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October 17, 2006

An Attempt at Self-Discipline

As the school year progresses and I feel more and more out of control, I understand what I need to grab hold of my sanity: self-discipline. Unfortunately, this doesn't come easy to me and never has. My mom and dad attempted to instill discipline in my sister and I by enrolling us in piano lessons before we could even reach the pedals. Piano, you see, requires a commitment to practicing, diligence to start over even when the wrong notes are played over and over, and a certain amount of perseverence to continue when the going gets tough (particularly after embarrassing yourself at concerts). The rule was that I could quit piano when I could handle keeping my room clean. Well, I played piano until I graduated high school and my room still isn't clean after all these years.

Right about now, though, self-discipline could come in handy for me. I am struggling with an immense amount of homework and thesis development, a body image issue and need for health, and basically never feeling organized enough to make it through one week without having a mini-anxiety attack. Some people recommend planning out a schedule and sticking to it, to make rules and not exceptions. Well, I love the planning. That's never been the problem. I get motivated to get all of my work done and to stick to the food pyramid and my workout schedule and even to make sure all of my clothes are off the floor before I go to bed. But the next day, the momentum goes back to a realistic level and "things fall apart." I've even tried setting attainable goals for myself that are easily attained on a daily level, but then I don't feel like I'm making much progress.

The need to overachieve in graduate school is a constant pressure. I know some people set aside an allotted time period for study and if they don't complete their work, so be it. Others choose between a social life and work quality, as its barely possible to do both. There is always a compromise to be made - relax and don't contribute, contribute and feel stressed, spend time with friends and hand in an imperfect paper, isolate yourself and achieve your goals. Perhaps for me, this is actually a problem of perfectionism. Although I do not consider myself to be a perfectionist, I won't let myself do less than my best. And I understand my best is not perfect. But I'm okay with imperfection as long as I have tried. I just have a fear of being assessed by others based on work that is not representative of my full potential. Some people may think that I allow others to dictate my self-esteem in this way. True or not, I refuse to hand in work that isn't high quality. Plus, I hold these standards for others, not just myself. Yet I willingly understand when others cannot meet them, but beat myself up over it if I do not.

In a popular womens' magazine recently, a celebrity was describing her struggle with depression and stated that perfectionism is a form of self-abuse. For me, this perspective was enlightening. Instead of allowing ourselves to tote our perfectionistic attitudes in job interviews or group presentations, we can actually realize that we are in fact holding ourselves to impossible standards. These impossible standards institute a constant feeling of failure.

So, this blog marks a beginning for me, or an attempt at a beginning, if you will. While trying to increase my self-discipline in terms of balancing work with social life, diet/exercise, and organization, I will also not chain myself to the ideals of perfectionism. This will be an experiment. In graduate student lingo, my research question is: Can we increase self-discipline in our daily lives while decreasing perfectionistic behavior and attitudes?

I'll keep you posted...
Libby Plowman

October 3, 2006

Bringing Peace

Laurelle, Missy, and I headed to church on Sunday for the 9:30 am traditional service at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. Besides just starting again recently, I haven't been to church in quite awhile. Last Christmas a sisterly argument kept me from the holiday mood and prevented my typical annual visit. So besides weddings, I have not been to church in over a year and a half. It was refreshing and comforting to learn that not much has changed. My family and I attend(ed) a smaller Methodist church in Osseo, MN throughout my childhood and adolescence. I remember running through the dark halls after "Joyful Noise" practice and delivering cakes or food for my mom when I received my driver's license. I really loved it. Unfortunately, every church has it's cliques and politics, which turned me away. Not to mention, it is difficult to get me out of bed before double digits on the weekends.

In the last month, though, some personal matters have called me to church, seeking spiritual guidance and stability. The life of a 25-year-old, particularly a graduate student, is chaotic and I missed the "method" in Methodism. I know some people prefer the more fluid contemporary services with a lot of singing and praise worship, but I prefer the traditional structured service. So I was thrilled when Laurelle and Missy, two of my closest friends, willingly accepted my offer to attend with me. Church is like exercise; I'm more likely to participate if I have a "workout buddy."

This last Sunday, the umpteenth Sunday after Pentecost, was the Blessing of the Animals as well as International World Day. Unfortunately, the Blessing of the Animals was at the second service, so we only saw one or two pets. But I must say, I love that these city churches celebrate ideas like this. But for the International Day (one of six days for communion in the Methodist church), the theme was peace. Very suitable at a time when our country is at war with terrorists and our politicians are at war with one another. Hardly the shining example of democracy!

Anyhow, about one-third of the way into the service, the children are dismissed for Sunday school. Before they leave, the pastor gives a mini-sermon with the children gathered around the altar. Every week the children say adorable things and the congregation laughs and smiles, but this week was particularly funny for my Democrat self.

The minister asked the children a few questions. One of which was "How do you do good for others?"

Girl 1: I go swimming in a swimming pool.
Boy 1: I go to the zoo.
Boy 2: I go swimming in the lake.
Boy 3 (catching on): I do chores.

Pastor Robbins of course relayed the intended message and went on to the next question: "How can you bring peace into the world?"

Boy 1: Protect wildlife!
Girl 1: Do good.
Boy 2: Not vote for George Bush because the Iraq War is bad and should end.

As if Boy 1 wasn't funny enough, after Boy 2 spoke, the congregation erupted into laughter. In a very open and tolerant Methodist church, it was apparent why this message would be so well-received. Yet it was so funny to me...I loved what the kid said...it was hilarious. But later I wondered, how do children get these ideas? I understand it must be from parents. But at what point do kids understand why they believe what they do? When do we start questioning these beliefs? Are there some of us who go through life without challenging the beliefs of our parents and simply pass them from generation to generation just like Grandma's pearls and Grandpa's war medals?

I'd like to think that I am an independent thinker, shaped by my parents' values and beliefs but willing to open my mind to other ideas. Yet in reality, it is likely that being raised by a social worker mother and a generous and compassionate father has more to do with my beliefs than my education. I am open to other perspectives and encourage others to share their opinions, but I certainly like to hear them better if they are in accordance with my own. And a certain piece of me is scared to say it, but I sometimes see some members the other party as heartless or ignorant, depending on the person of course. Perhaps it is the generation to which I belong. The majority of the people I speak to are my peers, and they are not necessarily sure why they believe what they do, or if they believe anything at all. There is a great amount of apathy among us. And while I know my values, I know I have a lot more to learn about policies and politicians.

I'm not sure if other generations have experienced this, but I believe most of my peers do not trust the government. The apathy is a product of distrust, of failed activism, and a belief that it takes more than one person to make a change. And, it's also a product of pure laziness. We live in a society and time where everything is handed to many of us, where we take our rights and material possessions for granted. 9/11 was a defining moment for some of us because it was the first time our lives were threatened. For others, it was not, because so many in my generation do not care about things if they are not directly affected by them, which is extremely sad.

I feel lucky to have been educated about politics and values enough to be able to defend, and challenge, my own beliefs. What scares me, with an election around the corner, are the people who vote without so much as reading basic info on the candidates. One of my friends, during the Bush/Gore election, told me that she voted for Bush because her boyfriend told her to. I dated a guy who went to vote Republican JUST to cancel my vote out - that didn't last long. People do not even value their own vote, maybe because they feel it is useless. But I encourage people to be educated. If we have servicemen and women risking their lives for our freedom, the least we can do is read an article or two to cast our vote respectfully.

Enough of the political tyrant in me...basically, I just am intrigued by how our political ideals and values are developed. I hope, one day with my future family, I can raise tolerant children that are not apathetic or overly stubborn. Luckily, that's far enough away that I have some time to contemplate how to go about that. :)

Libby Plowman