I’ve always wanted to be a more conscientious person — the kind of rabbit who sends “thank you” cards when someone’s done him a good turn; or surprises his friends, neighbors, and regular acquaintances with a thoughtful gift on a birthday or holiday; someone who remembers the names of coworkers’ children or pets, and asks after their well-being. I like the idea of making these small gestures a regular part of my life so that kindness and generosity are easy to reach for instead of, well, a major undertaking.
I’d like to have my projects lined up neatly, with clear, small, reachable goals ready for me every morning and a clear sense of progress towards completion every evening. I want to set up a fairly steady schedule that’s still filled with enough variety I won’t get bored of it. It would be nice to call an audible on a project I’m feeling stuck with so I can pivot to some other story and work on that. It might be procrastination, but it would be much more productive procrastination.
I want to have a home filled with only the things I love and use on a regular basis, and to be more careful about the things I’ll let into that space. I want to have a place for everything, and for everything to be in its proper place. I don’t mind if I have a small and cozy space, but I don’t want to lose things under mountains of other items I have no idea what to do with.
None of these things seem to be in the cards for me because my mind just doesn’t work that way. I can make progress on things for a day or two before the energy runs out and I fall back into the pit of bad habits, guilt, and frustration. I can set up reminders for important dates and still space out on preparing a gift so that all I have is a friendly, whole-hearted wish for a happy birthday. My space is cluttered as hell, filled with the detritus of whatever new system or idea I’ve thought up to make my life a little better.
As I get older, I’ve pivoted a little from the idea that self-improvement is a never-ending journey towards reaching an idealized vision. It’s more just accepting what you have to work with, the limitations that come with that, and learning to work with yourself to do what you can.
I don’t think I’ll ever be Ted Lasso, getting up to perfect a shortbread cookie recipe so I can deliver them to my boss every morning. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to manage a daily habit. And I’m not sure my spaces are ever going to be completely free of clutter. Those are ideals that this mere mortal won’t be achieving in this lifetime.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a little more like Ted Lasso, baking cookies once a month to share with my friends and colleagues. I can make sure that I meditate and write more often than I don’t, and even string together some pretty impressive week-long streaks along the way. And I can take tiny steps towards a neater space, making sure I find a “forever home” for at least one or two things on my desk whenever I sit down to get things done.
There is a little perfectionist inside of me that will never let me be content with these small wins, but I can make friends with him too. I imagine it will be a constant negotiation, a way to practice setting my boundaries. “I can’t do this, but I can at least manage this other thing.” I’ll always feel guilty about the things I’ll never manage, but I can turn that guilt into motivation to keep trying.
Maybe that’s just how I’ll have to carve out a bit of happiness — accepting the desire will never go away, that I’ll never be able to achieve those desires, and that life is a balancing act between desiring less and doing more. Small wins, after all, are still wins.