Orchids for effort

Instead of reading [another] self-help book [written by someone other than myself], I decided to literally help myself with this blog.  There are times when posts are very literally self-help sessions, and if anyone other than I reads those posts, they may get nothing from them.  Effort is a good thing is one of those posts.  It being my most recent, I’m having to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of having written something that may not resonate with anyone else.  Can you tell that I am (sort of) resisting the urge to apologize (saying that is kind of an apology…oh well.)?

I know that, in order to enjoy my life to the fullest extent, I need to be uncomfortable sometimes.  There are many situations in which this is required:  handling the difficult things in life that just HAPPEN, defending oneself or someone else when unfair treatment is occurring, adjusting to changes, etc.  This is where I’ve gotten stuck; I’ve been involved with coping with life issues like the aforementioned instead of thriving.

Coping is positive and necessary, but it is not as satisfying as thriving.  Thriving takes extra effort.

The photo in Effort is a good thing is of a painting I completed last week.  It is a wedding gift for a family member, painted from a photo that the couple had taken on their honeymoon.  Since I have almost no artistic training, I was very intimidated by having comitted myself to painting “any type of photo”- especially when I saw the chosen photo.

I’m not exactly sure I can say that “I completed” the painting, because when it was finished, I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened.  I was physically there.  I recall mixing colors, painting strokes.  I also recall mumbling, fumbling, and bumbling mentally.  For a perfectionist, the process of creativity requires an [or a series of] out-of-brain experience.  It’s absolutely terrifying, but so, so SO satisfying when the result is not a complete mess.

What about the times when it is a mess?  It’s tough, but can be endured.  It’s a time to remind oneself that there can be no non-messes without attempts.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but it’s true.  I was literally putting the last stroke of paint on the sunset picture when I saw an unanticipated (and large!) UPS delivery coming up to our door.  *ding dong* this is probably a mistake, *door opening* no, that is my name on this package.  what the heck is this?  *cutting cardboard* it’s a gorgeous orchid plant!  *slitting plastic* it’s from Kerry (my friend)!

Receiving the plant felt like a reward from the universe for having the courage to paint in spite of my perfectionism.  It was magical.  One of my goals is to paint prolifically.  It’s hard to write that, but it’s true.  I have been a tentative and sporadic painter.  Effort is what will help me bloom much more frequently than I have. 

Effort is a good thing.  Perhaps this is the mantra.

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Effort is a good thing

Examining points of envy is a useful way to discern what one wants in life.  Since childhood, I have had total admiration for and fear of discipline, discipline being defined as an internal force that drives a person to face difficulties with strength and grit.  If a person can do this repeatedly, they wind up doing more and/or being better than they could have imagined.

At this point, many people, including myself, run in the opposite direction, screaming.

I have hard evidence of this fear within myself that goes back to my first grade “Got to be Me” book.  The prompt:  I am afraid to…

Here is my response to the prompt as a seven-year-old.  [I am afraid to…] “do my work because it’s a long time till lunch.”

Some people would read that and think that I might have had language comprehension issues.  The opposite.  Although I was not able to understand or analyze the reasons for my response, I was being 100% honest.  My adult self understands my childhood words perfectly.

I have to do work.  There are expectations that I need to meet.  I am not always sure about how to do my work, and when I look at other kids, they look more like they know what they are doing than I do.  This means that I am not the best.  That feels bad.  Those kids who know what they are doing don’t have to try.  They just do.  Since I have to try, I am screwed.  Work is bad.  When there are expectations of me, bad things happen.  I am more likely to disappoint.

I, like every other human being, have endured pains that require me to be gentle with myself.  But I can’t deny that when I am impressed with myself, it feels good.  And I’m only impressed with myself when I surprise myself with my own strength, abilities, eeeeehhhhh, discipline.

While thinking about this, I realized that I have just the amount of discipline to keep me where I am.  It’s comfortable, in general.  There are things that I want to do, though, hobbies I want to develop.  If I were going to die tomorrow, I would be disappointed to not have done these things.  There is time in my life to add these things in, but instead of actually doing so, I (with the help of my inner Mrs. Roboto) more typically find ways to stretch my obligations so that the time disappears.  I do this because I am afraid to put forth effort and fail.  I am even afraid of the act of putting forth effort, regardless of the outcome.  There is something in effort that makes me feel vulnerable.

If I really have to try, maybe that means I’m not good at it so I probably shouldn’t do it.  I’m seven again.  There is no way I would trust a seven-year-old to make decisions about my life.

What, then, can I say to myself to help myself DO things I say I want to do but don’t do?  The words coming to mind remind me of an athletic shoe advertisement- you know the one.  “Don’t die disappointed.  Do it now.”  “Now or never.  Never is not an option.”  Perhaps a mantra is not what I need.  A visual reminder (preferably not in the form of an athletic shoe) might be helpful.  When I look at it, it will represent what I want to do, a promise I am making to myself to DO the things I tell myself I want to do.  Putting forth effort to accomplish what one would like to is protection against envy and disappointment, and that is enough to inspire an amount of discipline that can take one beyond stagnation.