Thursday, November 18, 2010

When to stop writing lists

I read something the other day about a blogger being frustrated that no one gave him/her a map of what to do when you're a grownup. The blogger said added a parenthetical: (like all Gen Yers) and that resonated with me so much.

I was complaining to myself today at lunch about why no one tells me things relevant to social situations I find myself in. Like how to behave one someone does this. Or what it means when someone says this. Or what people do in this situation.

Sometimes, I think I have Asperger's or some Autism-spectrum issue because I so often feel like I'm barely keeping up with what's going on around me. This makes me feel like a loser who can't get her life together and makes way too many mistakes to ever be successful.

I've read a fair amount on Asperger's and Autism out of general interest, but my personal diagnosis comes from two places:

- that my mom has said she thinks my dad has Asperger's and there's a hereditary element to it, and
- what I read from Penelope Trunk's blog.

Not very good sources, admittedly.

Penelope has Asperger's and talks a lot about developing, testing, and following rules for social encounters. She talks a lot about many other things she does to cope with this disease that aren't relevant to me, but that always sticks. All the time, I want to write down all the different rules that exist for me to follow in a given day so I remember it all and have it all pulled together.

But then I think about what that blogger said and wonder if plenty of Gen Yers have this same issue: a hard time navigating the world. Just about my entire life was mapped our and prescribed to me in syllabis, course catalogs, and progress reports. I was a Girl Scout, where you completed a list of specific steps and got a badge. I played tennis, where you showed up at certain times, did certain things, and had a specific rank on the team which dictated which matches you played.

Today, I write list after list after list of things I own, things I need, tasks to accomplish, food to buy, nutrients to consume every day, exercises to preform. I fantasize about creating a giant master list with all the steps I need to take and all the rules I need to follow in a day so I can have one day that's totally pulled together and I'm completely in control and getting everything done smoothly, gracefully, and efficiently.

But it's not lists that are the solution. Even if I mapped out tomorrow down to the minute, all I would do is react the same way I used to react to a semester's worth of reading assignments: do a little bit as I go, wait to the last minute and then do it all at once.

And maybe (probably) this isn't a problem unique to Gen Y. Older generations often had just as, or even more, prescribed lives than we did. Maybe Gen Y's uniqueness comes from how hyper-aware and well trained in the art of reflection we are.

So what is the solution?

Maybe it's accepting that everyone goes through their days feeling a little bit out of control, not accomplishing everything that they want and making mistakes, and that is simply the way people live and it's ok.

Maybe it's also understanding that what I interpret as people having everything pulled together is really people doing a good job behaving gracefully even when they feel that little bit lost that everyone feels.

If I can't control every minute of my life with lists, at least I can control how I act, react, and behave as I muddle through. More specific instructions and guidelines aren't the answer - letting going, to a certain degree, of intense and continuous assessment of every task I'm working on is probably closer to the answer.

1 comment:

  1. I find that letting go is always the hardest thing to do, but the only thing that relieves the stress of not having a mapped-out, step-by-step, tangible plan, whether it be for the day or for the next ten years. The thing about plans like that is that they never play out quite how you imagine or expect anyway, and so I feel that staying in the moment, focusing on where you are, who you are, who you're with, and what you're doing right now (not in two hours, not in two days, weeks, or years) is the best way to be productive and well-adjusted.

    I have heard people say this to me for YEARS, but I could never do it. Lists, plans, mapped-out agendas have been my coping mechanisms all my life. They gave me milestones to to work towards, things to look forward to, etc. Or at least I thought that's what they gave me. I think getting sick and having to put my life and all my plans on hold has actually helped me grasp the "one day at a time" attitude. I actually could not (and cannot) make major (or many minor) plans for two hours from now, two days, two months, etc, because I have no idea how I'll feel. This has helped me to realize that my life is not on hold just because it isn't playing out like I planned it. It isn't temporarily forefit, or paused, or waiting to being. It is happening now. And all I can do is stay in the moment. Focus on what I can do right now. Enjoy and focus on the little things. Do what I can do at the present time, without playing out all of the possible outcomes and future situations in my head. And it has actually made me a calmer, more productive person.

    My advice would be that when you feel your mind getting one, two, forty-five steps ahead of you, try to reign it in, if only for a moment, and focus on what you're doing, who you're with, etc. What can you do in that moment, to make that moment better? What can you enjoy about that moment? What can you improve about it? And just try to be present. I know this is all really easy to say, and incredibly hard to do (it took a debilitating illness to snap me out of it), but I thought I would share, anyway. :) This was a wonderful, introspective, and relatable post, Meg! <3