My mom always used to say, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff… and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.” While I have always understood what that meant, I wasn’t really able to live this motto until recently.
In a job environment, I work best when given clear expectations and frequent feedback. Fortunately my boss provides clear expectations (usually after I’ve asked for them, but it counts) and is great at giving the feedback I need. Outside of my work, however, I am the one who has to set my own expectations for myself. I have to offer feedback to myself through self reflection and goal checking. Knowing that this is the way I operate and prefer to get things done, I set a lot of trackable goals for myself (AKA clear expectations) and try to check in with myself as often as possible.
Unfortunately, this “checking in” usually happens right after a mental/emotional breakdown. I’m a work in progress.
As we all know, a new year is a great time to set new goals. In other words, to set clear expectations for ourselves. For 2018 some of my goals were routine – read books, continue to be a responsible and effective teacher, continue teaching an English class in the evenings, take more naps, etc. But some of my goals for 2018 were either brand new, or loose interests that I wanted to turn into firm habits. For example, I stopped eating meat in 2018 and started (yet again) a daily yoga practice. I also started tracking my writing, with the goal of writing 500 words a day.
The year was trucking along and I was doing great at crossing things off my list. Most nights, before bed, I would post on social media for the hostel I freelance for, do some yoga, and write my words. Then joyfully cross those tasks off my list. This would be, of course, after a full day of teaching, coming home to sweep the floor (something else I tried to do daily in 2018) feeding the animals (all five of them), reading whenever I could, and twice a week, teaching an English class in my garage.
It all sounds doable (or at least it does to me – I’ve come to learn recently that my idea of “doable” might actually be “insane”). It looks doable written in my planner. But about a week ago I had one of my classic mental/emotional breakdowns that tell me I am doing too much.
As it turns out, the expectations I had set myself, while clear, were overwhelming. As it turns out, I was sweating the petty stuff big time and, for the sake of my mental, emotional, and physical health, I had to let something go.
This was an earth shattering realization for me. In addition to loving routine, being task driven, and thriving off of feedback, I am also somewhat of a control freak. I want to be in charge of everything important to me. And, obviously, I want to be successful at meeting all of the goals I set for myself. I want my frequent feedback (my self talk) to be, “Look at you go, girl! You’re doing it!” Seeing tasks not crossed off in my planner causes me just a touch of anxiety and a (huge) splash of self doubt.
So, when my body told me (through screaming at my students like a maniac, taking away a kid’s jump rope for no reason, and then bursting into tears – so attractive), that I had to let something go, I didn’t want to. I thought that admitting that I couldn’t handle all of the expectations I had set for myself meant that I was a failure. I thought that if I couldn’t handle all of it, then I could handle none of it. That I was useless and should just throw in the towel, call it a day, chalk 2018 up as a failure.
But I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this all or nothing, high (self inflicted) expectations. Which is why I have to let all of you like-minded lady bosses know how freeing it has been to learn to let things go. Last week, after the yelling and the tears and the apologizing, I looked at my list of daily tasks and asked myself which things I was willing to be flexible on – not to give up entirely, but just to be okay with not crossing off every day. I decided one of those things was yoga.
Words are my life. My bread and breath. I can’t imagine giving up reading and I am committed to being a real writer. (Let’s talk about how I’ve been writing my whole life, gotten paid to do it and everything, and still don’t consider myself a “real writer” in a different post.) I can’t give up any of my jobs because I like ordering pizza at least once a week and being able to feed all five of my animals. So, “yoga” may be written on my to do list every day for the next two months (setting those clear expectations!) but I have decided to be okay with not crossing it off every once in a while.
I’ve also decided that if I don’t sweep the floor every day that’s probably okay, too. (It’s definitely okay.)
In short, I am cutting myself some dang slack. I am not sweating the petty stuff. I am letting what matters matter. And I am definitely not petting the sweaty stuff. Gross. I want to give you permission to do the same. Don’t wait until you snatch a first grader’s jump rope out of her hand because you’re emotionally and mentally drained. It’s not cute. Stop now. Give yourself some honest feedback.
(Psst. A note on feedback from a teacher – Remember to start with the positive, then move on to what can be improved, and close with another positive.)
After giving and receiving some honest feedback, take some time to decide what in your life has made you sweaty that is really just petty. Decide what really actually matters TO YOU and what only kind of matters sometimes.
After my breakdown I needed to hear these words from my friends – “Maybe you can’t do it all.” Also, “Maybe you can do it all, but you need some more rest.” Which, of course, means stopping to not do it all sometimes. And never stopping to pet the sweaty stuff. The truth is, ladies, we can’t do it all. But we can do most of it. The good news is, we are the bosses of our lives, and we get to decide what most of it looks like.