August 22, 2014

I can do better.

Have you ever pushed yourself so hard that you burned out? 

Been there. Yes. Totally. 

It was toxic and I would never go back to that. 

The thing is, I was always challenging myself. I kept telling myself "Jane, you can do better." I was always trying to reach my limit, which I never thought I reached because my mind kept saying "I can do more. I can do better." It hurt. It was tiring. It played with my mind. But I just kept pushing forward. 

I don't know when and how I came to be this way. Perhaps it was working on behalf of people who were always in a tougher position than I was or when I saw people cut corners or weren't being serious with their responsibilities. Like this one time: 

I was with a few folks who committed a couple of hours to phone bank for the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. We were going to put in calls to swing voters in Pennsylvania. It was an important state and I realized I had a really important job to do. I went in wanting to make as many quality calls as I could.

While phonebanking, the folks I was with began to take breaks. They were chatting, drinking wine, gossiping and calling their friends. At first I thought it was ok, because we all need breaks and there needs to be fun in anything we do, but then it began to bother me when it felt as though they were being a bit excessive. And then I found myself judging them. I wondered if they were taking this seriously enough or if it was something they wanted to just brag about at some happy hour event they were going to the next day {I know, childish thoughts on my end, too}.

For me, the two hours to phonebank was my time to make as many calls as I could because it was something I believed in and I knew those voters needed to be reached. It was a moment to be serious because serious issues were at stake. I hate to say this but I thought they were privileged and clueless about it. Because if they had time to gossip instead of spending that time to convince a voter then I thought maybe the issues we were facing at that time wasn't really affecting them - unemployment, foreclosures, economic meltdown. I wasn't personally going through them but I tried to understand. 

In the end there were some people who didn't even make 10 calls. I was disappointed. More so afterwards when I began to hear them boasting about phonebanking and being a part of a "grassroots" campaign.  

I went through this kind of incidents many times in the past 10-15 years. Perhaps it was a catalyst in my going to the extreme at times. Perhaps I was merging "I can do better" and "lead by example" together and I ended up burning out. 

I'm at a point in my life where I don't do this anymore. I do commit to doing a good job but I don't push myself to the point where it puts me in an uncomfortable position. I also am very mindful of trying not to judge others. It's not fair for me to do and it comes from a wrong place.

I always took the saying "we can always improve and be better" as a motivating phrase. That was until I realized how deflating it sounds. There is a time and place to say this. It shouldn't be an every day phrase.


ps - I was reading all the comments from my last post and was wondering "where have you all been in my life?!" I half jest, but no seriously. The majority of people in my life from the past have been so different from me - loud, overly bold and confident. It was hard to really be who I was without feeling inadequate and weak. It's good to know that I met so many who know the power of quiet and know their feelings so well and are not afraid to show it. It's also good to know those whose personality types are not this way who are understanding. Thank you for a lovely conversation.  

35 comments

  1. I've never thought of it this way before Jane! I've always pushed myself (and been pushed) to constantly improve, when I wake up I sometimes murmur "do better" to get myself out of bed. You're right, the flip side of it is that you do end up concentrating on what you haven't achieved rather than what you have.

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    1. i think it's all about the right balance. sometimes we have more than the other. it's a tricky thing.. that thing called balance.

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  2. I had a similar thought process as you until about five to seven years ago. Basically, I kept over-exerting myself until I was physically and mentally unwell. I compared my work to my peers and felt depressed if I wasn't able to show my "full potential." I was constantly fighting this inner battle of "I'm too tired," and "No, you can do more," until one day I had to seek medical attention. That obviously changed my perspective on life. Now I know what I am capable and not capable of doing, in what time frame, what's *really* important to me, etc. The majority of my friends are very ambitious with their careers, so it was difficult for me to take a detour with my own career and choose a different path from them, but I'm so glad I made the change! I am much happier now than I was back then.

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    1. Yay! So glad you are in a happier place now. I think once my life priorities changed I began to realize what made me happy and what made me miserable. Always being tied to work and trying to be a perfectionist was getting me bummed out, but I knew being half assed wasn't my cup of tea either. Then I learned a thing called balance and try to keep a balanced life as much as I can. :)

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  3. Yes I've been there too many times. I don't know if it's s work ethic thing or a challenge to myself but it's not something I do anymore cause I just don't have it in me anymore. And I agree that this shouldn't be an everyday phrase.

    Rowena @ rolala loves

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    1. Hope you reached a good balance for you Rowena~

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  4. Another thought provoking post Jane!

    I push myself - well I try but I never ever feel like I have done my very very best. I know that I am my worst critic. Then I rarely pay attention to what others around me are doing because I am so into what I am doing - is that selfish? I dunno. I am weird.

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    1. Hehe. It's not selfish at all. I know what you mean when you say you are your worst critic. I had those moments as well. Nothing was satisfying or I kept guilt tripping myself into questioning whether it was my best work or not. A healthy dose of this is ok but I think at times I was a bit excessive!

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  5. When I was working in finance, half of the people in my team were slackers (and I use the term loosely:P). It used to drive me insane, and made me wonder how these people were raised that their work ethic was like that. It was very judgmental....I know, but just drove me bonkers because they would be praised too for the work of one or two people! Sigh....Now, I think I'm just too tired to care about stuff like this:D

    Thanks for sharing these thought-provoking posts, Jane. You rock!

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    1. Haha! I love how in the last post you mentioned developing thick skin and here you said you were just too tired for this bs. Haha. It's a great way to block out negative things! And it's telling that you have too many important and good things in life to even care. :)

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  6. I think many of us have been there, we can be our own downfall sometimes. I can push myself quite hard and then other times, I feel I don't push enough. So, finding a balance is what's needed. Have a great weekend doll xx

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    1. Yes! I totally agree! It's all about the right balance!

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  7. Been there. Sometimes I made myself ill without realising. I am learning where is my line, when to stop and rest.

    Checking out your last post right now xx

    Katrina Sophia

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    1. That's great! Hope you'll find it!

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  8. You said it! I'm done burning myself out. Charred insides aren't going to help inspiration spark! I'm so happy for you that you've reached this point in your life, and though I'm still on my way myself, I cannot wait to join you. :)

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    1. Hope you'll join soon! Rooting for ya :)

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  9. Been there, done that. I was brought up that way, but I've learned to really back off now because I realized that it's made me unhappy many times when I could have just gone with the flow.

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  10. I do believe that many of this generation do feel privileged and not having to give 110% to everything. I hope my children don't grow up that way, that's all I gotta say.

    I think you did your job and that's all that matters. Can't control what others do and where they end up in life b/c of their work ethic and attitude. I think it'll catch up to them in the long run.

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    1. That's so true. You really can't control others :)

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  11. you really know how to make us all talk, Jane! Perhaps that's why we feel we can talk to you through this blog. That is primarily why I keep blogging on my end. My superficial end anyway. You write poignant posts that make me want to converse with you! I am so appreciative of that because your blog reminds me of the great community. A time before people realized they could make a career from it. A time before it became difficult to find genuine people writing a blog for the sake of keeping a creative outlet available. (I sound a bit negative right now don't I?)

    As to this notion of "doing better." I suppose this is what happens to all of us at some point? I know in my life, as I get older (and hopefully wiser) I know my limits. I also know I have come so far. Where I am now would have been a terribly uncomfortable position before (personally and professionally). So…if I didn't push myself, then I may not have gotten to where I am now. I also realize I am now at a point where I don't know where I should stop. I feel like stopping because I feel tired but not because I am uncomfortable. I suppose that's a lame reason. Your story of phone banking is both sad and inspiring. Here you were trying to commit to a cause and yet you were also witness to those who may not have had the same ideals. But, I believe it's people like you that inspire those like me. You outreach because you have passion. It's genuine. People notice that. Perhaps it was good they didn't make calls. It would have not gone well anyway. =)

    xo,
    nancy

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    1. Wow. Thanks so much Nancy. And thanks for always sharing thought provoking responses back. I always enjoy reading what you have to say!

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  12. oh man I have been thinking about judging so much lately - I definitely do it all the time and sometimes I feel like I can't help it. I actually had a big discussion with Ben about it on our road trip, he gave the perspective that some judging can be healthy that it helps to see our own path more clearly. I think at the end of the day it's not healthy but perhaps (say with your phone calling example) it inspired you to work harder and you ended up reaching more people because of it - so the outcome was positive? I actually haven't reached any conclusions on those thoughts - my heart like you, tends to tell me judging in any form is wrong and I always wonder how I can cut it out of my life completely.

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    1. i think judging to make us healthy is a good thing. i think i tend to judge just to judge and i hate doing that because i know i don't like it when people judge me and they got the whole story wrong.

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  13. I was the same way Jane! Professionally and personally. I use to say under my breath...slackers. Lol I was really a perfectionist and still today I have to check myself. Even with blogging I don't think something is enough. It's hard. I admire you.

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    1. :) it's hard to strike the balance!

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  14. I think you went in with the right intent and I think the majority of good honest people would do the same. I know I would. I guess you have to experience these things to find the right balance.

    Buckets & Spades

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  15. I found myself nodding while reading your post. I couldn't help feeling annoyed sometimes when I find office mates chatting about movies while every second counted in order to make it to our submission. It's also annoying that I had to stay behind to work late nights while the rest left early despite the deadlines. I can only blame myself for working like there's no tomorrow. Upside to it was,you gave your all in everything you have done and I can say, that there are no regrets whenever we look back. Dedication and passion is something rare nowadays. Secondly, Oh, I laugh on the inside when colleagues run around at the last minute. Downside, I had to sacrifice personal time with family to do it. Great thing to reflect on-- to stop judging others, I guess we only hurt ourselves in the process.

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    1. I agree with your sentiment on judging! And yes, no regret for the work and hours put in :)

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  16. Yeah, I only recently realized that I have been living a cycle of "push too hard, burn out, get depressed, get inspired, push too hard..." It's hard sometimes not having a steady income, but I'm trying to focus now on getting to know my energy flows so I can work with them, not against them and take preemptive steps before I actually burn out.

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    1. Oh my gosh, that is totally the cycle! And love that your'e trying to figure out your energy flows. Best luck to you, Mariko!

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  17. I'm actually a bit of the complete opposite - I don't feel quite fulfilled unless I am being pushed, either by others or by myself, to improve or do better. Of course, there are only very few people who I allow to do this but I know that it's something I need (for sanity's sake)

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    1. I think I may know what you mean? I loved being in a healthy team environment where people challenged and pushed each other to cultivate creative ideas. And I loved bouncing ideas off of each other, as well. And I agree that this is only probably possible among people you trust, at least it was that way for me. I found myself in too many situations where people thought I was showing off or people trying to out do me.. it was just a energy draining environment to be in.

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  18. Stu is exactly that way! He takes his work very seriously and just burns out. I can see it in his face the moment he walks in if he's had a good day or not. I sometimes wish he could just be able to take it easy and chill a little.

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