My friends are doing a program with Mike Monday that is intended to develop their creativity (I don’t know exactly what the program is like, but they love it). One of the exercises that Monday has people do is to describe in detail their perfect average day.
Not a vacation day, not necessarily what their days look like now, but if everything was set up to foster their distinct creative needs and practical needs (of which I don’t think Monday sees too much difference), what that day would look like. A day that they would be able to repeat over and over again.
This “perfect average day” has stuck with me. I want one. Bad.
I don’t have an average day perfect or otherwise right now and haven’t had one in almost a year. Rather, I have a not-so-perfect average feeling in which I wake up (a vague term since I don’t actually sleep) between 4 and 6am in a blind panic because I can’t possibly get everything that is swirling in my head done in a day. I am defeated before the sun rises. Defeated before I get out of bed. Even before that: as soon as my conscious mind takes over, I am defeated. A determined failure who will now spend the rest of her day running around in frantic circles a slave to the tyranny of the urgent.
This sucks. Literally.
It sucks the life and soul out of me so that I vacillate between guilt about what I’m not accomplishing, forcing myself to work through debilitating exhausting, manic moments of frenetic energy, dreading all social obligations, and then dropping the ball on everything because I can’t handle the stress (circle back to guilt).
I though I was sick. And I guess I am. But it isn’t hypothyroidism or adrenal fatigue or low blood sugar. It’s a soul sickness where I deny my personality and my very real limitations (as well as strengths) in pursuit of what I think I should be doing and how I should be doing it rather than what I am capable of doing. I think embracing that–the truth of myself–is the key to balance in my life.
So, enter my perfect average day. Or at least enter my trying to articulate it. Writing out a perfect average day is harder than I thought and it takes a lot more thinking and examining myself than I realized.
I started easily enough:
On my perfect average day, I will wake up rested.
Bam! Sleep. I will sleep (actually sleep) every single night of my perfect average day.
It sounds like heaven and such an auspicious start to a day. But then I did something: I wrote a time when I would wake up. And once I put that time on the paper, suddenly, I had to make a list of every task I would do on a perfect average day and what time block they’d be done in. And this made my perfect average day narrative no longer a description but a task in which I order my life so that it will be perfect and (my own personal curse word) productive.
I do lists a lot. It’s a compulsive way of trying to trick myself that I am actually organized and productive. It’s my sad attempt at controlling the fact that internally I feel my life is out of control. I feel that if I write down all the tasks I must do and where they fit in the blocks of my day, I’ll have balance and productivity because everything is so nicely lined up in a list.
But I am not a person who gets her ducks in a row in that way. So even though in my head, my day looks like a college day planner with multicolored squares of time that I must Tetris into a coherent order, I don’t actually thrive in living like that. My tendency to pack every color block tightly together so that there are no blank spaces between them leaves me anxious, rushed, and stretched too thin. So again, failure/guilt/defeat. Which causes me not to sleep.
I realized in the simple act of writing down that morning wake up time that my practice of Tetris-ing time blocks actually stresses me out.
So I scribbled out the wake up time along with all the other stuff with superscript time slots I had listed after. Let’s try this again.
On my perfect average day, I would have it divided into two sections. Both would have input moments and output moments. The AM section would have output for work and child care. The PM would have output for child care and life maintenance.
On my perfect average day:
1. I wake up rested from a full night’s sleep. I would like to wake up before the sun rises so that I can have coffee and write/read for a few hours as the sun crests the hills to the east. Then after that, I would have chunks of fluid time that I can dedicate to various pursuits in no particular order. An hour or so for running/fitness; five to six hours for work which includes writing, editing, and researching; an hour to do other work of emailing and such; time here and there to spend taking care of my son; an hour somewhere build relationships with others. All of this I would like done before 3pm.
2. After 3pm, I want another section of fluid time chunks. An hour or two to get a glass of wine and read or go to a museum or walk Sunset Cliffs (this is input/adventure time); time here and there to pick up my son from school, help with homework, read a book together, or just chat about our day; two hours to prepare and eat dinner or go out with friends; time to watch the sun set over the Pacific; after my son goes to bed, life maintenance hours; then in bed and reading in preparation for sleep.
I realized in looking at these paragraphs that I want flexibility and a lot of alone time. And I rarely give myself either. Part of it is that since I work from home now and am self-employed, people don’t understand or respect the boundaries I need to have in place in order to be balanced, centered, serene as well as productive. But the main problem is that I don’t respect my own boundaries.
So the first step in achieving a perfect average day is articulate what it is.
The next, to respect myself and the space I need. Part of that respect comes from being okay with who I am and what I need.
I’m still working on that.