There are times your goal is visible, and it seems, just out of reach. If I can push myself a little longer, you think, and so you do.
You push. Hard. You develop a habit of pushing yourself that becomes the routine of your mornings and your afternoons, the standard transition into night’s long hours, the cycle of just enough sleep to start it all over again though you recognize the deficit and keep going nonetheless.
You’re on a deadline, but you don’t process the word fully. Dead. Line.
I’ve been running the race for decades. Pushing myself, not just for what I want, but to survive. Pushing to make a buck. Pushing to pay bills. Pushing to raise my children. Well.
I am always driving myself to create more, help more, accomplish more. This is the substance of my upbringing: set ambitious goals, expect to meet them, demand superior results, then move the bar – again. But at times, I feel like the hamster on the wheel, trapped and running as a way of life.
So while I consider myself an example of perseverance, what else am I teaching my children?
Am I modeling a frenetic pace? Disregard for physical limits? Am I setting the bar too high, or too high too often – falling into a mindless mantra of achievement rather than a mindful one?
I soothe myself by seeing the message as necessary and positive: I can do it, I am advancing. But at what cost?
Managing fatigue as a life skill?
It was a weekend of pushing through paperwork, through required writing, and technology problems that worsened as I went along. At 2 a.m. I said goodnight to my son who was pushing toward a goal of his own, to complete an art project as part of a scholarship competition.
When you’re the hamster in the cage, it helps if you are not alone. You exchange encouragement with the one at your side: “We’re almost there, the goal is in sight, we can do it.” But when it is your child running the race, your words will falter, your tone will change, and you will counsel him to consider alternatives.
Five a.m. wake up call
My son has been getting by on one hour, three hours, four hours of sleep a night, with the exception of weekends when time affords him a little more latitude. This morning when I checked on him he was up and sick, apparently since just after five.
School? Out of the question. As for his attempt to add to his portfolio, equally so.
- Are some of us wired to push ourselves beyond reason?
- Is it learned behavior – from parents and friends?
- Is it counterproductive if not properly managed?
As I charge through a schedule of seven days a week of writing and project work, shoring up infrastructure for my son in his heavy workload, and tell myself this is mandatory duty – I worry about the wake up call. When it will come. The way it will come.
Spinning my wheels
Twelve hours of yesterday was spent following instructions on a page, links on a site, directives of four support reps, a thread in a forum, then more time fixing everything that broke as the result of following all but one of those conflicting voices. Talk about spinning your wheels, and getting nowhere. It was time I could ill afford.
Eventually I returned to my starting point, deeming the day a total disaster. I was worn out, and accomplished nothing. Yet this morning, I realize that by virtue of everything done that never worked, I learned what not to do. While I didn’t make my objective, nor was I solely spinning my wheels.
Modeling determination, worrying about excess
Glancing at the scattered pastels on the piano bench, the pencil shavings on the floor, the stunning image on the table – not quite completed – I recognize my son’s progress during the night. Though he didn’t make his objective, he should be proud, as I am, of his work ethic, his determination, and his skill.
There will always be days and nights of spinning our wheels, but I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I’m concerned about my example. There is no denying the extensiveness of my load, but somehow, I need to work smarter rather than harder. And learn when to yield to no – as the only way to get to an ultimate, healthier yes.