Today, in the wake of a post-caffeine slump, willing myself to write, to be brilliant, to stop falling asleep in my chair, a thin ray of enlightenment broke through the stupor. And I realized – I am doing it again.
All through college I believed without thinking that I would grow up when I graduated. The college years, you may have heard, are collectively deemed a critical stage of human development. As baby grownups, we make all sizes of decisions that build the groundwork of the person we’ll be forever. Daunting? I think yes.
For me, this was both good and stupid. I learned about friends and God and love and boundaries, and I learned to love learning, and diligence, and letting go of the less than best.
But I never stopped being a sick little one-trick pony. On one frightening and now loathsome occasion, on the tail end of the stomach flu, I, gray-faced and weak and trembling from repetitive vomiting, realized that I was going to be late for a test and ran to the classroom. I kid thee not.
I blame the workaholism on my family; in this case I also blame the stomach flu on my family. (We all contracted it several Thanksgivings ago and in the aftermath had a facebook group dedicated to coping with the illness, which we maintained from our sickbeds.) But in the end (brace yourself for the forthcoming maturity), I alone bear the guilt.
This is part of the reason why, at times, I seem flippant about my mistakes. My voice squeaked, I bounced a check, I forgot my toothbrush — c’est la vie. This flippancy, rude as I’m afraid it sometimes seems, is hard-earned. When it doesn’t exist — ask my husband — I’ll so much as lose my keys and I start muttering hateful things about myself. You idiot. How dare you be weak and wrong and forgetful and normal.
And this, friends, is why many motivational speeches and memes and t-shirts make me shudder. I am tired of harmful, cover-all pep-talks about bettering ourselves, in which a healthy audience often is presumed, and we’re encouraged to develop perfectionistic goals for our real or imagined flaws. We conclude, There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to ___, if I’ll only try harder.
Since I’m a big sister and a teacher and a part-time youth-group-helper, this part of me is forever influencing more than just me. This isn’t a rant specifically about concussion awareness or thinspo (I am trying so hard not to let it be), but a warning against variations of this message:
“You will never regret pushing yourself harder.”
Anyone who runs on an injury and winds up with a bum knee forever knows this is not true. So do self-aware perfectionists. So do athletes with asthma, sprained ankles, and back problems. So does a particularly tired and embarrassed blogger-teacher who has been sick for two months and still worked out yesterday.
There is, of course, value in knowing your limits and pushing them, in a healthy way. I giddily pin swank workout gear with sayings that show up when you sweat, but I’m not about to crank out a run in the mud (even though I AM DYING TO).
Saying things like this becomes a slippery slope into never getting off the couch, of never going to school, of never doing situps. I don’t mean to excuse a life of coasting along in perceived grace-turned-indulgence (ask James about that), or to imply that hard work is overwork, or that the only version of overwork is academic or athletic.
You may be prone to sleep at the office, adopt a fourteenth homeless animal, refuse routine checkups, or work yourself into a knitting frenzy. You may, like me, have never left behind your college self, still foregoing real rest and recovery to run on caffeine and cat naps. Join the resistance.
Life may fling you onto your face, sick or jobless or failing and unable to do the thing you’ve all but idolized. Chill out. Take a deep breath without counting the seconds lost to taking a deep breath. Recall the Sabbath. Accept it as practice, if you must, but as practice for resting.