I stumbled upon one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s interviews the other day and this line struck me big time:
“Giving your 100% to something doesn’t always work and that’s okay.”
When I was younger, I thought setting a goal and working my ass off will get me anything I want. That definitely works for some people and that’s what everyone tells you anyway. When you’re four and can only play the piano with one hand, your music teacher tells you to practice more, even after class. When you’re a consistent honor student and your parents feel like you can top the class, they’ll urge you to give up your favorite afternoon show to have an extra time solving your algebra problems. When you’re in an unsatisfactory relationship, you sometimes even push yourself to give more or to work on it.
Most times, these types of motivations can result to the thing that you want, but there are damned times when no matter how you want or work for something, it just isn’t happening.
I’m also getting tired of this saying, “Winners don’t quit, and quitters don’t win.” Of course, winners quit all the time. J.K. Rowling ‘quit’ on marriage and ended up writing the Harry Potter series. Paolo Coelho quit law school to become one of the most inspirational writers of this generation. Even Isaac Newton quit school and farming to be a world-renowned physicist.
They knew that they needed to quit on some things because they knew they can do anything, but not everything. Even if you give your 100% to handle all of them. It’s just physically impossible.
Imagine a human graph. Each aspect of your life gets a percentage of the graph: family, career, mental and physical health, social life, etc. Now the percentage assigned to each aspect isn’t fixed. When your kid has a recital and you have to leave work early, maybe you need to subtract 10% from work and add it to family. When you’re working on a big project, it’s inevitable to subtract 5% each from family and social life and add those to career.
But what happens when everything’s happening all at once? It’s your mother’s birthday, you have a report to work on, and that evening, you’ll have a reunion with your highschool classmates who you haven’t seen in eight years. You’ll probably need 120% of your human graph then. Where will you get the extra 20%?
You’ll drink coffee and stay up until midnight to do everything. When you do this, you’re stealing some percentage from your future self. The next day, you’ll be hungover and therefore will be less productive. You’ll probably stay in bed for most of the day so you cannot spend quality time with your family, even if it’s a weekend. What can you do? You probably just had 80% of yourself to begin with.
This is just one day in a week. Imagine how many times you’ve done this to yourself and try to calculate how much of yourself you’re leaving for the future. Are you really giving your 100 percent or are you just using the scraps of yourself that were left after getting only four hours of sleep every day and spending two hours of overtime in the office?
Let’s stop equating “I gave my 100% to it” to “This is my best work.” How can it be your best when you’re burning both ends of the candle and sacrificing your family, mental health, and future creativity?
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you gave your all and nothing happened. It’s okay. Maybe you gave your all that day or that week, but it isn’t necessarily all you have.
Life is unpredictable. There are days when you’ll need more of yourself than usual. It is important to leave some of yourself if you can so you can have something to steal from when the day needs it.