November 10th, 2014
I’m a recovering type-A personality. I doubt many people (of that small group that would even care to think about it) would peg me as such, because I’ve gotten a lot more easy-going over the years. But in truth I’m a standard eldest child: straight As not because my parents wanted them but I did, years of Conservatory music exams though I possessed exactly no talent, very few electives in university because why would I do anything other than the things I did best??
Yes, I’ve calmed down a lot since–the nice thing about being an adult is you get fewer letter grades, so “doing well” becomes by necessity an internal proposition much more than one bestowed from above. Many people use money in lieu of grades when they get older, but I don’t run in those circles. Happiness, I guess, is a good barometer…but so ambiguous!
One of the most important things I’ve found for healing the type-A blues is hobbies. In high-school and university, most people I knew were in a band or on a sports team, active in politics or their religious institutions, making art or performing something or other. As adults, we naturally narrow our scope to a few things we do really well, or at least can do really well sometimes. For most of us, that’s a job of some kind, because in this economy if you aren’t at least pretty good at your job you don’t eat. For me, I also have a second career writing, and though it’s not hardly keeping me fed, it’s very important to me to do it well (though I am procrastinating my current story to write this post).
So there: two things I have trained and worked for many years to excel at, at least a little. I feel terrible about even minor failures in either arena, and beat myself up for weeks (who is currently cringing with shame over a stupid mistake at work?? oh yes–me). Other people’s assessments of my work matter to me tremendously (sad but true) and though I’m not a cry-in-the-bathroom type, I remember every harsh thing said by a colleague or a reviewer for life.
For years, I didn’t have hobbies both because I didn’t think I had time, but also because when I was already struggling so hard at the things that are supposed to be my areas of expertise, I thought why would i want to start doing something I was LESS good at–for fun! Those 15 years I played the piano had their bright spots, but a lot of it was me failing over and over to play the music the way I knew it should sound. Constant disappointment, really.
But as it turned out, I needed an arena I could fail in–somewhere where the stakes were low-to-non-existent, where no one was even bothering to assess my work because it was just a goof-off, for fun. An opportunity to learn new skills instead of endlessly trying to refine old ones. The learning curve goes so much faster at the beginning–have you ever noticed that?
As for time–well, eff time. No one has enough–human activity is like a gas, expanding to fill what time is offered. I have to not work some of the time, and I might as well be using my brain and doing something at least a little cool. And guys, take it from someone who has agonized over a B-, it’s FUN to screw up and have there be not only no consequences but no evidence. No one knows how badly I just played that version of “O Holy Night” (except possibly my husband if he’s paying attention in the next room).
Here is a list of hobbies I’ve taken on in the last 8 or 9 years. With most of them, I’ve quit or stepped way back right around the time my perfectionist instincts kicked in. Once I started noticing how other people in my yoga class could bend so much deeper in Warrior II, the thrill was gone. But I loved learning yoga and I’ll probably go back to it one day–I just didn’t want to get far enough in that it wasn’t fun anymore. Other things of a similar ilk:
Pilates (as the first of the adult hobbies, this one did get a bit overboard for a while)
Cat clicker training
Makeup applications (no, really–so fun!)
What these things all have in common–I have friends who enjoy discussing them, relatively low cost of entry both in money and time, vague but not passionate interest from me. And that’s really all it takes to get a fun weeknight or a few months or a few years. What do you do when you need to not need to succeed?