Diane & Frank, September 1961
If there was one thing Dad wished to instill in his kids (after love, family, God, all of that nice gooey stuff), it was how to achieve a sense of accomplishment. He was relentless, often talking about the killer instinct, going for the goal no matter what. None of us really bought into it. He’d spent too much time teaching us about love, forgiveness, family, friends, God and all the other gooey stuff. But, it occurs to me, all of these years later, that those words didn’t fall on deaf ears.
Dad didn’t want us to settle for mediocrity or second-best. If we were going to play an instrument, we practiced … and practiced and practiced. He had high expectations for our school work. If the report card was filled with A’s, he asked about A+’s. He might have sounded as if he were kidding, but he wasn’t. When my friends were getting monetary rewards for their report cards, I asked why I didn’t. His response was that he wasn’t about to pay me for doing the right thing. Well … darn.
He refused to let us quit … easily. He said more often than not, that he wasn’t raising a bunch of quitters. We weren’t allowed to start something and stop the moment it got difficult. No, we pressed on, worked through the difficulty, kept at it an appropriate amount of time and if at the end of all of that, we decided it wasn’t something we wanted to do, we finished. We never stopped in the middle of a project or activity. We had responsibilities to the others who were part of that activity. Oh, and by the way, just because we might have decided that we weren’t going to do this particular thing ever again, we didn’t have the option of giving it a half-baked response. We were expected to excel … or at least try our hardest … until we were finished.
I spent most of yesterday putting a new computer together, downloading my life from the cloud, arranging everything so that it was just perfect, on and on. Add to that the fact that for the three nights previous, I’d gotten no more than 3-4 hours of sleep each night because I was awake early in order to be alert for a probable (oh, they failed me miserably) FedEx delivery (of that same computer), and you had a completely exhausted girl. I mean … exhausted to the point of pure silliness.
At the end of December, I wrote a post about my challenges / goals for 2015. I created a schedule that seemed doable … not too difficult with all the other things I have going on. The first thing I committed to was writing 1000 words per day in the month of January. This would be the perfect month to do that. I’d still be excited about the commitment, I wanted to kick off the new year right, and that much writing would give me a great push for the year’s writing goals.
Last night I didn’t have it in me. I was done in and nothing creative was floating around in my brain. I’d finished a short story the night before, I’d sent a different short story out to my beta readers the day before. I felt like I’d accomplished enough. It was time to rest and allow my body to recuperate with some sleep.
I went to bed. And I read a little bit. Then I tossed and I turned. And I tossed and turned some more. That 1000 word commitment kept floating around in my mind. I tried to tell myself that it was okay – I could write an extra thousand words the next day. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I’d set a goal. I’d challenged myself to stay on task and if I gave in one day, I’d feel free to give in another day.
When a mouse sprung a trap and startled both TB and myself out of bed, I knew that I couldn’t go back and try to sleep without at least attempting to write. I dealt with the mouse, put slippers on my feet and a sweater over my nightgown and sat down at the computer. I wrote the next scene. It wasn’t 1000 words – only 903, but that was close enough. I considered feeling guilty about shorting myself – but that was pushing the limit a bit too much – even for me.
My brother and sister do exactly the same thing … in their own ways. It’s sometimes frustrating for us to not be able to give up easily, but in the long run, we always know we are doing the right thing … even if no one else notices.
Dad’s tenacious commitment to excellence, finishing a task, and competing against whatever bar has been set was one that might have seemed difficult to emulate, but on the other side of that was his verbal acknowledgement that he was proud of us. We never had to question that.
If you wonder why I keep going when I could relax and take a break, this is the way I was raised and it makes me happy to know that I don’t quit or give up. Dad doesn’t have to push me – I push myself. I was up a bit later than I’d expected last night, but it was pretty satisfying to put my head back down on the pillow and know that I’d not failed myself.