When I was in graduate school (for 12 years altogether–what was I thinking?), I had a rigid uncompromising attitude toward my own deadlines. I had to meet them, even if it meant allowing the rest of my life to collapse.
Not surprisingly, putting myself in this do-or-die frame of mind often resulted in exactly that: my physical and emotional health would suffer. I would have fulfilled my responsibilities and I was often extremely successful in those narrowly defined areas, but I would feel cheated because everything else would be wrecked. I’d have to begin rebuilding my life after every major work project. It was exhausting.
Now, I’ve learned to make time. I have more deadlines than ever, but I take an attitude of mastery instead of servitude by saying, “Sure, I’ll get to it when I get to it.” I’ve found that this nearly always makes me more efficient. By giving myself permission to remain whole–a whole person–I am no longer a slave to some external timetable.
On those rare occasions when my work is late or when unforeseen complications lead to a less-than-desired outcome, I’ve learned to say, “So be it; I’m human; I’ll fix it now and do better next time.” Sometimes, this means comping work, spending extra time to make things right, or taking some other loss. But we might just call that the price of sustained excellence. It’s easy to operate at the top of one’s ability every now and then. It takes moderation and self-control to stay in that state of optimal performance long term. It takes a sense of balance and the maturity to recognize the value of personal wellness.
This was a hard lesson to learn, since I am “up in my head” most of the time, planning and scheming. I also have an over-inflated sense of responsibility linked to the need for me to see myself as a high-functioning player in every situation. I grew a lot when I admitted to myself that I had these Type-A traits.
Now I breathe, relax, and make my demons work for me instead of being tortured by them. I think, when we accept the need for balance, we’re accepting life instead of the deadening supposition that our worth is defined only by what we produce in certain narrow categories.