The Tyranny of Time Optimism
Life is made up of a million little victories. While I’m all for the big victories too, I think there’s something uniquely divine about celebrating the successes of our daily existence. Rather than view the quotidian chores and paperwork of life as arduous, I’m trying to reframe these tasks as triumphs. After all, every large milestone is the sum of many small accomplishments.
I’m A Certified Time Optimist
I’m perpetually guilty of being what my friend C describes as a “time optimist.” When she first explained this concept to me, I thought YES! That’s me! Essentially, I continually labor under the delusion that I’ll be able to achieve more in any given timeframe than is possible. Or rational. Or even remotely within the realm of reason. A time optimist to a tee!
The upside of being thusly accused is that I usually get a lot done in a day. The massive downside, however, is that I used to feel inadequate in my accomplishments. No matter how much I got done, I always wished I’d done more. Not a pleasant way to live, as all of my fellow time optimists can commiserate.
Mr. Frugalwoods is fond of joking that I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I’d cleaned the entire house, done a full day’s work, run every conceivable errand, completed all of the laundry, and written a book… all in one afternoon. While I can laugh at the ludicrousness of the expectations I set for myself, it also used to be a very real problem for me. Not feeling satisfied with your work–no matter what you do–is not a great way to go through life.
Time optimism is a driving characteristic that causes me to succeed; but it’s also one of my most pronounced flaws. It’s interesting that a single facet of my personality yields both pro and con. In many ways, I love being a time optimist. I relish the way my brain races through tasks. But in other ways, I hate it. It’s challenging for time optimists to relax because we’re constantly scanning the horizon for the next thing to get done. And a life in which we’re never content with our efforts is frustrating and ultimately, unfulfilling.
A very real component of our goal to reach financial independence and move to a homestead in the woods is to have a less stressful life. Additionally, we want to practice gratitude as a habit, not an exception. In order to bring this element of our plan to fruition, I discerned I’d have to overcome my perfectionist drive for incessant productivity. After all, the pursuit of perfection is utterly futile and quite contrary to the frugal life.
I’ll never do everything on my “list”–probably because my lists seem to propagate and spawn off new generations of lists. And that’s OK. I’m a person with endless ideas and projects, but I can’t let that be a source of irritation and pain. Rather, I’m choosing to see it as a sign of a full life. I don’t want to hinder myself by judging my productivity; instead, I want to feel pride over the things I do complete.
The Tyranny Of To-Do Lists
Back to those lists of mine… I used to include things like “attain financial independence,” which is patently ridiculous to enumerate in between “pick-up Frugal Hound’s dog prescription” and “clean inside of car.” Did I think I was going to unearth a million dollars while vacuuming dog fur out of the back seat?!? Sidenote: please tell me if this has happened to you and I’ll totally redirect my efforts. I’ve come to realize that articulating huge aspirations in such a flippant manner is a self-defeating proposition. Don’t list things that’ll take years to accomplish next to things that’ll take hours.
Instead, I spell out my higher-order hopes on a separate list that comprises the milestones of life (ok yes, I do now acknowledge why I have so many lists… ). I find it imperative to have larger aims not only to guide our finances, but the very trajectory of our existence.
Sharing goals with Mr. Frugalwoods is a cornerstone of our marriage–without mutually agreed upon dreams, it would be tough for us to feel connected. I need something overarching to work towards–I need something bigger than mere survival to motivate and inspire me. And that’s all well and good. However, on a granular level, on the day-to-day and hour-to-hour, I’ve discovered that I’m much happier if I take life in less grandiose bits and pieces.
Learning To Enjoy
Recently, I’ve started the process of changing my time optimist approach to one of delighting in the joy of each little achievement. I’ve found this is especially imperative now that I’m a parent. My days are no longer about powering through to-do lists, they’re about balancing the pleasure of raising Babywoods with the requisite duties of life. Going to the grocery store is a win! Doing laundry deserves a medal!
Experiencing life as successful is, in many ways, a mindset. I can choose to think, “if only I’d also made it to the post office and Costco and taken Frugal Hound on a five mile walk!” or I can instead think, “it’s so awesome we went to the grocery store and got all the food we need for the week!” Same task, entirely different mentality. It’s amazing how much control we can exert over our experience of life. Of course there are myriad events that happen to us, but there’s also the inherent truth that how we react to these events is what largely dictates our well-being.
When we’re in the thick of busy-ness, it’s hard to see the larger picture. It’s difficult to remember that incremental progress is just that: progress. There’s usually no glamour in accomplishing mundane daily functions, but they’re necessary all the same. There’s also a temptation to glorify busyness. To wallow in the “I’m too busy and important” attitude. But busy does not equal productive. And busy often does not equal happy or content.
Previously, I was an inveterate busy person. I was too busy for just about everything. And I’m still tremendously guilty of this. But, I’m slowly starting to see the wisdom of savoring the incremental gains I make each day. Establishing opportunities to experience success with mid-term achievements is crucial because most objectives worth pursuing don’t occur in a day, or a month, or possibly even in a year.
The Grace Of Arriving At Enough
We can apply this very same lens to our finances because there’ll always be another monetary level to strive towards. We can always save more money or earn more money or put ourselves in a more stable financial position. But this endless striving starts to feel very much like greed. Or, very much like the vapid consumer carousel of stuff that we work so hard to avoid. Just because we’re able to successfully not buy things doesn’t mean we’re infallible in our conception of having “enough.” Enough constitutes not just money or things, but also the notion of achievement and the notion of what comprises a fulfilled life. At a certain point, we must surrender to the grace we’re imbued with and simply feel surrounded by enough, because it’s at this juncture that gratitude overwhelms us and our happiest selves emerge.