Lately, it has come to my attention more and more that I am not what I was – and perhaps I was never even that to begin with. In my own mind, I pride myself on – in fact, hang my identity on – being a “successful” person. But truthfully, the last time I actually attained a goal was possibly 1995 when I was graduating high school.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I’m intelligent and capable and ambitious (and was in the intervening years), but the last time I could actually accomplish anything was in high school where my only goal was to get into a good college. After that, I was set adrift with no clear goal other than “graduate college.”
I’m the Al Bundy of Type-A’s.
I mean, I have my assortment of go-to excuses, but if I am truthful, the common denominator is ME. Not the external situations or circumstances (sadly). Not my upbringing or parents. I mean, sure that likely contributed but FFS, I’m 37 years old. I have been outside of my parents’ house for twenty years already! How long am I going to shirk my responsibility?
In fact, the only thing I have been able to commit to and actually follow through on is Chinese language learning for the kids. It’s only been six years so I shouldn’t get too self-congratulatory, but overall, I am both surprised and pleased by this development.
Since this is my only success in the last two decades, I thought I would deconstruct why I have actually followed through in this situation versus others. So, here then are my thoughts for our mutual edification:
1) I recognize that learning and mastering Chinese takes a really long time. As in years.
Why is this important? Because I don’t get frustrated on days or even weeks or months when it seems as if Chinese is getting the short shrift. I don’t give up or just stop completely because I know that a few bad moments aren’t going to ruin the whole endeavor because I have all the time in the world. Or at least, eighteen years per kid where I can force Chinese down their throats. And even after my kids leave my house for their own lives, that doesn’t mean Chinese is over. It’s not like they leave the house and just forget everything.
If I could only transfer this knowledge and ability to see the Big Picture when I am frustrated at forming new habits or changing my lifestyle. I’m not sure if you noticed, but I tend to be a little extreme. I am very black or white. Things are either successful or failures. I am either all in or out.
This is not a very forgiving state of mind.
Part of the problem is that I am easily excited and riled up about stuff. I want to make all these sweeping changes in my life and I want them right now! But after a day or two, water finds its level (as they say), and I am back to the way I was. Schlubby, mean, and meh.
I try to combat these things by forming new habits – because after all, habits are things you no longer have to think about and just do. They say it takes 27 days for a new habit to form – but get this: I have yet to make it 27 days consistently doing ANYTHING (at least on purpose).
People, you are talking about a person who has to have twice daily task reminders to brush her teeth and wash her face.
I’m sorry. I wish I were exaggerating.
I mean, shit. Isn’t this basic stuff we covered in preschool? Please don’t answer. It’s humiliating enough just asking the question.
2) Having my kids be fluent and literate in Chinese is SUPER important to me.
In fact, judging by my actions, I think it is THE most important thing to me. Or at least, the most important “education” thing I have in mind for my children.
The weird thing is that I actually don’t think it’s the most important thing for me to teach my children – but it’s the most easily quantifiable. I can see tangible results that are sometimes immediate.
I mean, I know it’s lame that I can’t brush my teeth (but I do floss religiously, puzzle that one out, friends) but I guess oral hygiene just isn’t super important to me. (Sorry, Hapa Papa.)
This is all just to say that if something is SUPER important to me, I will pull out all stops to get it done – provided, of course, that it proves to be easily quantifiable and has easy to follow, discrete steps. (Key word: easy.)
3) As I just mentioned, I have a plan. An easy, measurable plan that has easy, discrete steps.
I send my kids to Chinese schools. I speak to them predominantly in Chinese. I have them consume Chinese media. I test them in terms of vocabulary and reading. I just follow my general mental outline of what to do with my kids and focus on exposing them to as much Chinese as possible.
Again, if only I could remind myself that any huge task before me can be broken up into chunks and then made more digestible. Eating an elephant et al.
4) I recognize my limitations and ask for help. I even pay for it.
I know my Chinese isn’t at the level I hope for my own children some day. I also know that I am inherently lazy. So, again, I send my children to excellent Chinese preschools. I have asked folks for advice (and more importantly, followed the advice). I buy supplemental materials.
I brush up on my own Chinese. I tell my kids to learn from my mistakes and they enjoy rubbing in how much better they are at Chinese than I am. (I allow them that pretty fiction for now because hey, it’s only a matter of time before it is true.)
Now if only I could pay for someone to live my life – or at least, take care of the shit work. I suppose there are people I could hire to do those things, but I have spent all my money on my children’s Chinese education.
I’m also spending a ton of money on therapy. Thus far, it seems to have been worth it.
5) I have fully integrated Chinese into my daily life.
This again, is where I’ve been trying mightily (and failing mightily, too, I might add) to sneak in better habits and routines into my life. Trouble is, sometimes, I can’t even muster up the mental fortitude to do it once – let alone 27 days in a row to make it an actual habit. I’m really far better at forgetting to do things consistently than actually doing them.
6) I have lots of support and for the most part, the way is smooth and without much trouble.
My husband, my family, my friends – they are all hugely supportive of my kids learning Chinese. Even my kids are really into it (as they know no other way of being). I’m not sure how I would’ve stuck with Chinese if my kids were super rebellious or I had an unsupportive environment.
I could do this for when I want to add a repeated habit, however, it does seem ludicrous to ask for support in one’s daily ablutions. And yet, I really do need it. (This is where I retreat to my corner and sob.)
Anyhow, this is how I have been able to follow through on ONE thing in my life. I wish to be already at a place where I can say the same for a multitude of other things. However, it has yet to be.
At any rate, I decided to form a group called The Mediocrity Support Group for us “failed” Type-A’s. All we do is list three tasks we’d ideally like to get done each day and try to complete just one. Anytime any one of us completes a task, we celebrate with an embarrassing amount of happiness and kudos. After all, we’re mediocre.
Obviously, the group is very tongue-in-cheek, but truthfully, it is either be silly and self-deprecating or crumble into a useless heap and weep inconsolably at our lamentable states of mediocrity. We choose to be ridiculous instead as a salve to our egos.
Thus far, it seems to be working out ok. It’s nice to have a few friends know and support me in my daily attempts at not being a useless blobby thing on my couch.
A surprising bonus to admitting my mediocrity: there is far less pressure to be perfect. After all, if I’m just “meh,” anything I do beyond “meh” is quite the accomplishment. Yes, I know the bar is super low, but hey. Sometimes, that is all you can do.
Alright, this nonsense has gone on long enough. Off to bed for me and for those who celebrate: a Happy Labor Day to you all.