I can’t say I know where it began. Or even if it has stopped entirely. But most of my life I have been driven like a horse responding to an imaginary whip. The difference between a healthy goal and The Whip is the difference between running towards something and the feeling of running away. I was the youngest of 3 children and recall exerting superhuman amounts of energy to keep up with my older brothers who were 2 and 6 plus years my senior. I was barely 10 years old when I began to get heart palpitations from chasing my brothers around. There was so much anxiety! So much stress in that little duckling waddle as I gave it my all to keep up to those guys. I don’t blame them. It just seems that chasing them was where the race without a finish line began.
Since then I have spent a lifetime chasing the impossible. Trying to do more than one person should in one day. Trying to meet deadlines, teach myself new things, accomplish goals that are larger than life. I don’t really manage much, to be honest, but boy do I manage to beat myself silly for all that I haven’t gotten up to yet. I’m proud to be someone who does not mull over what is impossible. I am, however, exhausted from believing I should be able to do it all.
Wasn’t that the feminist statement of the 1970s (60s? 80s? 90s?) - that a woman can have it all? She can have her cake and eat it too (or in my case, have time to grow and raise my cake ingredients and make it too)? She can have a fulfilling home life and kick butt in her career? We’ve apparently got more women graduating from medical school than men for the first time ever – yay, right? We fought hard for this. The world will be a better place for finding this kind of balance between genders. Yet I can’t help but wonder whether these women who ‘have it all’ share the same kind of feeling I have when I am pushing myself too hard.
Eventually I could drive myself endlessly with or without older brothers. I would push myself anywhere, anyhow whether it was to try to do more at once, do it faster, do it longer - only ever competing against my own incompetence. I became a pretty physically fit little kid but there came a day in my early thirties when my emotional being stood up and simply yelled ‘STOP!!!!!’
From that point forward I vowed to put down The Whip. I promised myself that I could do anything at all, but as soon as I felt The Whip come out, the game was over. There were many days when I was out jogging that I would feel that familiar drive and I would stop, literally stop, and walk very, very slowly home. If I was playing my guitar and writing some lyrics down, as soon as the pressure to produce grew into something negative, I would put down the instrument and close the book. I was going to make that whip disappear if it took me the rest of my life. I did not want to be driven by the imaginary pain behind me. I wanted to walk towards something bright and good instead.
Enter marriage, farming and motherhood. And throw in a bit of a career just for good measure. Probably for the first time in my life I really did have to keep the train moving in order to avoid a wreck of some kind. Taking a lovely break from dishes or laundry or shopping brings only one reward: backed up dishes and laundry and no toothpaste or toilet paper.
There seemed to be only one solution left towards sanity and that was for me to take on less. Yet I imagined that taking a break from work would only ever lead to being broke and drowning in debt. The solution became clear when what I really needed a break from was spending money on mindless things. Now we make more intentional choices with our money and manage on my husband’s salary just fine. And I am no longer exhausted before I have even started my day from making breakfast and dinner, doing barn chores, finishing a load of laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and getting me and my children out the door ALL before 7:30am. Now I spend the day doing those things and sometimes have my kids with me while I’m doing it. It turns out that’s a whole day’s work. Go figure.
So I may no longer ‘have it all’. I may have surrendered to only part of the picture in order to preserve the wholeness of our life as a family. Juggling more than one person should was far too reminiscent of the days in my youth when I did not know how to slow down and had not yet learned the concept of ‘enough’.
I still see a glimpse of The Whip from time to time, especially when I’m being driven by external factors like a mountain of vegetables needing to be canned or a fence needing to be fixed. I hear the trademark sound of my heart beating in my chest, I chomp down on the bit, dig in and then…stop. Though The Whip desperately wants control of my life again, I can see it coming from a mile away, and I don’t give it the chance.
The work gets done either way, yet now it happens more and more without the drama attached to it. I may not be saving lives in an operating room (nor have I ever, to be clear) but most days I do think I am saving my own. This little duckling even finds the time some days to enjoy the sunshine and take a little swim in the pond if she feels like it.