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The Curse of Conscientious Completion


This morning, I woke up to a text from my dear friend Ann, asking if I’d read anything great lately. I actually had posed the same question to her a few weeks back because I knew she would have good suggestions. Ann is a wonderful reader and seems to find the time to read so much more than I ever do. Or she is a speed reader, in which case, I need to know what course she took because I will enroll yesterday!


Ann and I conversed on text a bit (she was actually writing from the Seychelles after summiting Kilimanjaro – she is also the most athletic person I know), and I became increasingly annoyed with myself for reading so little in comparison. You see, I know why I don’t – it’s because I have a horrible inner drive that commands me to complete all the things I “have” to do before I start anything I just want to do. And because I am conscientious to a fault and admittedly highly Type A, my list of “have to dos” is always way too long to complete with time for much else.


I am going to admit something fairly embarrassing now: I actually have a “to do” item on daily repeat which tells me to find an hour to read. It’s labeled as top priority. When I first added it, it worked pretty well as a reminder to take a break, but now, I ignore it most days. Sometime in the afternoon, I click the box that checks it off to the next day, while wishing I had figured out how to take the time.


We are in Colorado now, supposedly on semi-vacation (can you have home-based vacations if you don’t have an actual job?). We arrived four days ago, and today is the first time I have read anything since the plane ride. And that was while I was walking on a treadmill. Why? Well, I am trying to get our newly redone place fully unpacked (though it was 95% finished when I arrived), and of course there are the tasks that follow me anywhere like planning meals, paying bills, stocking the fridge, etc. And yes, I have found time to be active (of course) – I’ve hiked twice and played golf once. But inevitably, I run out of time before I get to the pleasure of reading. And reading is something I adore -- It’s like candy to me.


I don’t know why I don’t seem to be able to prioritize reading more. Or why I feel the compulsion to check off the “have to dos” that really don’t need to be completed that day. It’s so Calvinistic, as if I need to be punishingly productive to enjoy a reward. And why don’t I see reading as productive anyhow? Isn’t it learning and growing for the mind?


I know the “to do” list doesn’t really ever end, and I also know so much of what I try to accomplish today could easily be done tomorrow. Yet, that’s just not my nature. Ironically, my conscientious completion mentality is a quality that many friends say they admire, yet it’s actually one I truly wish I could let go of (at least a bit). I know I deserve relaxation time, but conscientiousness is a vicious circle: it feels like a betrayal to let any “should do” go in the service of pleasure.


Sadly, I have no solution to this conundrum – only the hope that if I keep reminding myself about it, I will shift gears more often. Wish me luck.

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