to be like!) and as a result, I feel that I'm less productive. No, I AM less productive. I counter those self-accusations by reminding myself that peace of mind is more important than how much I "accomplish". But it's a battle I fight with myself daily... as I believe you'll understand.

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