by Linda Rodriguez
I believe in holding yourself to the highest standards you can manage and have tried to do that for most of my life. However, sometimes we have to learn to cut ourselves some slack – in meeting deadlines (although I’m terribly obsessive about those), in meeting others’ expectations, but most of all, in dealing with our own, often destructive, perfectionism. I’m at one of those points in my life where I’m having to tell myself to stand back and treat myself a little more gently.
After a long period of illness and injury where I had to focus all my limited energy and strength on immediately-paying editing and teaching, I’m moving back into writing my own creative work and back into blogging and social media. It’s an exciting time, but it’s also tremendously frustrating. I simply do not have the energy, strength, and focus that I used to have. When I look back at everything that I used to accomplish in a day or a week, I feel real grief at having lost that kind of drive and concentration. I’m having to come to grips with the idea that I may never regain it. So, the little bit of progress that I make each day in my own work, along with the full slate of editing and teaching that I continue to have, disappoints me and makes me feel like a failure.
Yet, I am making forward progress in my own creative work. I am resuming my participation in the two group blogs to which I belong and about to resume blogging on my own blog. And I am doing this while still maintaining a fairly heavy load of freelance work. Am I writing the many thousands of words a day that I used to manage, in addition to the freelance work that I have always done? No. I am, however, putting words on the page each day and making forward progress, even as I feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace. I tell myself I have to learn to adjust my expectations of myself to fit my current circumstances.
It’s not even just my own expectations of myself that are the problem, however. Other people have developed expectations of me through the years, expectations that I have played a role in establishing within their minds. As I begin to slowly move back into blogging and social media, other people have a tendency to want me to interact with them and do the things they would like me to do, at the level of commitment and energy that I formerly brought to the table. Consequently, I have a twofold problem.
Back when I was healthier and uninjured, I was an activist and someone who could always be counted on to volunteer my time and energy and skills for projects to better whatever community I was dealing with. Unfortunately, I am not that person any longer. This is a bitter disappointment to me, and it seems to be even more of a disappointment to a number of people with whom I have been involved for years. Having always been a people-pleaser, like so many who were raised in dysfunctional or abusive families, it’s harder for me to deal with their disappointment – and sometimes with their manipulation — than it is for me to deal with my own severe disappointment in my new self.
Still, I am making progress on my own work daily once again, and I am moving forward in this new, changed iteration of myself. I choose to focus on those positives and try to ignore the disappointment and negative feelings of myself and others. I am lowering my expectations of myself to what I feel is a more realistic level for my current reality, and I am going to expect the people who will remain in my life to do the same, once I explain things to them. If they can’t, I will no longer be able to keep them in my life.
The odd thing is that I think what I’m going through at this late stage of my life is something that many people have to go through, especially writers, who must be self-motivated, self-initiating, and self-disciplined. I think I was able to avoid it much longer than the average person, simply because I was blessed with an unusual amount of drive and strength — through no effort or achievement of my own, I must say. Now, that drive and that strength have been forcibly reduced, and I am having to learn to say “no” – to other people’s demands on my time and energy and my own unreasonable expectations of myself. I suspect this is actually a healthy thing I am being forced to do.
How do you deal with expectations that have become unreasonable or unwanted, your own, as well as those of the people around you? What strategies have you readers who are writers developed for allowing yourself some leeway or cutting yourself some slack when it is needed?
Linda Rodriguez's 12th book, The Fish That Got
Away: The Sixth Guppy Anthology, is about to be published. She also edited Fishy
Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology, Woven Voices: 3 Generations of
Puertorriqueña Poets Look at Their American Lives, and The World Is One
Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East. Every Family Doubt,
her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising
the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2021.
Dark Sister: Poems was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, was published in 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.