It’s hard work being so fabulous. No, I mean it. It’s exhausting.
I know that’s a whopper of a first line, and while I am being somewhat tongue in cheek, I’m serious. I’m a hard working animal – I effort – I muscle into everything. I mean to be a good friend, a good teacher, worker, mother, writer, athlete – you name it – I want to be good at it. Actually, I want to be better than good; I want to be the best; phenomenal, extraordinary, outta sight, a hard act to follow. If this were a scratch and sniff you could smell the sweat, you could hear the grunt, and you’d definitely feel the exhaustion. You might even be able to sniff out the sadness – something I’m only starting to recognize.
I come by all of this honestly. When I was a kid I learned how to function whether I was feeling functional or not. Our father woke us early on weekend mornings insisting that we get up and get something done. I had no idea what needed to be done at 10-years-old, but it was on us to figure it out – to get busy doing something, less we appeared to be slacking. “Get going,” he would instruct, as he poked his head into our room. I learned how to buck up, to get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other and heave the hell ho. A favorite word in our family was “hustle,” which was the way you got things done. You also didn’t want to be accused of being a “quitter,” which was a shameful little corner to sit in.
Getting busy, staying busy, appearing busy. Busy, busy, busy.
So began my life as a try-hard, someone who felt that things weren’t quite good enough and could be better with more effort. I could better my body if I was at the gym every day, better my career if I worked day and night, get more love if I showed up more sexy, more lovable, smarter, and prettier. Mo. Mo. Mo. Mo bettah. The regular me was okay, but there was a better version of me somewhere, and if I muscled toward it I’d be rewarded.
And holy moly, many bennies came from hustling. I got a shit ton done. I was calculating with my career: I started as a freelance writer who worked in bookshops, left the bookshops for a big time publishing company, left the company to write books, became a writing teacher, grew a thriving practice. I also raised two children and steadied a home, which is a tricky little juggle. Hustling is completely useful when you’re a freelancer with mouths to feed. There was also no time to let feelings or fatigue get in the way of what needed to get done. If I was tired I headed for the gym.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
For years. And years. And years.
Bucking up, pushing my body, challenging my mind, keeping too many balls in the air, trying to keep people happy, saying yes when I meant no, taking on too much, trying to make more money, making sure people loved me, defying the aging process, making sure my kids felt loved, trying not to get fat, keeping my marriage going, trying to be a good sister, a good friend, a good daughter…There really was no area where I felt that more effort on my part wouldn’t make everything better.
Big effort = big results.
I also had little compassion for people who struggled, which is why I didn’t make a very good life coach. I just wanted all my clients to GET OUT OF BED, PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER AND GET GOING!
And I haven’t even mentioned the coffee and the drinking – the way I came down from the mountain at the end of every day, and the way I harnessed my way back up the next morning. Stimulants and downers. I had no idea how tired I was because I never actually touched the ground.
“How do you do it?” people asked me, shaking their heads at all I was accomplishing. How did I do it? Well, I’m Superman on steroids – nice to meet you. But then this year I noticed a little rebellion happening inside of me. I had my marching orders, my to-do list, but instead of jumping up and attacking it, I just stared at it – almost like I couldn’t decipher the message anymore. I’m supposed to what? Write the sales page, get to the market, return the books, don’t forget the gym, email the students, create the new class, work on the newsletter, make a menu for the party…really? Just looking at the list made me tired.
But it was a new kind of tired, and drinking more coffee and going to the gym didn’t seem to help. Something in me was dropping away – everything I’d relied on in fact – my ambition, my willfulness, and my energy to make things happen. The same gravity that will eventually take your face and your ass – yeah – it took my mojo. And in the absence of this ability to buck up I noticed a new feeling surfacing; sadness. Not for anything in particular. I think it had been there for years, just waiting for me to settle down and meet it. And in the sadness I felt the kid who had to learn how to buck up at a really young age. The kid who felt she needed to be a better version of her actual self to get what she wanted.
It would be a lie to say that I don’t wake up each morning with a the same knee jerk impulse to get as much done as I can, but now I have a tiny toe in the door jam that slows me down, reminding me that this isn’t a race, there’s no where to go – there never was.