On my birthday several years ago, I received a tiny paperback book from my friend Pat. On the first day of this new year, I picked it up, as I have done the first day of every new year since she gave it to me, and turned its pages back to the beginning.
The book is Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much by Anne Wilson Schaef. I have read it almost every day for so long that its pages are crackling and falling out. Some of the entries are highlighted and flagged with sticky notes. Some of the passages I’ve read hundreds of times. But I will keep reading it until I get it right.
It’s a book for workaholic women and its messages often parallel the mantras of a 12-step program for alcoholics. Though I find the comparison unsettling (both my father and grandfather struggled with alcoholism and the scars on each subsequent generation were painfully apparent) I recognize its inherent truthfulness in my life.
I am chronically overwhelmed — a situation that I realize, as I get older, is largely of my own making. I must keep busy. I can’t sit still. From the earliest days of our marriage, my husband has teased me about being “super KB.” My sons and I joke about the epitaph I insist will someday adorn my tombstone: “She got a lot done.”
I am also a self-flagellating perfectionist. No matter how hard I try, I’m never happy with the results of my own efforts. I’m always focused on what I could and should be doing instead of what I’ve done. I often see the glass half empty and blame myself for the void. If only I were more organized, more efficient, smarter, more perceptive, more articulate. If only I had tried harder. If only I had more hours in the day.
Which is why I appreciate this tiny book. Sometimes its inspirational quotes and meditations feel like they were written just for me. Here are some I’ve highlighted:
January 7: Part of the crazy thinking of addictions is that we will be safe if we can just get everything in order, everything in place, and keep it that way.
April 30: We may be surrounded by people all day long but our single-minded dedication to our work isolates us.
May 2: …women who do too much seem to vacillate between exaggerating our competence and feeling that we are worthless and totally incompetent.
May 16: Most women who do too much have great difficulty asking for help.
June 10: Sometimes, when I take stock, I only look at what isn’t done. I also need to look at what I have, what’s been done, and what’s being done.
When I’m really being honest with myself, I recognize that I use my “busy-ness” to justify many undesirable and unhealthy habits. I find myself avoiding free time, friend time, follow-your-dreams time. The perfectionist in me worries that I won’t get those right, either.
So today, on this second day of the year 2010, I am making a very public commitment to myself. I am taking on a “follow-your-dreams time” project that has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite some time.
When my husband and I first received the book 1,000 Places to See Before I Die as a Christmas gift several years ago, it got me thinking about all the things I want to do before I die — and all the people I want to thank for the profound ways they have influenced my life.
So this, my first “thank you,” is to my friend Pat, who knew me well enough to present a tiny book of meditations to me with her love, her empathy and her forgiveness.