The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” Abraham Maslow, Humanistic Psychologist
I was writing this as 2015 made its entry. It did so without asking my permission or apologizing or delaying its entry to give me more time to finish my 2014 business. It did what the New Year is in the habit of doing – beginning without any regard for what I think, feel or want.
I’ve had a lot of practice ending and beginning of years but have nothing profound to say about how to best prepare to end one and beginning another. What I can tell you is that my awareness that the year is coming to an end begins in the fall, the season poet Emily Dickinson accurately describes as “A little this side of snow and that side of haze.” It’s the season that increases awareness – awareness prompted by wonder rather than worry. At least that’s how it is for me. It’s nature’s slideshow of leaves that turns from shades of green to an amazingly beautiful array of colors and then casually flutter to the ground that starts me wondering about a question I ask myself and answer on the first day of every year, “How satisfied am I with the way I lived my life the last 12 months?
The 2014 answer is “Somewhat” which means not as dissatisfied as I could be but not a satisfied as I hoped I’d be. If 2014 issued me a report card; my average grade would be “C” with 4 ++++. I can hear people who know me saying, “You’re too hard on yourself.” That is true sometimes but this grade is well earned. If my 2014 grade was based just on what I did, it would be an “A” because the things I did, I did well. But life doesn’t work like that. Living, learning, giving, receiving and growing is affected as much by what we don’t do as by what we do. So, my “C” with four ++++ reflects decisions I didn’t make or actions I didn’t take because not taking them was the easy way out or things I did that were simply an excuse for not doing something else that was clearly more important or things I insisted I wanted to do and either started them but didn’t complete or never got around to doing more than talking about them.
I have repeated this behavior often enough not to do the negative self-talk it is so easy for us to engage in when we don’t keep our commitment to ourselves but apparently not long enough not to have to say, “No” for the umpteenth time when asked “Are you taking piano lessons?”
Playing the piano is my “Just-for-me-thing.” As seem to be typical of people who keep putting off doing their “Just-for-me-thing” it’s easy for me to visualize myself playing the piano and imagine the satisfaction I would feel. But, when it came to using the space in between January 1, 2014 and January 1, 2015 learning to do something I have wanted to do since I was little (which was a while ago) I did little more than talk about it. Despite this, I believe “just for me things” are necessary because of what they can mean for the body, mind and spirit and how they can demonstrate what “To thine own self be true” means on an individual level.
So what is a “Just-for-me-thing.” It’s either something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done, something you enjoyed doing but don’t do anymore with any degree of regularity or something you need to do stop doing.
“Just-for-me-things” meets two board types of needs: self-actualizing and stabilizing. Self –actualization, according to Dr. Abraham Maslow, Founder of Humanistic Psychology, is “The desire for self-fulfillment; to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” On the other hand, I define stabilization as one’s desire to achieve his or her “normal” and doing what is necessary to maintaining it.
Self-actualizing just-for-me-things are described as something people need to do but not because it is required but because of how “rewarding, and emotionally fulfilling” they are. My Friend Beverly said, “My Just-for-me-thing,” is singing in a choir. My favorite memory is of the choir singing Peace Be Still. When our voices blended, I’d feel as if we were one voice proclaiming a universal message.” Cindy’s” Just-for Me-thing” is providing affectionate care for four-legged family members. Caring for cat and dogs, especially those who are ill and reaching the end of their life is a comfort to everyone. Shirley, who knew in first grade that she was an artist, paints scenes that are “vacations on canvass.” Paint feel “natural” to Shirley,” like something I am suppose to do. “ These are just three examples of people who have no doubt about what their “Just-for-me-thing” is. And, yet Beverly hasn’t sang in almost 20 years. Cindy works with pets occasionally, Shirley goes months without picking up a paintbrush and there’s me who bought a piano I never used and paid for lessons I didn’t take.
Stabilizer “just-for-me things” are described as things people’s need to start doing or stop doing. They’re life style changes that, if made, can potentially improve the quality of one’s life. The need to stabilize an area of one’s life: physical health, mental health, fitness, education, employment, recreation, social interaction and religious or spiritual practices, etc. requires an investment in doing something just for you.
Unlike self-actualizing needs, unmet stabilizer needs are visible to others either because of how they show up on our bodies or influence our thinking. But more importantly, they tend to have a profound impact on our interactions with others, including strangers. Just as there are positive consequences from doing self- actualizing “Just-for-me-things,” there are generally negative consequences for not doing stabilizer just-for me-things. Would Larry’s toes have been amputated if he ‘d done the “Just-for-me-things” his doctors recommended? Is the horsiness in my favorite Nephew’s voice the beginning of something that will make him wish he’d done a “Just-for me-thing – stop smoking cigars? If Sherry had done her “just-for-me thing” – going away to college on scholarship, instead of meeting her boyfriend’s need for her to stay in Chicago, (If you love, you won’t go) would it have prevented more than decade of despair that has come with three babies, three daddies and drugs. The answer to these questions: “Don’t know.”
Whether we’re talking about unmet self-actualizing or unmet stabilizing needs, I think we wonder as Shirley did, “Why so many of us put off doing the things that gives us the greatest satisfaction or would afford us a higher quality of life?” Cindy thinks its because we’re afraid of appearing to be selfish. That’s understandable when neglecting self become a habit that’s viewed as you’re doing “unto others as you would have then do unto you.” While this is an important guideline for reciprocity, most of us, especially women don’t know how to practice healthy selfishness. Therefore we think we’ll do our ‘just-for-me-thing” tomorrow but for far too many of us that tomorrow never comes. If that tomorrow never comes for a self-actualizing need it is sad but not devastating. But when it doesn’t come soon enough to meet a stabilizer need, the price may be greater than we are emotionally prepared to pay.
The explanations most often given for not doing our just-for me-things” are not enough time or money. No doubt, people are busy, some more than other. But, time, which doesn’t discriminate, is our to use however we will. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey, the average American over 15 spends 2.8 hours per day watching TV. Neilson reports that the Average American over 2 years of age spends 34 hours a week watching TV and eMarketers reports adults spend approximately five hours daily on non-voice mobile devices. Could we borrow a few hours a week from this form of leisure for “Just-for-me-things”? I asked my friend, a piano tuner, “How much time do I need to devote each week to learning to play the piano? Her answer: a one-hour lesson and 1 hour and 50 minutes practice per week. Gym (Health club memberships) can meet both self-actualizing and stabilizer needs. Either way, a 2014 study reports that 67% of Americans who hold a gym (health club) membership never used it. Some things require both time and money; some one or the other. If my scanty research means anything maybe they are not the intruders. So if we can’t blame them, maybe the question, I need to ask about piano lessons and you need to ask about your just-for-me-thing is, “Am I worth it?
Doing Just-for-me things are, in my opinion, as essential as earning a living wage, eating healthy and sleeping but unlike these necessities, you can live your entire life and never do them. The reason: nobody can make you do them, punish you for not doing them, talk you into doing them or love you enough to get you to do them. Don’t do them. They don’t get done. They don’t get done because they’re the things nobody can do for you but you.
Today is the 12th day of the New Year. There are 353 days, 8472 hours left in this year. ” I can devote 850 of those hours to learning to play the piano. But will I? That is the challenge all of us face when it comes right down to it. Do I do unto me and them or just unto them? Only time will tell. I don’t know about you but when fall comes again and the leaves turn colors and flutter to the ground prompting me to think about my end-of the-year question, I will know whether I am still among those Maslow speaks of when he says, “The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.
Happy 2015, whatever that means for you.