You can use the sentence “________ are a their own worst _________” to describe just about any professional’s relationship with their area of expertise. Doctors are their own worst patients; lawyers are their own worst defendants; teachers are their own worst students. Mostly, this is because doctors know the biological or anatomical secrets they’re not willing to admit to patients, and lawyers know the loopholes to climb through for an easy out, and teachers understand that there’s a certain amount of work you can get away with just not doing, in most cases.
I know this contradicts the adage about being the change you want to see, and that the proverbial monkeys will do what they see or whatever, but it’s really hard to not be a lazy pile of trash every once in a while.
This is why I sometimes make the conscious decision to be mediocre and I’m not ashamed of that. It’s not that I intentionally make myself “less brilliant” – because although I have my moments of brilliance, I usually only exude a dull sheen, at best. But no, what I actually mean is that I often only aim for average, or acceptable, and then call it a day when I’ve hit that “good enough” mark.
Some might call this procrastination, or cutting corners, or being bad at things. I call it strategic application of energy.
My brain can only process so many thoughts at a time, or so many emotions, or so many tasks, and I refuse to overtax it when my expectation is to get another 60 or so years out of the thing.
To invoke a wimpy and somewhat tired metaphor, the brain is the engine of the body. Rev it too much and it overheats or explodes; let it purr at an even 2,500 RPMs and it’ll last forever. And sure, cruising in third gear might not be the fastest way to get between points A and B but it’s the best way to make sure your kids can learn to drive on that car, and their kids, and – if the world doesn’t end within two generations (or months) – your grandkids’ kids.
This doesn’t mean I don’t take risks or try new things, but putting yourself out there is very different from putting yourself in an early grave from overwork and overstimulation. It’s good to take shots – Wayne Gretzky may not have been a statistician but he was onto something when he said you miss 100% of the ones you don’t attempt – but it’s bad form to simply dump 100% to any one thing, since once you give 100% you have 0% left. I might not have Wayne Gretzky’s grasp on how math works but I think that leads to a pretty clear conclusion: it’s good to hold back.
What it comes down to is prioritizing the non-negotiables and letting everything else sop up what’s left over. Posting in this blog every week – in spite of being in so far over my head with grad school and grading that I think I’m now a cave troll who lives in Mordor, and also I haven’t had the Internet at my house for the last week (partially because it’s broken and partially because there’s a massive forest fire 10 miles from my house that I guess destroyed the Internet or something) – is a non-negotiable. Doing yoga every day – even if it’s ten minutes of stretching, or a few focused breaths at my desk during lunch – is a non-negotiable. Going to bed at a reasonable hour, reading, eating, making coffee, and kissing my cats are all non-negotiables.
Everything else will get done when it gets done, and it will be as good as it’s going to be, because perfection leads to inevitable disappointment but low standards will continually keep you impressed with yourself.