Too Young for the Rocking Chair

One of my favorite sayings

As the hours of the long holiday weekend counted down today, I noticed my oldest son becoming more and more agitated. He was so worried about wasting a second of what was left of his time off school that he became obsessed with the passing of time. The later it got this afternoon, the more frenzied and frustrated he became. He had just a small amount of homework to complete, but instead of buckling down and focusing on getting it out of the way so he could enjoy himself he railed against it. He spent two full hours fussing over what should have taken him no more than 30 minutes, and then he still had to put in the 30 minutes’ worth of work.

This is a common pattern for Joe. He has a tendency to procrastinate and then worry about the time he’s wasted. I don’t know how to help him, and I feel for bad for him. I am not a procrastinator. I loathe the feeling of having something hanging over my head, so in school I was the kid who worked on her homework on the bus ride home. Any free minute I had during the day was devoted to making sure I was caught up or, better yet, ahead of the curve on my assignments. At work, a boss never had to bother me about a deadline because I perpetually met them in advance. For me, the dread of having something undone is worse than the effort of getting right down to business and simply getting it over with.

After Joe had finally finished his work and was able to relax a bit, I reminded him of my favorite phrase about worry, procrastination’s dear friend. The phrase is one I share often with friends when they talk about the heavy mental burdens they are carrying. In my early 20s, I was deeply in debt. Between student loans, my used car, and credit cards, I had racked up more debt than I could pay off even while working two jobs. I remember waking up in the middle of the night with a panic attack and rifling through my closet, desperately searching for items I could possibly return or sell for extra cash. I was in a downward spiral. I had friends who were preparing to file for bankruptcy at the same time but, at 23, I found that option unthinkable. Instead I faced the miserable fact that I was in a hole, walked into a Consumer Credit Counseling office, and signed up to pay off my debt. Bit by bit I clawed my way out of that self-dug, cavernous abyss. It took me three full years, but at 26 I was debt free. Those lean years in debt management were tough, but that period of my life changed me. I now understand that worry is a waste of time and that I am plenty strong enough to face and overcome hardships. Those years, desolate and trying, were a gift.

I do hope that Joe will learn sooner rather than later that worry is pointless. It’s just another form of procrastination, another way to rob ourselves of the present moment. I also hope Joe’s lesson won’t be a three-year trial like mine was. Most things in life have a way of working themselves out. And, the things that don’t resolve themselves can be remedied with a little hard work. I know Joe will ultimately be successful because he’s bright and capable. I just hope he gets out of the habit of worrying sooner than I did. He’s far too young to be wasting time in a rocking chair.

The Easiest Way Down Is For Sissies

There is difficult, slightly difficult, and not difficult at all. But, what you get out of life is largely only what you put into it.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”                               ~  Frederick Douglass

I spent my weekend skiing at a resort that was new to me. It’s been a long time since that was the case for me, and I had forgotten how much it helps to rely on ski maps until you get your bearings somewhere new on a mountain. So, my friends and I studied the map, picked some routes, and targeted a few areas we were interested in experiencing. One thing struck me wherever we went on the mountain, though. I kept seeing signs that pointed to the easiest way down. Now, I know that if I had been on the beginner slopes, I would not have seen those signs; but because we’d decided to spend a fair amount of time on advanced terrain we saw plenty of signs that offered an easy way out.

Those signs are crucial on a ski mountain. Sometimes, without a map, you end up somewhere that might require more skiing skills than you actually possess. To keep yourself from injury, you need to find the easiest way down. But, the more I reflected on those signs, the more I realized that perpetually taking the easiest way down can do more harm than good. I only became a better skier when I began trusting myself and taking some risks on tougher slopes. If I had not been willing to let go, ski a bit faster, and believe in my abilities, I would still be stuck in the same rut, too fearful to venture out.

I work hard to show my boys that growth only comes through taking calculated risks, branching out, trying new things, and being willing occasionally to look foolish for a while while you work towards improvement. Most of the strides I’ve made in my life, the goals I’ve accomplished and are most proud of, have come only as a result of overcoming a struggle. Many things that have come too easily feel unimportant by comparison. And, the things I most worried I would not be able to do yet eventually accomplished are my happiest memories. If you look at a difficult task square on, have doubts in your ability to surmount it, and yet plug right along until the goal is reached, you truly are rewarded. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I could ride my bike 150 miles in two days, I would have flat out laughed. Yet, here I am with two MS150 rides under my belt and a third one on tap for this summer. I won’t lie. The last 7 miles on those 75-mile days are rough. But, once I roll under the finish gates, I feel such intense joy and strength. I know I can do anything. I am invincible.

Without struggle there is no progress. The easiest way down will get you where you need to be. No doubt about it. You can continually travel the same well-trodden path and live a perfectly adequate life. You won’t get anywhere but through it, but you’ll do fine. But if you can accept (or even seek out) a challenge or struggle now and then, you will grow beyond your wildest expectations. While I appreciate the tips on finding the easiest way down, I think I’ll keep pushing my boundaries for a while and see where I end up instead.