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Between Pushing Yourself and Self-Care

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I had an interesting discussion with my therapist this week. Yes, by interesting, I mean tearful. Look at me, being all British and stuff.

We talked about finding the balance between pushing yourself too hard and being self-indulgent. If you don't recall (and why should you?), I've been at this particular junction a few times before. It's a constant conflict for me.

On the one hand, I want to work hard. I have strong work ethics drilled into me by my grandmother (who literally laid train tracks in Rusia during WWII) and my parents (who built a farm from scratch). I mentioned before how sick-days were off-limits at our house. I don't think my grandmother ever took a day off except when she was hospitalised with cancer. Even then they probably had to restrain her. The best story about my grandmother is when she was giving birth to my dad. She walked to the hospital (a 5km walk), and they told her that the baby isn't coming yet, and she should just walk around the hospital some more. She naturally walked back home, made dinner for her two kids, found the neighbour and asked her to keep an eye on them, and walked back to the hospital. I don't think my mom has ever taken a day off, either. Even when she's travelling, she's full-on. She never did a vacation. I'm not saying it's healthy, but that's the kind of legacy I have to live up to.

There's also this notion that if you're not working hard, you're not fulfilling your potential. If you have a gift and you're not working on it as hard as you possibly can, you're squandering it. I've had this inner debate a lot regarding my son. He clearly has a lot of potential. He's amazing in maths and excellent in English and is a pretty darn good musician. Sometimes I feel it's our societal obligation to push him harder because he literally could be the next whatever (the scientist who would find a cure for cancer, a world-renowned musician, a great author). And although it's much easier for me to say my son is gifted than to say I'm gifted (it just sounds dreadful), I recognise that I do have some things I'm doing well (yeah, that's the farthest I'll go). If I want my life to count, I should be working as hard as I possibly can to make it count, right?

But then, on the other hand, I want to be kind to myself. I hear it's beneficial. For many reasons that I won't go into now, this is something I need to be working on. I'm very harsh on myself, and I criticise everything I do. And I want to be able to let go of it. To let go of making mistakes. I find it extremely difficult, which is disheartening because making mistakes and failing is how you learn. If you're afraid of making mistakes, you don't try new things. As Sir Ken Robinson said, you must be willing to fail to be creative.

There's also the question of "as hard as I possibly can". Who says how much that is? How do you figure that out? How do you know whether you've worked yourself into burnout or you're just being a lazy bum who needs a kick in the ass? If you don't take time to recharge, you can't be productive. But when does playing video games (or watching TV, or staring into space) stops being "recharging" and starts being an addiction? Who decides when it's enough? Who decides when you're enough?

As you can see, I have no answers to any of these questions. I don't know. I mean, yes, I decide when I'm enough, obviously, but how? And how do you know you got it right? So many questions.


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