Wednesday, May 09, 2012

How did we get here? The world of the overachievers

Today’s world can be described in one word: overachievement. As I reflect in my own life, I wonder how and why are we all in a wave of constant movement, doing, thinking, creating, shuffling, juggling, consuming, producing. I look at my own life and I look around and it seems as if though everybody is complaining that there are not enough hours in a day to accomplish all one is set out to do. I see how frantically people rush to tend to our many commitments and the demands, attention, and energy imposed on our time and I wonder: how did we get here?

All the messages to which we are exposed on a regular basis offer us the ability to have access to more, better, bigger: more food, more stuff; better bodies, better cars; bigger homes, bigger budgets; and the list goes on. All these promises come with another invitation: do more, expect more, give more, get more. And the list of exhortations is coupled with the requirement to be better moms, better cooks, better housekeepers, and better at being involved in our children’s education, recreation, the community, politics, charity, family, and a long list of other things. The list of “must-dos” insanely grows daily as our jobs expect us to do more and better, giving our careers more time than ever before and being accessible and available 24/7 to better serve the company’s clientele and show our commitment. As if we needed more impositions on our time, now we have to stay connected to social media, especially if our work requires so. Therefore, our lives are just a race to do more, be better, get bigger, at all times. Such paradigm of life, which is extremely stressful, is what most of us are living.

What prompted us to be that way? I have only one good answer: we live in a culture of overachieving. In order to feel that life is worth living, we have created a culture in which “having-something-to-do” at all times is the norm, what is expected, and the only way of life that is acceptable. I remember when I grew up in Puerto Rico. Businesses closed from 12-1pm for a lunch break, everything closed at 1pm or 2pm for the day on Saturdays, and there was nothing but church, some open restaurants, and beach on Sundays.  Now, people are lucky if they get a 15 minute break to devour their lunches at work, many people work at least 10 hours a-day, and we are demanded to give more, and many must take work home after their shifts have ended. Nonetheless, we are told that we need to chew our meals slowly and eat healthy. But how? Fifteen minutes is barely enough to get a sandwich out of its wrapper! Similarly, vacation times are scant and many employers do not offer paid sick days or family leave time, not to mention health insurance.

Overachieving has become our way of life. We must stretch our time to the limit to comply with all the demands put on it. For many, the only solution is to sacrifice their sleep, which has long-term negative implications. Moreover, stress is a silent killer for most that are kept hostage to this overachieving culture; not to mention how this lifestyle affects our families in the short and long run.

After expounding how this culture of overachievement has taken over our lives and its negative implications, here are some suggestions:

1.       Familia comes first: Be structured and strict about devoting time to your children and family and give them your undivided attention. The rest will wait.

2.       Forget Martha Stewart: See those beautiful homes in magazines? They belong there! Keep your house orderly and clean but do not attempt to have it magazine-ready (unless you have the time or a maid). Teach your children to be orderly, pick up after themselves, from the time they are toddlers and it will pay off in the future.

3.       30 minute meals? More like 15 minute meals: Prepare meals that are easy and fast, but you don’t have to sacrifice nutrition and health. For instance, spinach cooks very fast, almost all veggies taste great steamed for just a few minutes, fish cooks very quickly, pasta is a savior! Don’t try to overdo it in the kitchen. Leave fancy dishes for the restaurants.

4.       Time for yourself: When? While the kids are playing or napping, nap, polish your nails, take a bath, and don’t feel guilty about it. Share the load (spouse, family, friends) and don’t hesitate to enjoy yourself without the children every once in a while. I promise, everyone will be alive when you return.

5.       Sleep! Decide at what time you will shut down every night and just do it! Everybody needs certain amount of hours of sleep. Know your time and get what you need.

6.       Not perfect, just good enough: Don’t strive for perfection. If your kids are well-fed, healthy, given a lot of love, well-educated, happy, and alive, that’s good enough! Do not impose the same time demands on your children. Children also need down time. After being in school for 7 hours and having homework to do, one or two extracurricular activities are plenty, especially if you have more than one child to juggle.

7.       Say no: If you want to live a longer and happier life, start becoming braver at using the word “no”. Once you’ve had enough practice, it comes easy!

8.       Stop: I need one day a month to just be. I recommend it to everybody. Just devote one day to be in your jammies all day, watch movies, read, and disconnect.

9.       Prioritize: Junk mail: don’t read it. Cleaning the house: important but not as important as cuddling with your child or significant other.

10.   Ditch some things: Go over your life and make a decision on what you will let go of. We cannot tend to it all. Let go of things you don’t need, people that don’t contribute to your life, or causes for which you cannot fully commit.

In spite of how we live, we don’t have superpowers. We need to take care of ourselves and start a culture of health, quality and quantity time for us and family, sanity, and the enjoyment of life; a more simple life!


Dona said...

Excellent article.I have believe the two most difficult suggestions to follow are finding time for ourselves and getting enough sleep. As daughters of aging parents and mothers of children who still live at home, we tend to put everyone else first. Of course, learning to say no and learning what to ditch would then open up the time we need for ourselves. But learning to say no can cause ill feelings which then leads to guilt. Still working on that one. Thanks for the great advice, Tangie!

Tanginika said...

True! The hardest one in the list is to learn to say no without guilt. At first, guilt will consume you. But practice makes perfect! Rehearsal will lead to a healthy habit of discerning when to say no and you will enjoy the freedom it brings!