We’ve been talking a lot on the blog lately about how the past year has impacted our lives, our education, our job searches, and everything in between. One of the main takeaways I’m learning from this pandemic experience, and the advice of my fellow Hack Library School writers, is that we have to stay flexible. But, what does that actually mean?
As a self-described planner, perfectionist, and high-anxiety pal, the idea of being flexible sounds like some sort of superpower to me most days. I would also like to be able to teleport, or turn invisible at will; but I don’t expect that those are realistic goals for my life. But, the more I learn about myself, as a student, but also just as a person, the more I have come to understand that staying rigid in my plans doesn’t serve me. If my plans fall apart (and they often do, for reasons no one can control) I’m left with no recourse and have to start over from scratch. Or if I change my mind, I’m left feeling as if I have failed to follow through with a goal that doesn’t make sense for my life anymore. It’s clear to me that cultivating the skills of being flexible will ultimately allow me to have a more fulfilling experience in school and in life.
Flexibility, however, is a skill. And like all skills, it takes practice. But, luckily, it’s not a superpower. It’s something we can learn. Here are a few practices I’ve been building into my days to try to find a bit more ease in my life.
Focus on today.
As I’ve mentioned, I love a good plan. But sometimes, I can get a bit carried away. Planning is a great tool to help you keep on track with your goals, but it is possible to over plan. When planning starts to become an obsessive pastime, or if you often find yourself planning months, years, or even decades ahead, it might be time to check in with yourself and see if it’s actually helping you. I know when I spend too much time thinking ahead, I tend to become a lot more anxious and a lot less productive.
So, instead, I try to focus on just what’s in front of me this week, or even just today. I make my to-do lists the evenings and limit them to just a few tasks each day. This way, during the day I can fully focus on whatever tasks I have at hand, and at the end of the day, I feel good about what I’ve accomplished instead of overwhelmed by everything that’s coming next. If I do need to make a more long-term plan (or I just can’t help myself) I set a time limit for it, no longer than an hour. And when my time is up, it’s time to close the page and get back to living in the present.
Embrace “Good Enough.”
I’ve done a lot of thinking and writing about perfectionism in the last year because, to be vulnerable, it’s something I really struggle with. I often find that this is an obstacle to my ability to be flexible because it’s hard for me to create things that match my unrealistic standards. This leads to procrastination, self-doubt, and a whole lot of unnecessary stress.
So, this semester I’ve been trying my hardest to get comfy with just being average. Not all of the work I produce needs to be exceptional. Sometimes, just finishing the assignment is reason enough to feel proud. And when I make my goal less extreme, like “get a passing grade” instead of “get 100%” I find that I have more fun with my assignments, and am also more creative. Taking the pressure off doesn’t make the quality of my work suffer, it just makes it so I don’t. And this way, I have much more energy to pour into the projects that really matter to me, instead of getting hung up on just chasing perfection.
Schedule time for fun.
This might sound silly, but hear me out. I find that when I get caught up in my planning ahead, I can be a bit too single-minded on my goals and lose touch with the things that I enjoy. We’re all so busy with school, with work, with families – sometimes the list seems endless. But that doesn’t mean that having fun should be sidelined from our lives.
I’ve been trying to set aside some time for fun everyday, even if it’s just 30 minutes. And it doesn’t have to be anything big – sometimes just watching a funny Netflix show or painting my nails will do the trick. Anything that will take me out of the stress of life, if even for a second, is worth the effort. My point is that we are not here just to work; it’s okay, even necessary, to enjoy yourself.
Let yourself off the hook.
A big part of learning to be flexible is being honest with yourself about what it is you can control. Unfortunately, for control freaks like me, it’s a lot less than I would prefer. But, nonetheless, getting comfortable with this reality has allowed me to realize that I spend a lot of time fretting over things that I can’t change. While this could make me feel powerless, realizing how small my influence really is on the world, I am trying to take a different perspective. Instead, this fact, if I let it, can bring me relief. By letting myself off the hook for things I can’t control, I can focus more fully on the things I can. And I also feel less anxiety when things inevitably don’t go the way I expect.
Keep a sense of humor.
Lastly, I want to try to not to take this whole life thing too seriously. At the end of the day, I only get so much time on this planet. I don’t want to spend all of it worrying about what might or might not happen next and whether or not I’m ready for it. Sometimes I will be ready, sometimes I won’t. Sometimes my plans will work, sometimes they’ll fail. No matter what, I want to allow myself the grace to find joy in the absurdities of life.
When all else fails, just laugh.
Mary Elizabeth Allen is an MLIS student at San Jose State University. She holds a B.A. in Literature with an emphasis in Fiction Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her professional interests include: archives studies, the intersections between critical librarianship and social justice, and radical feminist scholarship.