No, I Can't

I've been thinking a lot recently about the 2008 elections (I promise this isn't going to be a political post). Even if you weren't cheering for Team Obama, you couldn't have missed their rallying cry. Yes We Can! Yes We Can! Yes We Can! 

It's such a hopeful and empowering message - one that has, in some form or another, fueled the dreams and actions of people for centuries. Because of that conviction, people have achieved amazing things - things that were believed to be impossible until they weren't anymore. 

But there's a flip side. President Obama and his hoards of followers haven't really changed the world or the United States or even Washington D.C. He hasn't done everything he said he would do. And many of the things he has done haven't turned out the way he planned. Some are delighted about this. Some are disappointed. But we can't really claim to be surprised. 

Dreaming is glorious. Believing in something is empowering. Who wants to believe that we can't achieve the things we set out to achieve? But boundaries and limits aren't made up concepts. And we're only people, after all. 

I don't mean this to sound incredibly depressing - it does seem like it's going there, doesn't it? 

But no. What I am hoping to get at - what I've been hoping to get at in myself for weeks now - is that it's great - necessary, even -  to have hopes and dreams and goals, but it's equally necessary to respect that we all have limitations.

When I moved up to Vermont, I had so many hopes. There was going to be a serious change in administrations. All the things that I'd been letting slide were going to come front and center.

I was going to get back into a daily yoga and meditation practice, respond to emails from friends more quickly, begin writing more letters, keep a cleaner house, learn to bake bread, post on my blog daily, start a book group, volunteer with kids, keep a garden, maintain a daily writing practice, make a healthy dinner every night, practice the piano, and systematically tackle my enormously long craft project list. Oh, and take the bar and find a job that I love and plan a wedding and walk the dog. And I was going to do it all the second I walked in the door.

Driving up, I was so Yes I Can that I could hardly stand it. 

And then for weeks and weeks now, I have ended every day feeling like a failure. I didn't realize what was happening at first. Why was I so excited to be here in Vermont and yet feeling so miserable and bad about myself? I tried what I always try when I feel bad about myself - I got strict. The problem, I determined, was that I was wasting too much time. I wasn't being efficient. What I needed was to snap into shape. 

I made lists upon lists. They had subheadings and special stars for things that HAD to get done. When I wasn't tackling them as quickly as I thought I should, I moved on to scheduling my days in hour blocks, and then half hour blocks. Every time I didn't make the mark, didn't get to something on the list, found myself rushing through a sink of dirty dishes at the end of the day - dishes that had been scheduled for 4:00 pm, not 6:00 pm - I tightened the belt. I berated myself for my time wasting and vowed to do better the next day. 

I woke up every morning Yes I Can, and I went to sleep every night ashamed of myself - No, I Didn't.

The pieces came together slowly. The first part was accepting that I was totally overwhelmed. I had made so many promises to myself about what I was going to do, and really, who I was going to be - this perfectly zen robot - that I couldn't find where to start. If I focused on one project, I was failing at another. There was no winning, and I could hardly hear through my own You're Not Doing It Right voices to make a choice of which task to tackle first. I kept thinking that the missing piece was discipline, that if I were more disciplined, I could get everything done. And I found ten thousand examples of people who looked to me like they were getting absolutely everything done all the time. 

But after days and days of not getting it done, I realized that I was consistently underestimating the amount of time it would take to do something. I would start the scheduled activity for 10:00 am, and at 11:00, I would be panicking because I wasn't finished but needed to move on to the next activity so I could finish everything. I was trying to put two hours worth of stuff into one hour and feeling like a failure when it didn't work.

My Yes I Can thought I was so powerful that I could defy the laws of time. 

And that's when it hit me - No, I can't. 

I'm only a person.

It was deflating at first. I argued with the thought. I tried to go back to my schedule. I tried to think harder, plan my time better. 

But I kept coming back to it - No, I can't. I actually can NOT.

It's a work in progress. I'm not going to stop having hopes and dreams and ten thousand ideas. That's what I do.  But I'm trying to honor my No I Can't just as much as I honor my Yes I Can.

In practice, it means small things - I threw away the hourly schedules. I'm trying to focus my days around really committing to ONE project and seeing it through for as long as that takes rather than planning to rush through as many projects as possible as quickly as possible. 

It means a lot of breathing and noticing when I start to yell at myself. 

It means feeling vulnerable and imperfect. 

It means honoring the No as much as the Yes.