When we started this journey together last year, I shared how from the youngest age I was encouraged to do everything anyone else could do. Tying shoes, moving desks, carrying school books; all of that and more was naturally a part of my abilities. Eventually the more advanced and grownup functions such as driving a typical car and living alone joined the skillset. There was never any question of if I could do something; I just did it.
But it’s been clear to several people around me that perhaps I am overcompensating. Most recently, my friend Peter (founder of Deep Blue Leadership and generally amazing advocate) has been telling me to stop overachieving. Stop being a workaholic. I know I’m one of the busiest unemployed people around, but I don’t feel like I’m exactly overdoing it. But there was the catalyst I needed to actually finish this post.
Peter wasn’t talking about anything to do with my career, of course. He was referring to that urge deep inside me to be doing something. To be producing something. Staying busy. To be accomplishing something. It’s the stack of books next to my chair to be read, the kombucha brewing and bread baking in the kitchen, the 3D printer churning out face mask ear savers and other fun things. Maybe it was even starting this Second Act while I was still busy with the day job. He’s very right, though. I very rarely take time to smell the roses. As the saying goes, “I’ll rest when I’m dead!”
I might eventually do a “therapy post” here talking about the mental drivers making me always feel like I need to be productive. I’m sure it’s even highly related to the topic at hand! (Spoiler alert, this became that post.) In fact, I started discussing this in my regular therapy sessions over the past few weeks. The best example I use to describe the type of overcompensating I am talking about is this:
That’s the main source of heat in my house right there! I shared with my therapist a somewhat frequent lamentation of mine, “Who in his right mind in modern times heats his home primarily with a wood stove?” He’s usually one to encourage me to question my personal criticisms and this time was no different.
“Maybe someone in his right mind does do these things,” he suggested. “Maybe things like this have no relation to mental state. Maybe things like this actually define being in the right mind.”
“Yeah, sure!” I thought to myself for an instant but it is true. I know a handful of people who heat primarily with wood. It’s good for exercise, is an economical and somewhat clean source of heat, and is a truly warm heat! It’s a balmy 80 degrees in my living room right now on this early December evening! My folks have two wood stoves warming their home. Most people in my neck of the woods will have a pile of a cord or two of wood in their driveways at some point in the year.
But my self-criticism was deeper than a method of home heat. Reading between the line, my real concern was, “Who in their right mind even with a typical body in 2020 heats his home primarily with a wood stove?” That is, who would do this if they had a physical disability?
[Tangent: Yes, that question seems to contradict my mission here. But perhaps this is merely a refinement or clarification of the mission. My message here is not that people with disabilities are just like everyone else. We’re obviously not, and face constant struggles whether physical or emotional, that we try to overcome and appear as normal as possible to those who don’t have our particular conditions. But… we all face struggles of some sort and the message is that we all can benefit from respecting and embracing each other’s unique experiences and struggles to enhance all of our lives.]
Now sure, when I was commuting to Manhattan in my twenties I bought the condo with no maintenance, little upkeep, and a relaxed life for those few hours I was home every day. But ten years living with shared walls and being within waving distance of 60 neighbors, along with a local job made me not need to leave quite as convenient to highways made me reconsider my living arrangements. And boy did that pendulum swing a bit far! But I also think that as I approached my late thirties, I still had something to prove.
Living in the woods, stacking firewood, attempting to maintain several gardens. Loading the wood stove a few times per day to keep the house warm in the winter. A 200+ foot driveway (thanks go to neighbor Kenny for plowing the snow) and my mailbox is a quarter mile away. Granted, I have friends over and throw a fun party when there’s more than two cords to move and stack, but it’s still something that so few people do. Even fewer people with disabilities, I’d assume. It’s almost like I’m trying to prove something!
As I reflected on that statement, I saw that I was absolutely proving something. I was proving it to myself as much as I was proving it to others. Because as much as I think I’ve achieved in terms of independence, and it’s apparent to those who know me, I will always be reminding myself of what I can do. The real fun realization was that I think I’d be reminding myself of what I am capable of regardless of my physical condition! I find myself doing all of those other things (baking, brewing kombucha, playing with 3D printers) not because they’re physically demanding but because I am still proving (mostly to myself) that I can still be flexible, adapt, and create new things.
I am not overstating when I say this: the things we do are not nearly as profound as the reasons we do them.
Again, the things we do are not nearly as profound as the reasons we do them.
It’s here that we gain the insights and reflect on hindsights. It’s how we naturally prepare for next time. It’s how we evolve as humans and humanity. Over the past few months I’ve been asking myself about those reasons for doing things or approaching things differently than I had before. I swapped out the “why do I heat with wood?” for softer, less challenging, and more curious questions like “how do I feel when doing this?” and “what do I think about when doing this?”
Along this process, I have been learning new truths about things I enjoy, but also finding new enjoyment out of old pleasures. Among the insights I’ve gained is that yes, I live in this house and heat with wood to prove something to myself and others. I shared the long story of overcompensating & proving my capabilities while showing that we all really do this in a way, don’t we? After all of this, I also happily confirmed that there’s something even more important to me than proving to myself and showing others what I can do: I really enjoy a warm house in the wintertime!