"No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined."
-Harry Emerson Fosdick
“My mother drew a distinction between achievement and success. She said that achievement is the knowledge that you have studied and worked hard and done the best that is in you. Success is being praised by others, and that’s nice, too, but not as important or satisfying. Always aim for achievement and forget about success.”
"One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again."
- Abraham Maslow
I went out for breakfast this weekend. At a nearby table sat a party of three: a man who appeared to be in his late thirties, and two boys who appeared to be about six and eight. From their conversation, I gathered that he was a divorced/separated dad who had the kids for the day. They talked about what they did “last weekend,” what they were going to do “next weekend,” and he referred to the kids’ mom as “your mother.”
When their food arrived at the table, I was rather surprised. There were platters of eggs and sausages, piles of potatoes, a large plate of hotcakes, a bowl of fruit salad, a stack of toast with a basket of jellies - far too much food for one man and two small boys to eat. And indeed, the boys barely made a dent - a few bites of eggs, half a sausage link, part of a piece of toast, and they were done. They got up, paid the bill, and left behind a table full of food that would have fed another party of three or more.
I inwardly recoiled at the waste. My mom was one of eight kids, and my dad one of five, and while they weren’t exactly poor growing up, money was always tight. You didn’t waste. If something was broken, you fixed it, and if something was torn, you mended it. You finished the job, whatever it was, and that included cleaning your plate. I remember when I was little and we went to restaurants, we had to finish our meal, because “we’re paying for that.” Many times I was full and wanted to stop, but was encouraged to eat past fullness by my thrifty parents.
Don’t get me wrong; my parents are good people, and they love me. But forcing me to be part of the “clean plate club” has had a lasting effect on me. I have to make a conscious effort not to eat past fullness, to not finish a too-large portion of food so it “doesn’t go to waste.” (I tell myself that the extra, unneeded calories are more wasteful to my health than the uneaten food). I also have a bit of a hoarding problem - not as bad as the shows you see on television, but there’s a lot of extra clutter around that I should get rid of. I’m trying to shake the idea that “I paid good money for that, and so I have to keep it forever.”
The “finish the job” mentality in our family extended to projects and homework. You weren’t done until you were done, no matter how long it took. I think some of my perfectionistic tendencies might be rooted in this, along with some of my procrastination. I have trouble with long-term projects; “do a little each day,” people say, but I become frustrated at the lack of closure. I feel I should sit down, and stick with the job till it’s done - but you can’t write a dissertation in one sitting. (At least I can’t!)
We can’t blame our past for our problems, but it’s important to reflect and gain insights into why we are the way we are. And watching this little family eat breakfast taught me some things about myself.