confessions of an overachiever

if you’re like most people right now, spending more time on your phone lately, you’ve probably scrolled past dozens of variations of one mantra:

you don’t need to be productive during a pandemic”

but if you’re an annoying overachiever, like me, you probably think:

“aw that’s nice. but that doesn’t apply to me.”

when I started my furlough last week (a short one for which I feel very fortunate) I immediately thought: all right…you’ve had enough time to feel your feelings. the time for getting shit done is NOW.

so I booked dance and yoga classes, scheduled FaceTime hangs, and planned out recipes to try. I wanted to volunteer and tune into virtual events. I blocked off time to take a free Yale class and planned to start a draft to a children’s book and I was aiming to finish all my chores in the first three days to better optimize the rest of my time “off.”

that was for two weeks.

now, if you know how to set healthy boundaries with yourself and your expectations, or you’re just, you know, normal, you’re probably rolling your eyes. it’s okay, I would too.

as I carry on into furlough week #2, I can tell you that while I have cleaned my apartment (mostly), done my laundry, and spent a decent amount of time cooking, I’m no where near writing a book and uh….Yale, who?

of course we probably all saw that coming. but I continue to be surprised that I (GASP) can’t stick to my extremely unrealistic schedules.

truth is, I’ve always been like this–an annoying overachiever–whether quarantined or not. since high school, I’ve felt the constant need to fill up my time with things I am convinced will move me forward in some way be it socially, professionally, creatively, physically.

and though the logical side of me knows a majority of these commitments often stem from some source of external obligation (to make others happy/impressed/or thinking highly of me), the more emotional side of me is excited. I have become addicted to the mere thought of achievement, even if it’s just planning to hit a goal before I’ve even started it. since most of the time, we associate achievements with something positive, the possibility of overdoing anything often feels far from problematic.

however, I’ve learned that overbooking and overdoing can not only lead to serious burnout, but also create skewed perceptions of what it means to be productive, to succeed, and to fail.

over recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to dissect why I’m like this and have boiled it down to two causes:

  1. growing up as a child of immigrants has played a huge role in my perception of productivity and success. in this world, the more achievements you have, the clearer the path you can pave to happiness and security. this in turn helps ensure the happiness and security of your elders, thereby fulfilling your duty to honor all the sacrifices made by your ancestors. yeah, no pressure.
  2. in true millennial fashion, I also have to call out the main principles our capitalist society is built upon. here, the main ideas of what it means to be productive often include a set of guidelines which, if you follow correctly, will produce a certain outcome and earn you a certain reward. for example, as someone who studied writing, this often translates to: a call to write because you want to be published, getting published in a larger publication to be paid better and recognized by more people, hoping increased recognition will land you a book deal, a speaking engagement, or some sort of brand of expertise, and in turn continue earning you more money and recognition. and while all of this is certainly great, does it mean that you aren’t productive or successful if you don’t check all the boxes? or do so but out of order? are you still a writer? or a successful one?

while years of journaling, self-reflection, a healthy support network, and a nice dose of therapy have helped me learn that my self-worth is not tied to my productivity, I do wonder at a time like this:

could a global crisis finally pull the trigger in undoing a 28-year old belief system, forever fueled by a tiny nagging voice that says “but you CAN do it all if you only work hard enough!”?

maybe.

if there’s one thing I’ve had an abundance of lately, it’s quiet.

since the city locked down, the streets have gotten quieter. my mornings, now commute-less, and lunch breaks, now lonelier, are quieter. and as much as I may try to fight stillness by finding things to do, my mind has often felt a lot quieter, too.

in all this quiet, I’ve come to a few realizations:

  • too much time alone will have me shush-ing my radiator and naming my plants
  • my neighbors may have actually gotten louder
  • instead of thinking about what I could ‘get out’ of this time–a new hobby, skill, or resume-worthy connection–what if I thought about what this time was trying to give to me?

I know that last part sounds a little woo-woo, but it made me realize that perhaps…perhaps…I didn’t have to inject all my time and energy into constantly chasing marketability/recognition/external validation. instead, maybe I could find space to do things I wanted to that were just for me.

setting these boundaries hasn’t been an easy or quick thing to do. it still often feels very tempting to fill in my calendar with lots and lots of STUFF.

but I’m proud to say I am learning more and more that setting boundaries doesn’t equate weakness. in fact, recognizing boundaries, knowing your limits and adhering to them, takes enormous courage and strength.

lately, setting boundaries for me has looked a lot like:

creating shorter (and realistic) to-do lists

remembering to stay hydrated and well-rested

and focusing less on what I may be “missing out” on and more on all the energy and time I am actually gaining for myself to do the things I really care about.

and while none of these things had a color-coded time slot in my planner, I think I’ll be just fine.

(feature photo credit: Marissa Cristina)

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