A Different Kind of Hell

“Discipline without freedom is tyranny. Freedom without discipline is chaos.” – Cullen Hightower

Those who have known me personally for years may well know that I’ve struggled with procrastination for much of my adult life. It’s frankly stunning I was able to get as many degrees as I have. Or perhaps it isn’t. Because the dirty underside to my procrastination (oh, you thought the procrastination was it? Hah! No…) is that I procrastinate because I’m actually a workaholic. I was raised by workaholics. Almost all of my close friends are workaholics. My sisters are (arguably, in case they’re reading this blog post) workaholics. It’s part of the way I see the world, and have always understood my self-worth. (Yes, I’ve been working on that, hence feeling comfortable blogging about it, now.)

Now, if this doesn’t quite compute, this whole ‘wait, are you a procrastinator or a workaholic, because they’re opposite things, Sarey,’ hold onto your hat because Imma explain it thusly:

It’s like a pendulum swinging between two extremes. When I started working, I couldn’t make myself stop. The focus was all-consuming. Even if I wasn’t moving the project forward, I couldn’t set it down, couldn’t stop thinking about it, couldn’t stop working on it in my head. Even if it was done. And when the circumstances of my life (or a deadline) would bring it to a sudden and abrupt halt, the pendulum would swing to the other side.

On the other side of the pendulum swing, I was like a child begging not to go back into a horrible situation. I’d do anything to get out of it, to avoid it, to put it off just a little longer, to decrease the amount of hours I’d end up spending on it anyway.

And you know, I’m a smart cookie. I’m intelligent, insightful, and intuitive, and this is bad. Because it meant that I could keep up this hellish pendulum swing for a very long time and still be fairly high functioning. And I didn’t notice for years, because of course I’ve surrounded myself with people who either are straight-up workaholics, or people who are also on a very similar pendulum swing as my own. So it was all quite normal, really, to just work all the time. Or to be running away from it.

Until one day one of those workaholic friends pointed out the obvious, and then I just couldn’t unsee it.

And so… now timers are my friends. It’s not a long term solution, but it’s a little contract with myself. When the timer goes off, I have to get up. I have to go do something else, and most importantly, I have to get out of the headspace I’ve been in. I am allowed to stop thinking of the story, or the blogpost, or the sermon, or the administration, or whatever it is I’m working on. 

Because writing for sixteen hours straight is not what makes me a good writer. It’s fun for a day or two (total honesty: it is), but then it starts to take a physical toll I don’t want to have to pay. And I don’t have to do it to validate my writing, my life choices, or my sense of self.

I’m actually good enough all on my own.

And I love this quote, which I was sent from LiveandDare.com recently (go check out Giovanni’s work, it’s great), because it encapsulates perfectly what I struggled with on this pendulum swing from hell.

On the workaholic side: discipline without freedom. It is tyrannous and awful. It held my sense of goodness as a person hostage to how much I worked, and the ridiculous and totally irrational part of it was, it didn’t matter how much I worked. It was never enough. 

On the procrastination side: freedom without discipline. The chaos for me was a swirl of guilt and horror and profound shame, but no matter how bad I felt about myself and my worthiness as a human being, nothing short of crisis could induce me to work again, because then I wouldn’t stop. 

[transparency note: In the middle of the above paragraph, one of my timers went off. I got up and did something else and thought of something else, and now I’m back. Look at me! I can both start and stop at will. I really am growing as a person. :) ]

My pendulum still swings, but rarely does it swing all the way into tyranny, and all the way into chaos, and I’m glad, because both were hell. This whole ‘reasonable expectation’ thing… that’s for me. 

So, what’s it like in your world? Can you relate to the tyranny and the chaos, or has this one passed you by? Leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

2 comments

  1. Love the pendulum metaphor and, especially, your brilliant description of how it works! I know that pendulum all to well. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Ann, thanks for chiming in. Before my friend mentioned it, I really couldn’t see it. I was aware of the procrastination, but totally unaware of the workaholism. And then I started looking around and realizing the reason it seemed so normal, wasn’t that it was normal. It was because everyone around me also did it, joked about it, complained about it, but really only one or two people had a handle on it and were coming out the other side. Oh, how I can fail to notice what is right in front of my face…

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