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 realms—teaching, 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 effort—even 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.