Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Perpetually overcommitted

I can't remember the last time I was bored.

It's not that I think boredom is something to be sought after, you understand. It's just that - every once in a while - I start to imagine what it might be like to have enough time to do all the things I ought to do.

Don't worry - I'm not gonna spend this post whining about having too much to do. I must love having too much to do - because that always seems to be my state of being. I don't view that as necessarily a bad thing. It's only bad when you make a commitment you can't keep - or you don't do your best because you're rushed. I wish I could say that never happens to me. But oftentimes the question that lingers is not: could I have done better - or could someone have done better than me, but - if I hadn't attempted it, would anything have been done at all?

My challenge is in deciding which activities are most important and trying to arrange my life in a way that ensures those things receive most of my time and energy. Family, work and church are the elements of my life that deserve and receive the greatest amounts of my attention. No one of these seems to hold the top spot for an extended period; there is an ebb and flow in the demands each of these places on me - and I do my best to keep things in balance.

My inclination to be overly busy is troubling to my wife, the Middle-Aged Woman. She thinks I work too hard (sometimes I do) and she thinks I spend too much time at church (sometimes I do) - but I spend plenty of time at home. And most of that time is spent on my own. There is no one here who seems desirous for more of my company and attention. My wife, daughter and son seem to be getting as much of me as they can handle - and, in some cases, more than they desire. (Except for my son, who would like to go golfing more often. But he'd go golfing with Hannibal Lecter, if the doctor was covering his greens fees.)

For the MAW, at least, this is an area of (mostly) unspoken and unresolved disagreement. We've got plenty of those. (If you've been married for 20+ years and don't have any, let me know your secret. If I can help you market the thing properly, we can both be rich beyond our wildest dreams.) I actually spend less time at church now than I have in years. And I've reduced my on-call responsibilities at work. But this doesn't seem to affect her view that I "do too much." She would, I believe, like me to simply spend more time at home. But the things she does most of the time at home are solitary activities. And when I'm engaged in solitary activities (for example: reading, writing, napping), I like to be - alone.

It may sound like I'm an anti-social person - but nothing could be farther from the truth. I love entertaining (the MAW - not so much), I love going out, seeing friends, watching a movie, attending a concert. Admittedly, the MAW's enjoyment of these activities has been undercut for a few years by her back problems - but even prior to that time, I was (and am) definitely the social butterfly of our union.

My intention was not to begin whining about incompatibilities with my spouse in order to avoid whining about being busy. I enjoy being busy. But, it seems that, as life goes on, there are always more demands on my time. I have gotten better at saying "No" but - I still like to say "Yes". Most of all, I think that I appreciate the quiet times in my life more - because I've seen how crazy things can get. I think I've learned to be content in spite of circumstances. I try to carry my comfort zone around with me - wherever I go.

Take it from me - that's a handy thing to have with you.

Take care.


Middle Aged Woman said...

All this time I've been projecting my need for quiet time? I will try to urge restraint less frequently, then. I just thought it was because you couldn't say no.

Jim Styro said...

If: You thought I was agreeing to do things I didn't want to do because I was too weak to refuse

And: You thought being busy was making me unhappy

And: You've been trying to help me out by urging me to stop doing things (you see no value in)

Then: You don't need to do that.

I suspect it's a more complicated equation, though.

Pamela said...

I have the same problem(?). For a while now I have been saying no to everything offered to me. Because I need practice saying no. And I tell people asking me that I'm categorically turning everyone down. It's been quite a while, and I think I'm ready to consider a yes or two.

The only problem? I've been saying no to my kids more than I should. Like right now, when Henry wants to wear my reading glasses. Does it matter? Probably not. But give me back my glasses, stinker!

Middle Aged Woman said...

It's not that I see NO value, it's just that I see no value as great as your happiness/contentment. Sweet, but true. Oh, and not too weak, too kind.

historymike said...

Agreed that learning to say "no" is a desirable and useful skill. I used to get suckered into proofing and editing the written work of other scholars out of good will, but now I have learned to project the confident air of someone who commands $30 an hour for this privilege.

That usually sends them packing, or else they fork over the cash and I eat steak that night.

As far as volunteer or committee duties at work: I make sure that the following criteria are met before I offer to help: a) there is a legitimate need for help; b) the cause is worthy; and c) decision-makers are aware of my selflessness.

Of course, by interjecting an element of self-serving motive in that last criterion, my selflessness is now in question, but f**k it: I am too old to be someone's unpaid lackey.

With volunteer duties at church or with the non-profits in which I am involved, I also try to limit getting over-committed. While that brand new ad hoc committee might be important, I will be of no use to the group if I push myself past the point of exhaustion.

Jim Styro said...

Pamela: If you've gotten good at saying "No", then I think you're in a better position to begin saying "Yes" to the right things. With all of the goings-on in your household recently, I urge caution. Ratcheting up your commitments is easy - I think ratcheting them back is more difficult.

Mikey: I like your style. I see nothing at all wrong with receiving your due for services rendered. And I am in complete agreement with your closing statement - the truest measure of whether overcommitment is out-of-control should be: am I still effective? In my book, you don't get extra points for killing yourself. In fact, my goal is always to make being busy look easy.

MAW: You do inspire me. Your last comment has brought a great many things into focus for me. The way is now paved, I think, for a magnum opus.