By Guest Blogger Ashley Quinn Kibby
In May, my family left Greensboro’s perfect Spring weather for the still freezing nights of Lake Ann, Michigan so we could fix up our lake house for vacation rentals — our third major home improvement project in three years. The morning of our drive, we packed up two toddlers, two dogs, a U-haul, stopped to get our second round of vaccine, then started the 12-hour drive. To add to the challenge, we gave ourselves only three and a half weeks to furnish eight rooms, remodel a bathroom, cover a porch, install a dock, stain a deck and landscape a yard — during a supply chain crisis and labor shortage.
Sounds fun, right? The premise of a new gameshow perhaps? Supermarket Sweepstakes meets This Old House. Did I mention we have twin two-year-olds, my husband was still working his full-time job remotely, and we also hosted company six times while we were there?
While I was painting the vintage dressers I got for a steal (until I put in twenty hours of sanding, painting and sealing them), I had to ask myself why my husband and I keep getting ourselves into these situations of over-extension, over and over again. Are we actual stress junkies, caught in a churn and burn cycle? Or do we wear rose-colored glasses — naively nodding and smiling at each other as we underestimate the foreboding strain.
After we managed to pull off the airBNB by the skin of our teeth, and even with a half-tiled bathroom welcoming our first guests, the endorphins began to wear off. Soon, all the stress of the projects subsided as the satisfaction of our accomplishments grew. Is this the part my brain will remember when I sign up for the next challenge? Why do I push myself so hard?
A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to paint those dressers because my hands would have been too stiff and cramped to hold the roller. I developed carpal tunnel syndrome after painting the interior of our first house in Michigan. My husband was on a business trip and I wanted to finish the painting to surprise him, so I worked around the clock, even after my hands began to throb in pain. A few months later, my twin pregnancy exacerbated the ailment and by the time they were born I could barely make a fist.
While I was pregnant, I had to wonder if I’d be able to hold my babies or snap their onesies without doing further damage to my hands. As a new mom, I had to ask my husband for help with things like cleaning bottles and opening packages. Now, a couple years later, I have to wonder why I compromised my health and hands to complete a painting project by some arbitrary deadline.
Today, I think about all the programming it took to make me value productivity over self-care, perfection over manageability and achievement over experience. I think about the “American Dream,” the pursuit of upward mobility and the value of work ethic. All the sports coaches that told me to push further and play harder. The deadlines that kept me awake until three a.m. And all those smiles and slaps on the back when I came through with the clutch to score the goal, win the pitch, or make the impossible possible through sheer willpower and hard work.
The global pandemic was literally the first time in my life that I felt encouraged by society to slow down. Now the engines are revving and I’m feeling that churn and burn creep in: Go, go, go. Keep going! You can do it! You’re almost there. The finish line is in sight. Keep racing. Don’t slow down. Time is running out. Get that goal.
So, here’s where the deprogramming comes in:
Time is abundant, I say. Return to the moment. Then I listen to my biofeedback. Inflammation, anxiety, irritability and pain are sure signs that my pace is too quick, and my push is too hard. While setting and reaching reasonable goals is critical to the creative process and a person’s confidence, chasing socially contrived ideals of achievement at the expense of our bodies, minds, or relationships is a terrible tradeoff.
My goal now is to align my actions around reasonable expectations and notice the signs of overextension before they become unmanageable. I picture myself not racing against the clock, but walking alongside it, hand in hand. Someday I hope that a belief system of ease and abundance will replace this latent notion of no pain, no gain. But I won’t be setting any deadlines for my personal growth.
All in due time.
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