On Getting On With It

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. (Shakespeare, Hamlet, III.1.84-89)
You have to be careful about making New Year’s resolutions. As all sorts of research on behavior and motivation explains, changing deeply-ingrained habits is really hard; changing some of the fundamental characteristics (being introverted, super-energetic, anxious, optimistic, etc) which make us who we are—is next to impossible. And yet this is exactly the stuff we go after with our New Year’s resolutions: I resolve to stop stress-eating (which is really misery-eating because I have a horrible boss who I’m afraid to stand up to; or fear-eating because I’m lonely and convinced I’ll never find anyone; or frustration-eating because I can’t find the courage I think I need to make the changes in my life that would really make me happy). If you make a resolution without understanding what problem you’re really trying to solve, then you’re likely to do things which undermine the best intentions, like choosing an unrealistic time frame, or being wildly ambitious. You go out strong (you give up food for a week and exercise like a fiend), crash hard (stop using your expensive gym membership, eat a whole tub of sour cream and onion dip with a big bag of chips), then feel ashamed and angry at your failure—all of which makes it even harder to try to change your behavior again the next time.

So, as I’m making my resolutions for this year, I want to be sure that I choose the goals that match the problems, that I make a reasonable and achievable plan, and that I give myself lots of encouragement and reward for making good efforts.

Let’s apply all that sensible advice to my own situation. My resolutions are as follows:

1. dance more (as soon as I get some tendonitis under control)
2. work on my French more
3. write more
4. read more
5. speak my mind more in my writing and in my relationships

In other words—I want to be more fit, youthful, focused, organized, creative, expressive, and interesting. Really, just more more. And in order to meet those goals, I would have to somehow obtain a radically different personality, not to mention a radically different job. I would need Virginia Woolf’s “500 a year, and a room of one’s own.” And for the amount of dancing I want to do, I would also need to have much of my connective tissue swapped out entirely. As far as I can tell, neither remedy—being independently wealthy, 3-D printing of replacement tendons—is currently possible.

But if I look carefully at what’s really keeping me from becoming this other version of myself—or at least, a version who does more of what she really loves and values—it’s not the absence of a wealthy patron or science-fiction-y medical breakthroughs that’s the problem; rather, it’s my own insecurity and fear. I don’t have unlimited time to be a renaissance woman—I’ve got a day job which makes modest, but nevertheless substantial demands on my time; but I don’t have time to dance and read as much as I need or want to because I’m a terrible procrastinator. I can occupy myself really productively, doing the less important things as an easy way for me to feel both competent, and also less guilty about not facing up to the higher stakes stuff, which I conveniently don’t have the time to do on top of the other busy-ness. I don’t write more, or speak more openly and honestly to people, because I’m afraid of doing the wrong thing, of looking dumb, of offending someone. If I finally do face up to the difficult things, I hesitate, and stammer, and offer all manner of softening context to try to preserve others’ good opinion of me, which often results in the thing not getting done properly at all. And, often, rather than face up to things, I set conditions: I’ll work on this, or do that, once I’ve done pretty much everything else—and funnily enough, there’s always pretty much everything else that absolutely, necessarily, vitally needs doing before I take on the thing that frightens me the most.

Take this post for example. So, I kind of got caught up with a lot of things in the summer—there was a lot of very pleasant diversion; there were also a couple of work-related projects that haunted me, like Frankenstein’s monster, reminding me at every step of my creative and professional failings. I made a rule for myself, that I would get back to my blog As Soon As I Got Those Two Things Done. I’d reward myself, I said, for enduring various trials by getting back to my little creative efforts. Except of course the monstrous jobs stubbornly resisted completion (exorcism), so nothing got finished, or even started.

Then the lack of starting started to become its own problem, its own source of embarrassment and fear. You know that thing, where you know that you should call that friend, but you get busy with other things, and time passes, and so you just kind of don’t, and then more time passes and you start to feel embarrassed for not calling her, and then your dread and mortification start to overwhelm your desire to reconnect, and you start ducking her—once your good friend—in grocery stores, or pretending that you didn’t see her at the gym because you weren’t wearing your glasses, and you generally act childishly avoidant, rather than face up to the discomfort of taking responsibility for your own actions? It’s been kind of like that, only with writing.

Do you know that I’ve been working on my Great Return to Blogging since September? I have started and abandoned several drafts, writing and re-writing and never finishing one single post because all that work just wasn’t saying what I wanted to say. What I was doing was writing an elaborate apology, and I wasn’t allowing myself to write anything else until it was done: confession and penance. And yet (it only took me four months or so to realize this) no amount of apologizing, or defensive excuse-making was ever going to be enough: you can do all the masochistic penance you like, but if you haven’t actually sinned, you’re never going to be granted absolution. Especially when the only one acting as inquisitor and judge at this auto-da-fé is me.

I’ll spare both you and me an elaborate analysis of my psyche explaining how I got caught up in this vicious cycle of procrastinatory avoidance and hobbling anxiety. It’s all just silly.

New resolution: be mindful of when you’re being motivated by unreasonable fear, and rather than avoid it, face up to it, and stop giving a f*ck (My 2015 resolution was to swear more. I haven’t sworn as much as I could have because I was afraid people would disapprove; but that’s just one more f*ck I’m going to stop giving!)

I know perfectly well that this is far easier said than done. Where’s my careful analysis of problems and motives, causes and effects? where’s my plan? my reasonable time-frame? all my achievable steps and encouraging rewards? Who cares! These are f*cks I can’t be bothered to give!

When I want to do something, and start thinking, oh but I really should do X so that the world continues to approve of my good behavior, or I can’t fail at that project if I don’t actually do it, or I mustn’t say what I think in case I’m judged as unpleasant, or I shouldn’t do that thing that’s FUN because it’s not mature or dignified enough—then I must remind myself of how little f*cks I—or, importantly, anyone else who matters to me—give.

(Don’t worry—I’m not an idiot, and I totally grasp the importance of discretion, judgment, and diplomacy. I also realize that I can neither afford, nor reasonably expect, to just chuck every responsibility, petty or significant, that I have. But it’s not the responsibility that’s a problem, it’s the excessive fear and giving-of-f*cks that has to go!)

The simple act of using a really bad word (even with the SFW asterix) over and over again is really liberating! Even better, I just got something written and didn’t even notice time passing–I had twinges of conscience, passing thoughts that perhaps I should be doing the ten other things that would make somebody (who? my mother? my guv’nor at the office? the anxious, f*uck-giving version of myself?) satisfied, but then I ceased giving so many f*cks, and did what I wanted to do. What I needed to do. What it was actually, unapologetically fun to do. The next time you see me fussing about how best I should spend my time, remind me: New year, new you. Give zero f*cks, and get on with it.

About Carol-Ann Farkas

Writer, editor, researcher, educator, and dancer. Will opine for cash, pastry, or attention.
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1 Response to On Getting On With It

  1. dogpromise says:

    Fucking great read! Thank you for the inspiration. Don’t you dare ignore me in the grocery store;)


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