When I was in junior high, my walls were faux-decoupaged (read: covered in magazine cut-outs that I haphazardly Scotch-taped in place). My favorite piece was an Eastpak backpack ad with the text “what you get out of it is what you put into it.” I still think of that (almost cliche) little quote almost every day, especially in the yoga room.
I spent my 20s thinking (and believing others who inferred) that I was a lazy good-for-nothing, an underachiever who wouldn’t “amount to anything.” That was a far cry from the ambitions and expectations that followed me through high school. Something changed, though, right around my senior year. I decided early on that becoming a doctor or climbing the corporate ladder just wouldn’t make me happy and in fact would make me very unhappy, and paid for that decision by enduring an onslaught of relatives’, friends’, and acquaintences’ criticisms. I knew that I was giving about 20 measly percent at my jobs, and I knew that I wasn’t lazy; I just didn’t care enough, and couldn’t figure out what I would care enough about to give more.
I found myself giving 100% to yoga and to writing things no one else would ever see. I would work for eight hours, hating life, then go spend two hours in the yoga room, finally feeling at home. That was great while it lasted. Then, something happened. I started to believe the others, the ones who insisted that there must be something “wrong” with me. Since I didn’t measure my worth based on job titles and credit scores, I was a bad human being.
I am still fighting that belief. Just when I think it is almost gone, it comes back. Lately, it has come back to me in the worst place ever–the yoga room. I convince myself that I am lazy if I don’t do two classes a day, that I am a slacker if I sit out a pose when I feel exhausted and start to see dancing black spots instead of my reflection in the mirror. On days like those, I have to remind myself of a few things: what I put into it is always 100%, but 100% changes from day to day; and there is nothing wrong with me for choosing to throw all my effort into things I actually care about, instead of wasting it on things that I don’t.
Last fall, I did something that surprised even me: I started (and finished) a project that I wasn’t sure I could successfully pull off. I’m probably more proud of it than I should be, but when I start to believe that I’m just a useless slacker, I look back to this and realize that that just isn’t true.
I wanted a unique and special gift idea for someone–something personal, not just a thing I could buy and decorate with a bow and gift label. I thought for a few days, and remembered this old table I had languishing in my basement:
I began sanding, re-staining, and painting. This took more time and effort than I had originally thought it would. Everything I did gave me a new idea: paint the underside! Stain the parts the original owner missed! I kept working, and a less-ugly table emerged:
Here comes the “personalized” part. I had done some research and asked some questions, and spent quite a lot of time scouring eBay for articles and posters and cut-outs to use to decoupage the tabletop. The last cut-out came in the mail on a day when I was so sick I could barely stand, but I was so excited I started to work immediately. I spent an entire night pre-treating, placing, and ModPodge-ing. The next day, I applied a final coat of polyurethane. This is the final result:
It isn’t perfect, but I’m extremely happy with the way it turned out. The result, though, was only part of what I was so excited about. The entire process, from developing the idea to shopping for the supplies to doing all the physical work involved (sanding…LOTS of hand sanding) was cathartic. When I was sad or anxious, I worked on the table. When I was bored and impatient, I worked on the table. Stress? Table. So what I got out of it wasn’t just an amazing gift, but some realizations: the process matters; don’t focus so much on only the end result. And I’m not a talentless, lazy underachiever.
There isn’t anything wrong with saving your 100% for the things you truly care about. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is something very “not right” about pouring all that effort into anything that makes you unhappy. Every day, I’m closer to feeling more comfort and less anxiety about the freedom that comes with focusing on what I love, instead of focusing on what I think I should love…and I can’t help but think that if everyone worked toward that, the world would be a very different place.