I have this thing I do where I assign myself tasks. Jobs. I talked it about it before when I wrote about my blog’s anniversary and how I am always mindful to not make the blog a JOB. I’ve been good about that so far as the blog, but I had to keep the thought in mind; otherwise I slip there too easily. My nature is: “I must,” “I should,” “I better.”
I expect a lot of people live like this, with a list of things in their minds that have to get done. That should get done. That they either are, or feel responsible for. When I was young, in my early twenties and on my own, someone once said to me that life, in his theory, was 25% maintenance. I was impressed. I’d never thought of it like that. Now I think the figure is too low. Because really, when you consider that most people work at jobs in service of maintaining the other aspects of their lives (exempting those people who truly love their jobs – all 18 of them), you’d be including the paid work in addition to all the other tasks one must do to maintain a life.
What I’m talking about, naturally, is maintaining a good life, because sure enough, lots of people don’t do all these maintaining type activities. They don’t work or they don’t take care of themselves, or they live in chaos and squalor. They let things go. It isn’t pretty. We have all seen it. Their homes are in disrepair. Their bodies are in disrepair. Their children are in disrepair. It’s a mess. And we/I think: Jeez-o-flip, I’m glad I don’t live like THAT. Things aren’t THAT bad. And I don’t EVER want to live like that.
People will say, some of them anyway, that these types of “jobs” or “maintenance” or “tasks” aren’t important. It’s just better to enjoy life and if things don’t get done, oh well. They say a happy family is better than a clean house. Or partying with your friends is more important than looking for a job. Stuff like that. I get that we all have different standards, different priorities, but I look sideways at people who live and say things like this; I don’t entirely believe them. Do they really feel okay with a life in disarray?
But back to me. I walk around looking for jobs to assign myself. Oh sure, that’s not a conscious thought. But when I’m honest I see that’s what I do. Out in the world and in my own quarters. Why is everything my job? I ask myself this. I don’t always have an answer. And what do I mean anyway? I mean that I see things that need to get done, or that I think need to get done. And tell myself to get on it. These aren’t necessarily BIG things (like getting a Master’s or traveling to Italy or running for office or starting a business) but it isn’t the size of them that I’m really referencing here but the perspective.
Earlier this year I put this note on my mirror (I since took it down):
Maybe some people look around and think “wow things are great”, or think nothing at all. I look around and notice things that should be done. I don’t want to say this is entirely a BAD trait. I’m conscientious, I follow through, I’m reliable. I’d say I’m “proactive” but that’s not true across the board so let’s forget that one.
I have considered whether I do things so that other people might think or say, “isn’t that nice, look what she’s doing”? And the honest answer is no, it isn’t for other people’s eyes. In fact, I do things despite other people watching, despite a certain degree of self consciousness at times (one that has lessened with age and experience). The standards I am shooting for are my own, they are internal.
To be fair, the standards in my head were no doubt shaped by my mother. My mother saw life as an endless series of jobs. It was all work to her. She (along with my father) went and had herself a big family but by the time I came, she took little pleasure in said family, if she ever had (up for debate), and saw it as a huge source of work. Everything was a job. She even complained about family vacations and trips because of “all the work” she had to do to facilitate them. (Oh yes, this made everything, including trips, FUN for her offspring >>>sarcasm.)
My mother suffered. Oh, she suffered. She made sure we all knew – or at least her later children after which she had become thoroughly embittered on the business of raising a big family – how much trouble we all were. And everything about running the household – which was her primary focus (she had paid jobs mainly when we were older, but not a career per se) – were jobs. Unpalatable tasks.
The thing was she disdained pleasure and had scathing words for those who partook of it or focused on it. So it wasn’t like she’d have been whooping it up but for the big family and the work it entailed. In her view, people who relaxed were LAZY. Children who played were lazy and spoiled. No, thankfully, she didn’t quote that saying about “idle hands” and the “devil’s workshop” but the point was clear enough.
My mother assigned herself jobs, some seemingly pointless and in fact, by the time I was a teen, I challenged her on it. God knows I’d heard her complain often enough about all the work she had to do, so I figured why shouldn’t she cut some corners? Especially insignificant ones.
One of the rare moments I ever influenced my mother stands out. We had a one floor house with a sort-of-finished basement and, eventually, a full bathroom on each floor (I remember a time when the downstairs bathroom had no shower and a curtain not a door). In the basement there was also a bedroom that was usually occupied by one or more of my brothers. But for the centipedes, crickets, and thousand-leggers who also occupied the basement, it was a pretty sweet set up. There was, in addition to the bathroom, a full size refrigerator (that always had beer in it), a TV room, a washer and dryer, and a “separate” entrance, i.e., a back door. AND it was about as far away from the fighting and chaos that was a regular household feature, as one could get and still be in the house. Not too shabby.
Anyway, my brothers didn’t use that washer and dryer, as it was my mother’s domain, and she washed the towels that were folded and stacked in the basement bathroom for my brothers’ use. She would bring said towels upstairs after washing and drying and carefully fold them on the dining room table. I’d watch this, knowing how she was, and finally said, why do you do that? It’s not necessary. To my shock, even now, after that she started just taking the bath towels out of the dryer and, skipping the hauling upstairs for careful folding routine, instead stuffing them onto the basement bathroom shelf. I couldn’t believe it, this token nod to rebellion and the easy life. It’s not like my brothers were going to care. They had clean towels that magically appeared. So what they weren’t nicely folded. (Trust me, she was never going to make them wash, dry and fold their own towels no matter how old they were.)
My mother did not teach me to look for “jobs”. No. It was obviously something I absorbed. But I took it further, out into the world with me, where she hadn’t. I think, in part, it’s because I developed a much stronger sense of self than my mother ever had, and a willingness to act if I thought it was called for.
The thing about a trait like this is that it’s been good in a lot of ways. I kind of feel like if I don’t assign myself jobs, I won’t do anything. And I get to reap (many of) the rewards of things I do. It’s when the tendency overwhelms me, when I “pile on” in my own mind that it becomes a negative force. I mean who wants to steal all the pleasure out of life? Isn’t the point of maintaining a good life so that you can step up and take the rewards too? I am surely not all-work-and-no-play. Please don’t think that. Far from it. But I am my mother’s daughter: in my unconscious mind, the rewards must be earned first. Chores come first. For me, the real task, the ongoing one, is teasing out which “jobs” really need to be done and which are manufactured in my own head. Everything is not my job.