May 25, 2014
Okay. I’ll admit. Pretty much everything I ever do in life I feel this overwhelming urge to do it 110%. That sounds like a good quality, but it’s not. I think it borders on perfectionism and being anal-retentive. It’s an obsession with details. It definitely leads to lack of sleep and a nagging unfilled feeling that there are so many things I am not doing at all – because the few things I am doing, I am doing too well.
The number one thing I feel constantly compelled to do well? Parenting. Of course that should be a good thing, a great thing, a wonderful thing. But it is so hard to do it well. If you give 110% – which so many parents do or believe they are doing – you don’t get a lot of satisfaction that your efforts are paying off. You don’t get paid, and you constantly get reminded about what you did wrong – from those you are devoting your time to.
And you’re constantly second-guessing yourself. At least I am.
I am in a daily struggle to decide every hour, every minute, if what I am devoting my time to is what I SHOULD be devoting my time to. This is especially difficult when you are self-employed and run your own business. Your work follows you everywhere. This is even more apparent when that business, and every other way you or your household have to produce income, is not producing it. At all sometimes. Or certainly not enough. Many times. For years. Pushing you to eliminate many of the things you know you need to do to be a good parent – organic food, vacations, new clothes and shoes, braces, contacts (for the kids of course), a safer car, etc. Some you just never even got to have at all for them.
Yet here I am, wondering why I spent four precious hours while my daughter slept and my husband and son were away reading a vehement manifesto from an apparent madman who just killed multiple college students on UC Santa Barbara campus. But I couldn’t tear myself away. His eerie words recorded in print and on video before he killed several people and then himself tell of his tortured emotions since puberty – 10 years of getting angrier and more despondent as he didn’t achieve what he wanted to fit in with his peers and especially to be liked by women.
So as the mother of a boy on the verge of puberty and struggling a bit (like all of us did and do at that age), I wonder what can I glean from this story.
I’ve spent my life determined to learn from not only my own mistakes, but the mistakes of others. I found my way through my own adolescent struggles through vicarious learning. I realized what I didn’t want to experience and saw why some of it was happening to my friends and figured out how to avoid it based on their mistakes. Of course I made plenty of my own mistakes, but I missed a lot of grief and heartache by learning vicariously.
Now I am obsessed with doing that as a parent. I am enraptured listening to the pitfalls other parents are experiencing with their kids and trying desperately to figure out what they did wrong and make sure I don’t do it. Of course, this is not math. There is not a right answer. My parent friends and neighbors didn’t do anything wrong. They raised their kids the best way they knew how, but apparently something went wrong.
Just in the past few days, I heard about a friend who is struggling to figure out the best way to get his three young adults – 18, 21 and 25 – to stop drinking and doing drugs and to start working full time and making enough to live on their own. I heard about another friend whose 19-year-old has just earned his Eagle scout award and does not drink or do drugs and has good friends but refuses to go to college despite his exceptional intellect and barely works part-time and spends all day playing video games.
Then I think about my boy, at the tender age of 13 with so many conflicting thoughts pulling at him. He says he wants to do things with his family, but he longs to be welcomed by a group of friends. If I push him in that direction and keep insisting he do things with other kids to keep him from becoming the loner kid who goes on a rampage, then am I potentially pushing him into a group of friends someday that will steer him into a life of alcohol and drugs, or a life of video games and apathy?
So I steer him to what I think will build him up and prepare him for a life of enjoyment – excel at school and sports and music. Throw in some community service. Stay busy with productive activities. Have some down time but not hours and hours of video games (though that happens far too often).
It’s like the food struggle – eat veggies and fruits and meat, and you can have some junk food now and then. But now that he’s gotten more and more junk food as he’s gotten older, that’s all he wants. He often rejects the other food, and then he won’t eat. And that’s even worse for the parent of a kid who is constantly at the low end of the height/weight scale.
But in the middle of all of that is me – the mom. The wife. The business owner. The property manager. The freelance journalist. The chess teacher. The girl scout leader. The room parent. The field trip chaperone. The household CEO. The accountant and purchasing agent to my family. The cook and maid and chauffeur to my kids. The friend to my friends I rarely see. The mentor to the younger journalists I meet. The attractive woman I want to remain by eating right, exercising and focusing on my my hair and face and nails and clothes and shoes and accessories before I leave the house.
Hah! Now that last one is really funny, because it hasn’t happened consistently in a long time. I mean, who makes it their New Year’s Resolution to wear make-up every day.
I felt like I would feel better if I looked better when I left the house. The thing is, I didn’t feel bad. I’m generally an optimistic, happy person. But I’m just frustrated all the time, and that turns me into an irritable person who is yelling and getting uptight at the people I love. The ones at the beginning of the list that allow me to be the mom and wife I always wanted to be.
But make-up is not going to solve my very big problem of trying to do all of these things right.
So how can I do all of these things 110%? Even if I never sleep (and sometimes it feels that way), I can’t. I can’t. That’s hard to life with. So I don’t. I’ve kind of ignored it. I’ve just kind of “written off” some of the areas that were really important to me. I realized I couldn’t do it all, so I did a few things very well and just dropped the rest.
And now I realize, through my own mistake and not the mistake of any one else, that doesn’t work.
I have to find balance. Even if it means pulling back on some of the other areas, giving 90% instead of 110% somewhere else – to make up for the areas where I’m only giving 10% – or 0%. And it’s taking a toll. It’s killing me. It’s got to be turned around.
I’m not the only one. I’ve figured out so many things in my life through my own experiences and those of others around me, and it’s time to start sharing those.
I’ve been reaching out. I wrote a long email that expressed my frustration and sent it to my husband, but I realized when I responded that the email was not for him. It was for me.
I realized afterward I wrote this email for myself:
“That was a great article! Thanks for sending it.
One of the main threads running through all those stories was that these women built their wealth or expanded on it because they were getting paid to speak and consult and put their knowledge and experience into products like books.
I hear people say that to me, like you, and see others I know doing it, like Steve Olsher, but I’m not studying that specifically. I should be. I should be studying that and not studying real estate. I can delegate those things to other people.
I’d much rather give speeches and write about things I care about that help people. I talk to people all the time and give advice — every time I call someone back and talk about what they need to do to rent to own (as I did today) or I call someone back about a problem they’re having that they think we should do a story about but maybe they just needed me to give them some direction on the phone that will help them (as I did today).
I’ve been listening to motivational books and tapes and courses for years and years now. I know as much about that field from a student perspective as I do about real estate. I just don’t know it from experiencing it and trying to develop it as a career. I need to jump in.
And now I have a wealth of experience to share with people. I think the main topic I can start with is Balance: How Women Find Happiness Having A Little of Everything Instead of All of Very Few Things. I constantly run into women that are trying to do it all and feel frustrated because they can’t possibly do everything as well as they want. But they don’t want to give up anything, and I understand that. They don’t want to give up parenting, career, handling the family schedule and finances, decorating the home, choosing the kids’ clothes, and on and on. Just the other day I had to get petty cash from the office manager, and when I walked into her office she was on the phone with her husband explaining what she wanted him to cook the kids for dinner and where to find the food in the freezer, etc. I see it everywhere!
Women can’t let go, so they have to learn to do everything just good enough to get to the next thing without beating themselves up. You wouldn’t believe how many articles there are about moms getting so upset with themselves just because they let their kid eat junk food all weekend or ride without a helmet once or stop a tantrum with a piece of candy, etc. It’s typical mom attitude that you feel like you have to be perfect mom, and it’s so much harder now that there’s so much parenting information. We moms have all these things we have to worry about — is what they’re eating healthy, is what they’re doing safe, is my discipline going to cause them anxiety that will lead to depression, and on and on. Women aren’t used to doing something that matters so much and admitting that they’re not doing it perfectly.
Did you notice all the National Junior Honor Society kids at the ceremony the other night? Mostly girls. My dad said it was the same way when he was in school; far more girls got good grades than boys. Girls have this attention to detail and desire to be perfect that somehow boys don’t have.
That’s why we get so crazy as we become moms, because we can’t do everything perfect like getting an “A” when we are doing too many things and we don’t know how to just let some go. We’re not willing to just stop doing some things, so we just have to learn to pick which things we’ll let ourselves do at a “C” level and a “B” level and just pick a couple we do at an “A” level. I’ve done this myself. I know that I don’t give full effort to anything but parenting. After I had my kids I decided I was willing to get a B and C in everything else in life to get an A in parenting (and as a wife, I think, not counting my cleaning skills). And that’s why I let my cleaning skills go down to a F because it was either that or lose all our real estate. Now that I’ve refinanced all our properties I need to bring my cleaning back up to a B. But I still prioritize the kids and you over all the other stuff. That’s why our marriage is good.
I know couples where the man is looking for someone outside the marriage probably because their wife had to put something lower on her priority list and it became her appearance and her intimacy with her husband and her sex drive. Women do this not realizing that they would lose their husbands because of it. And many of them will stay married, but they’ve “lost” the men in their life if these men are seeking the company of others. When the kids are gone, many of them will lose their husbands permanently. Maybe some of them should be a B mom and B wife instead of an A mom and a F wife, because in the long run it will probably be better for the kids to see their parents in a healthy relationship.
Anyway, thanks for inspiring me. I’m going to focus on this and see where it takes me. I can oversee the business and have you handle most of the real estate work.”
To which my husband responded:
I understand all that. Thank you for clarifying a lot of things, and thank you for not using it as yet another attack on me and what I accomplish, because quite frankly, I just do not want to live a life as spread thin as you are comfortable with, even while you’re admitting you don’t want to be so spread thin, and you want to adjust some priorities.
Even with you spreading yourself LESS thin, you are simply more comfortable than I am at how thin you are spread.
I have felt completely and totally overwhelmed the past five years, and feeling like a zombie, because of this. And that’s just not productive, and obviously, it shows.
I need to stop spreading so thin, so that I can achieve that initial level of success and stability, without losing my mind over the fact that it’s not enough money to keep my marriage alive.
I love you, but don’t think I don’t love myself enough to want way, way more than I have right now. But it’s not do-able while feeling like a zombie.
I love you dearly, you’re my everything. Well, you and the kids. And you know that.”
The original email from me was a reply to this email from my husband:
|Your husband shared this with you:
An inspiring story.
Click the links for WomenEvolution and MillionaireGirlsMovement.
“How we made $1 million (and more)”
So where does this leave me?
Ready to sort out the balance in my life I once had that now eludes me. It’s my own personal experiment, and I’ve been conducting it since sending that email to my husband (myself) on March 20, 2014.
Now it’s two months later, and I’m starting to make some progress on my main goal to get rid of the clutter in my house – the part of my life that I let slip to a grade of F.
I keep adjust my process along the way, using all of the knowledge I’ve learned from dozens of motivational, self-help, organizational non-fiction books I’ve listened to for years and years. But I’m using the knowledge that I know works for me and will work for other women in my situation. Most of those books are written by men, and they assume you are wanting to learn better techniques to thrive in the working world. The path to success in a woman’s complicated and convoluted world of family, career, friends, and personal expectations is like walking a tightrope to get across the San Francisco Bay, compared to the path a man can take to achieve success in his career, with would be analogous to crossing the by on the Golden Gate Bridge in his nice new car.
So join me to cross the tightrope. I’m going first. When I get to the other side, I’m putting the safety net underneath it, so you won’t fall. And I’m building a railing and notches all along the way for you to hold on to to guide you across.
I will be adding to this regularly to keep you updated on my progress, so you can follow along. Please share with me as you make your own progress. We can help each other avoid pitfalls and mistakes by sharing the ones we make.
The first one I made was thinking I could get my entire house free of the clutter that has built up for 10 years in just 60 days by carrying around a note telling me to give less attention and less time to my kids and husband. It helped a little, but didn’t work as drastically as I thought.
Then one day a bombshell hit me. It had been a day or two after I made a NOTE in my phone about DAILY PRIORITIES. It’s still in there.
“Email one resume each day
Call one real estate owner each day
Clean one pile of clutter each day
Write one blog entry each day”
Wow! I had already admitted to myself over and over that getting rid of my clutter was the thing that was slowing me down, holding me back, impacting my life negatively more than anything else. Yet it was NUMBER THREE on my priority list. How could I be so foolish? So blind?
So I made it NUMBER ONE. I didn’t even change it in my phone (yet). This was about a week ago. I changed it in my mind. I meant it. I committed to it. No leaving the house unless I cleaned one pile of clutter each day. In the past week, I have gotten rid of five piles. I know it’s not seven, but it’s a lot better than the few I got rid of the previous 30 days.
So I know, ladies, that you need to find that ONE thing in your life that is NOT IN BALANCE. The one thing you know is important and is negatively impacting your life but you’re not doing anything about it. And you have to start doing something about it. EVERY DAY. Priority number one. Before you leave the house, if you can. Or first thing when you come home, or after you put the kids to bed or down for a nap. Not after a quick snack. Not after you read the paper or watch the news. BEFORE anything else.
If you want no longer feel good about yourself because of your weight, and it’s the one thing dragging you down more than anything else, then it’s got to be the thing you devote time to before anything else in your daily life – including time with the kids. Work out every day. And work out every time you get an urge to eat junk. Want a cookie? Go for a walk. Want chips? Do sit-ups. No exceptions.
If you have lost intimacy in your marriage, and you are not having sex at least once a week with your husband, unless you have a newborn or you live in different states YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. You will lose your husband, even if you don’t get a divorce. You will lose the emotional bond you had when you fell in love, unless you get back in touch with your sex drive and bring intimacy back to your marriage. It’s got to be your number one priority, before you do anything else. Set the alarm early. Wake him up with something intimate every morning; if you’re not sleeping in the same bed, then crawl into his. Move back toward what you had one step at a time, as if you are dating again. Think about something that will turn you on. Pretend he’s an actor who you think is hot. It’s okay. He used to do the same thing when he was intimate with you.
Those are just a couple of the biggies that haunt women and drag them down.
The problems are different, but the way we arrive at the solution can be the same.
Come along with me on this journey together, and let’s meet on the other side for a celebration.