I’ve always been a determined sort of person. My mum tells the story of how after watching me play as a little girl her best friend turned to her and said ‘Elle pète le feu’, which literally translated means she farts fire. Digestive issues aside, I find it funny and a little sad that even when playing as a child my character was so apparent. I don’t know where my determination comes from. Did I emerge from the womb with a certain tilt to my jaw as if preparing for a blow? Did I get the message from watching my older sister, who is disabled, and conclude based on how hard she works that it is effort that counts?
For the longest time I have been aware of two sides to me: the dreamer vs the determined one or the lazy one vs the slavedriver.
Like everything each part of me has helped and hindered me. Being determined pushed me to study and get the grades I needed to wipe the dust of my small town off my feet. It helped forge a new career path before I was thirty. And when things got tough it helped me continue to write, to work, to exercise and in relationships. But lately I’ve been aware of the darker side.
‘Don’t push the river.’
I couldn’t get the phrase ‘Don’t push the river,’ out of my head. It nagged at me like a loose tooth. Don’t push the river was the opposite principle to how I lived my life, yet why couldn’t I let it go?
Don’t push the river, means that despite our plans many things are outside of our control. If we continually pit ourselves against the uncertain forces of nature we are going to get hurt.
I have made a career out of pushing the river:
I pushed the river when I walked to school, too focused on the fact I was going to be late to notice I had ripped the bottom of my soles off and my shoes were filling with blood. (True, and gross, story).
I pushed the river when I stayed in publishing although every day felt like trudging through treacle.
I pushed the river when I went travelling even though I had just fallen in love.
I pushed the river when after my best friend died during my counselling course and I refused to take a day off or stop until I had got my first.
I pushed the river when I worked 50 hour weeks until even my eyelashes were tired.
I pushed the river when I stayed in a role that bored me for the maternity leave, even when it became clear that the babies weren’t coming. Might never come.
I pushed the river earlier this year when I caught tonsillitis followed by pneumonia… and still went into work.
I pushed the river every time I put my plans ahead of my health and overall wellbeing.
Even reading through this list most of me is horrified but a part of me is impressed. Look at what you could accomplish, if only you put in a bit more effort, it whispers.
For the last couple of months I have been trying to accomplish four things:
-set up my own business
-gain experience and earn money working with the NHS
-lose weight to improve my fertility
– and, yanno live my life.
When I see it written down like that I can appreciate how huge each of those things are. And how impossible they are to accomplish all together. Pursue one, and you sacrifice the other. Go for money and you have no time to take on new clients. Pursue setting up my own business and I won’t have the energy or time to lose weight.
For six months I tried to do it all. It came to a head on a Monday. I had 62 items on my to do list. The first, ring the hospital to chase my referral. Forty two minutes afterwards I collapsed in a sobbing mess after failing to resolve anything or even talk to another human being. (This is not unusual in my dealings with the NHS. In my experience the care we have received has been excellent, but the administration side? OOOFH.)
In that moment I realised I needed to stop pushing the river. There are important things in this world, but there comes a point when everybody needs to cede defeat. And I am more important than the river, my goal.
I decided to quit my day job the next day. It terrifies me the idea of being entirely self employed but I needed to do it for me. (The day after I got an offer for my temporary dream job – the universe delivers).
‘It’s in my nature.’
HWSNBN and I love the fable of the frog and scorpion. When one of us does something particularly special the other will quip. ‘It’s in my nature.’ The story goes:
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”
I don’t expect an overnight change. I expect I will always be fighting the urge to push the river. I will always struggle to balance the person vs the plan. It’s in my nature. But I don’t want to push the river at my expense, not anymore.