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The book I mentioned in my last post, Overwhelmed, had some great points. I skipped a lot of the book because it seemed to overly focus on how stereotypes between men and women placed more pressure on women than men, and I wasn’t looking for an equality speech (can’t we women at some point take responsibility for ourselves instead of automatically blaming men?). But she did have some excellent points once I got past that. One of which, was the ideal worker.

The ideal worker basically is how there is a certain expectation that I think anyone who works in a career of any kind is familiar with – that, if you want to make it, you will dedicate more of yourself to your work than any other part of your life. The one who gets promoted, be it women or man, is the one who puts in the most hours, makes it the number one priority, never complains, etc., etc., etc. That is becoming, I feel, a little less of a problem in today’s society – more and more people and employers are finally realizing the benefits of a work life balance, but it is still hard to shake the old idealism even with the best intentions.

I can see it in my current job – both the new and the old ideals clashing together. All the managers put in long hours, are always traveling, always busy, and if they aren’t at work they are running off to a child’s sports game or something else. It doesn’t matter how much time they work, they are paid the same (they literally told us they don’t care what we put on our time sheet if we are salaried as long as we actually work/put in the minimum 40 hours). But, at the same time, they allow us to telework on a limited basis, give us tons of PTO, great benefits, and try to encourage team building events. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure those who actually use all the PTO they give don’t get promoted as fast as the ones who don’t.

But it is more than the expectations – it is almost as though, if you aren’t incredibly harried or busy, always late to the next meeting, and constantly working, you aren’t working hard enough. That is literally the impression you get at work. You must be busy enough to be harried if you are actually working as hard as you ought to. In addition, you must be good at multitasking. Preparing a report while answering emails within 5 minutes (I’ve literally had my manager come to me within one minute of sending an email to ask if I got it), and participating in a conference call where they are upset you couldn’t make it in person all at the same time.

I have three daily meetings, five weekly meetings, and five monthly meetings. Do you know what that means? ~85 meetings in ~20 workdays, not counting the quarterly meetings and one-time briefings. 90% of which is to give status updates on the work I barely have time to do. That demonstrates a world who is desperate to appear busy.

In all the reading I’ve done, I’ve come across multiple references to studies that say the more work/life balance you have, the better your actual work is. According to Overwhelmed, “Research shows that forcing long hours, face time for the sake of face time, and late nights actually kills creativity and good thinking and the ensuing stress, anxiety and depression eat up health care budgets. . . [A research study finds that] the team with [regular] time off increased learning, improved communication with their team, worked more efficiently, and were ultimately more productive than their ideal worker colleagues.”

The book later states that a person cannot be productive for more than 90 minutes at a time and after 90 minutes, they should take a break to refresh their mind before starting again. Another study I found awhile back introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique. It essentially says that you should work in 25-minute bursts. Set a time for 25 minutes and concentrate only on one thing – multitasking hurts both your work and your productivity – then take a 2-5 minute breather, and then start again on either the same task or the next one. After five “Pomodoros”, take a break of 15-30 minutes. I’ve been slowly implementing it and I really think my productivity has increased significantly. I am not as good at the longer break unless it is actually lunchtime, but even the short bursts of concentrated activity have been very helpful.

The other thing many articles talk about is e-mails. We get so freaking many emails, most of which interrupt our workflow. Every pop-up we get pulls us out of our concentration and then we have to refocus. The recommendation I’ve seen most is to turn off pop-ups and only check email at predetermined times. I’ve been trying to get better about that too by not looking every time I get a new e-mail until I reach a break in my work, and that has helped – until my manager comes over when I haven’t responded within a minute or two. But I think he is starting to get used to my response that I am in the middle of a project and haven’t looked at my e-mail. *crossing fingers*

All of these various things have been slowly working their way into my own life. I figured out work/life balance a while ago, I think, and finally decided I would rather be home half my life than climb the career ladder faster, and I’ve been much happier since. (I’ve also become a rather annoying advocate – anytime someone starts talking about working late or on weekends I tend to scold them) Since implementing the Pomodoro Technique, my productivity has increased significantly, and I have very recently begun only checking my email in between tasks, as previously mentioned (though I fail in that a lot, like today – I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to turn off the pop-ups, and it’s hard to ignore them!!).

But, all in all, I think that, though these are all valid points, I don’t think they are the biggest time suckers for me since I have actually been working on it. It was nice to get validation though for my continued quest for work/life balance.

The rest of the pointers outside of the ideal worker really struck a chord for me though, so more on those later.

work life balance

I went to a Bible camp when I was . . . mm, probably like 16. It was a week-long of chapels, seminars, prayer time, etc. There is one thing that sticks out in my mind from that time over 15 years ago. It is a seminar called Redeeming the Time. He spoke on how to better use your time. The only thing I actually remember him saying is that you shouldn’t use alarm clocks because if you were woken by an alarm clock then you weren’t getting enough sleep. He obviously works for himself. I still use an alarm clock. I could never get to work on time without one, no matter what he says. I don’t remember anything else he said, except that I was mesmerized by the idea of redeeming the time. Using my time wisely, better, and doing more.

I apparently still have a fascination for time, because lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research into the subject of being overwhelmed lately. And by research, I mean when I have a moment and a thought occurs to me, I’ll do google searches, and I (sort of) read a book called “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” And I occasionally go on spurts of reading articles on related subjects. Anyone who has been reading my blog longer than this post is probably currently tilting their head wondering why. After all, I am a career woman with a hobby of writing, living in the city with a 10-20 minute commute, and it’s just me and my husband – no children, no yard work, not even family in the area, and, yes, I even have maids come in to clean my apartment on a biweekly basis (courtesy of my new job/raise). Why on earth would I, of all people, need to read about being overwhelmed?

Well, let me tell you. Because despite the fact that there is no earthly reason for me to be one of the rat race runners who feel like they never have a chance to breathe, I feel like I am. I feel like I am always rushing to the next thing, like I don’t have time for work, writing, exercising, hobbies, seeing people, cleaning, laundry. I write and re-write to-do lists and schedules and yet, I can’t figure out how to fit it all in. How on earth do moms do it? People with families in the area? Those who have sports, or classes, or church commitments, or any of the other numerous obligations that most people in America do and I don’t? So, I figured I was going about something terribly wrong.

I think I really started looking into this when I happened upon an article that mentioned how, every time you asked how someone was, it was almost guaranteed they would answer in some synonym of the word, “Busy.” Which, struck me right at the heart – because, I’m pretty sure that is my automatic response too. Anyway, I’ll tell you the conclusions to my ramblings first – what I now believe are the primary reasons for the “rushed” feeling that I always feel.

  1. Phone addiction
  2. Trying to live up to specific, usually unrealistic standards (whether your own or someone else’s)

I’m going to take the next few days to go a little bit more in depth into what I’ve taken away from my research. This was going to be a single blog post, but when I copied it into a word document at it registered at 4 (now up to 8) pages, I realized my husband was right when he suggested making it a series. You can read the rest of the posts as you so choose, but don’t feel like you have to, since I’m pretty sure it’s just me brain dumping everything to better think through it all.

Busy

Last week was spent in recovery mode, mostly. The week before that I was in Texas from Sunday – Sunday, and in 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM training Monday – Saturday. Now, I will be the first to admit that it was FUN training. To be paid by my company to go learn lock picking, surveillance techniques, and electronic coding was a dream I never knew I had. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t mentally exhausting to sit in a chair for 8 hours a day listening and learning. So I am not entirely certain what happened to last week, but I”m fairly sure a lot of it was spent not doing anything.

But back to my class. I spent two days learning how to pick various locks and enter places you aren’t supposed to, two days learning how surveillance systems work, the best places to put them, and the different systems, and two days learning how electronic keys/fobs/access thingamajigs (yes, that is a technical term) work, including learning how to copy my hotel card onto another card.

Here is the overall lesson for you all: Locks can be defeated. Very easily in most cases. I don’t think I will ever again count on a lock to keep someone out, although they are a good way to make sure someone knows they aren’t SUPPOSED to be there. Electronic access is a little harder, but still totally crack-able if you have the right tools, and, in some cases, you don’t need any tools other than whiskey (Yes, whiskey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDl4AO4ancI). So, whenever I get my own house, I’m getting a surveillance system to go with it, because then at least I will usually be able to see WHO broke into my house.

The other thing I learned while I was gone is that Austin, Texas is not ideal for a woman by herself. Perhaps it was the time of year, or the area, or who knows what, but I haven’t been that uncomfortable and aware of eyes on me since I was a size 2. And, honestly, probably not even then. Once, I was on the phone with my husband in the elevator when the guy in the elevator with me asked me to have a glass of wine with him. He muttered something about it not scaring him when I pointed out my husband was on the phone, but let me go without any issues anyway.

So I didn’t go many places between the training room and my hotel room. But I still had fun, and there was a huge street fair my last day there that had too many people meandering around for anyone to single me out, so I enjoyed going to every single booth, trying most samples, and buying much more than I expected. Someday I would like to go back, WITH my husband, so I can explore the area properly.

And my (late) lunch break is over, so that’s all the update for now!

'This is a really great bar - you have to pick the lock to get in!'

 

Playing Tourist

So, no, I haven’t kept up with my 10 minutes of writing a day for the last couple weeks. Buuut, I have a good excuse, honest. My older sister came to visit me for 10 days and, for those of you who don’t think that is a good enough excuse, let me clarify. This was the first time:

  • She’s never visited me
  • We’ve haven’t had sister time in 14 years
  • She’s never gone on vacation
  • She’s never left her 6 children for longer than a few hours (as far as I know)
  • She’s never been to DC

We had such a fun, if very full 10 days. We went on the White House Garden Tour, went to brunch, explored a very cute downtown, spending the most time in an antique store, walked all over Arlington Cemetery, saw the Changing of the Guard as well as a wreath-changing ceremony (which included hearing a guard play Taps), toured the monuments, went to Georgetown cupcakes, bought lots of books at my favorite bookstore in Alexandria, took a boat to Mount Vernon, and I’m pretty sure explored a few other things too, but I lost track. And then, of course, prepping for and hosting Easter, and she left the following morning at 5:30 AM.

So, all in all, not much sleep, no time to write, but so much fun.

This week thus far has mostly been recovery and sleep, and I have a total of 2 more days before I have to leave for a work trip. But, now that I am done playing tourist, I am going to get back to writing now. And I am thinking it might be time to get back to exercising as well . . . it’s been awhile.

(Take a breath. Get a drink. This is a long one. But it’s worth it. I promise think.)

When I think of the perfect business woman, a very specific picture comes to mind. Someone who lives in a city, in a perfect apartment overlooking the city in which she works. She has perfect hair, perfect nails, a perfect figure, a perfectly coordinated outfit. She can walk in high heels for hours, and commands attention immediately when she walks into a room. She walks into meetings and has all the right answers, she sells her clients on whatever she needs to, goes on business trips, and makes enough money that she never has to worry about bills or how much she spends when she goes out with her friends. She is intelligent, witty, and held in respect. And, most important of all, she is confident. She knows who she is, what she is doing, where she is going, and how she is getting there.  She exercises every day, has relaxing evenings, and is always at work in tip top shape with all the energy for the day coursing through her. In essence, she is every white collar business woman displayed on every TV show and movie.

Perfect Woman

I have always wanted to be that woman. I have watched all those TV shows and movies and thought, someday – that will be me.

I am 32 years old. I live in a perfect apartment overlooking the city in which I work. I get up early to go to work, and make more money than even I ever thought I could. I have briefed and run meetings for hundreds of people throughout my career. I go to more meetings than I know what to do with. I travel all over the country to meet with clients. I go out to happy hours. I wear suits and heels. In a fleeting moment, one might think – I have arrived. And you know what? I struggle to exercise because I hate it. I struggle to keep my weight down because I like eating. I am exhausted in the mornings as I trudge into work wishing I could have slept in and trying to smile instead of glower at people. I spend most evenings either preparing food for dinner or cleaning up, trying to catch up on correspondence and social media, trying to catch up on errands, or playing on my phone and watching TV while feeling guilty for not being useful. I always watch the price when I’m out because I still have a budget, and we are saving for a house, and I have financial goals, unlike apparently that woman in the movie. I never make time to do my nails, my hair is rarely perfect, I can handle high heels for only about half an hour at a time, and most of all? I have incredibly low confidence. I never know what to say to people, am always confident I DON’T have the right answer, and have totally lost my vision for where I want to go.

Remember that fleeting moment that I looked like that woman? Well, I’m not. I am nothing like her.

But I’m always striving to be her. And you know why? Because she is perfect. And I so dearly, desperately, want to be perfect. I strive so hard for that and always, always fail, and therefore constantly feel like a failure, and constantly lower my confidence because I cannot seem to make myself disciplined enough to climb up to where that perfect woman is.

I know – well, my brain knows – that that perfect woman? She doesn’t actually exist. That actress is in perfect shape because she is an actress. She has money for drinks because the studio pays for it (and it’s probably water anyway). Her hair and nails and outfit are all perfect because an entire team of people came together to make them perfect and probably worked on it for hours. Every  bit of that is fake and yet somehow, makes us still desire it.

I excuse my desperate drive for perfectionism as a good thing. Aren’t we told to strive to be perfect? Matthew 5:48: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It was good to strive for perfectionism in all forms of my life. But I knew I was failing. A deep and utter failure. From not graduating with honors at college to not controlling my weight to not finishing writing that book, to not being confident at meetings or stumbling during my briefings. And I’m so rooted in the fact that I’m failing even as I strive desperately, that I am in constant turmoil if I ever pause to think about it. My husband has tried to talk to me about it. Tried to tell me it’s okay not to always succeed. That I have to fail to learn (a concept I’ve always panicked at). That it’s okay to just be who I am. And I know he’s making good points – but that doesn’t mean I can or will implement them. And then a friend said it in a way that turned my thinking completely upside down.

I think you’ve let perfectionism become an idol.

My entire world reeled at that statement. It’s taken me weeks to process it enough to even write this. Because at that instant, the absolute millisecond I read those words, I knew it was so. But Oh, I didn’t want it to be. No! I wanted, I NEEDED my perfectionism. It is WHO I AM. I am an ISTJ – I do things right. I am an Enneagram 1 – the perfectionist. I am a Green over Blue E-Color – I don’t just do things right – I do them right the first time. 

To take away my drive to perfectionism would be like – not being me anymore. And everyone kept telling me to be me. So how would that work?

Perfectionist identity

But. Striving to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect . . . is a far cry from striving to be perfect so I can meet my idea of the person I need to be in order for people to admire me and think of me as a success. Because I know that, deep down, my current pursuit of perfection stems from the need to be admired. To be praised. To be looked up to as the example. And above all, oh shudder, above all, so I am not laughed at or derided or looked down upon, or any of the other horrible things that all those who are afraid of  what people think fear the most.

I pursue perfectionism like it is all there is in the world. Most of my thoughts revolve around what I could be doing better. I even criticize my handwriting WHILE I’m writing anything. It’s a constant voice while I’m writing those notes or that story, or a phone number: Why is your handwriting so sloppy? Why haven’t you finished that calligraphy course? People can see you writing, you know. You know what they are thinking right now. They are thinking about how awful your handwriting is. Oh gosh, what if someone sees that word you just wrote? Do even YOU know what you just wrote? What a failure.

Yesterday, I was part of a panel of presenters to a group of over 400 people on a webinar. I was in a room with two senior level people also giving a briefing. We all did our briefings, the webinar ended, and guess what happened? The other two people smiled at me, said goodbye, and went back to work. I sat there, almost stunned. You know why? Because they didn’t look at me and say, “Great job!”. My mind immediately went from Hey, I didn’t mess up!  To Oh, man. The analysis I presented must have been awful. It should have been way deeper. It was definitely too short. Did you see the terminology the other panelists used? Why didn’t you use fancier words? You should have run this by someone – someone other than your manager and the other person who used to do this because they obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. Oh, gosh, I just did a HORRIBLE JOB. I was trembling, I messed up a couple words, no one asked me questions – that wasn’t what they wanted at all! 

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. It wasn’t until I mustered up the courage to actually ask one of the other senior people if I had done all right and they were like, “Oh, yeah – you were fine! You did a good job.” that I finally stopped the running dialogue (although the term fine came with its own dialogue, of course).

The-Perfectionists-Guide-to-Results

And I knew I had a problem. Technically I’ve sort of known this all along. And technically, I sort of knew it a lot more when I began to think of perfectionism as an idol. But this forced me to face it head on. I need to be perfect so I can be admired. I need to be perfect to elevate myself. And that is where the issue comes in. Because you and I, ladies and gents? You and I are supposed to be elevating God. We are supposed to be striving to do things better to send praises His way, not our way. We are supposed to be praising him, not ourselves.

I am trapped under a burden that will never release me until I allow God to take it from me. Perfectionism is going to choke the life out of me – every bit of joy I have – everything I do and think and strive for – it is waiting to grab that cup of joy I took a sip of and drink the rest. Always thirsty but never full, no matter how hard I try. But that isn’t my job. That’s God’s job. All I have to do is hand this joy-sucker over to him – because He is the only one who can actually fill that empty chasm. Nothing I do will ever fill it up . Only He is large enough to do that. All I am large enough to do is my best with who He has made me – and then let Him fill up everything that I thought perfectionism would take care of.

800px-Water_drop_001

Oh, I’m not saying everything is fixed. I’m not even saying that I’m not sitting here alternately condemning what I wrote and then imagining someone publishing it worldwide and turning me into a star and then condemning it again. No, this is an ongoing struggle and one I am only just beginning to face. I have a feeling it is going to be a difficult time getting these clutches off of me. But I suppose recognizing it enough to write about it is the first step. And hopefully I won’t just bury it away again, thinking this was good enough.

Because – how would it feel, I wonder – to step outside, stretch out my arms, breathe the incredible air, look at the view – and NOT be wondering way deep down inside if people were watching me and what they were thinking and whether I should be better dressed and why I wasn’t skinnier?

It’s my goal to find out what that’s like.

dancing (2)

Photo Credit: Jennifer Regnier on Unsplash

Yeah, so I didn’t write Saturday and Sunday. I thought that I would have energy after cleaning to write for 10 minutes, but I was mistaken. I am sure that had nothing to do with scrubbing the kitchen floor until 3:00 AM Saturday night. But I wrote for a longer amount of time Monday and Tuesday – I don’t know if I quite made it up, but at least a little. I am really enjoying recreating this scene and I think it is going to be better this time. We are getting more of Keith’s perspective this time round, which I think will be more refreshing and help us get to know him a little more.

This is taking a lot more time than I expected, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I want to hurry the process now that I am determined to get this done and submit it, but I need to remind myself that it is better to get it done right or I am just going to rewrite it again anyway.

write without fear

Okay, I failed – mostly. I did not write yesterday. But I did write today! For 20 minutes instead of 10 to make up for yesterday. I’m becoming rather pleased with the progress in the rewrite and am beginning to have rather high hopes for it. But I am sure you are curious as to why I didn’t write yesterday.

Well, I actually had a pretty good excuse. I was in meetings most of the day and then we started spring cleaning! We were cleaning right up until we fell into bed with exhaustion – and only completed one room.

For those of you who don’t know, spring cleaning is a far bigger event than most people realize. At least, PROPER spring cleaning is. Because it involves moving all furniture and scrubbing or vacuuming behind it, wiping all baseboards, washing all walls (and using Mr. Clean sponges on the stubborn marks), unloading all cupboards and pantries to wipe them out and re-load them, and, the most important part, scrubbing all hard floors on hands and knees. Yes, hands and knees. I’m sorry, but no matter how good modern mops are, they still do not do what scrubbing with your own two hands will do. My husband didn’t believe me until the first time we did it. Ever since he saw the water after scrubbing a supposedly clean floor, he’s a huge advocate of proper scrubbing twice a year. And of course, washing all curtains and dust ruffles and rugs.

And if you don’t believe me, you should try it – just once – do proper spring cleaning and you will be stunned by how much dirt you actually get up, how much work it is, and how much you love the feeling once it is all done. It’s all that gets us through that 4 or so days of cleaning – the memory of how it feels once it is done. Of course, having a pitcher of margaritas on hand for last night while cleaning also helped, but that is neither here nor there.

Good luck to all of you who are also conducting spring cleaning!

Spring-Cleaning-Posted-500