So my mom recently sent me an email in which a family friend praised my stepfather for his devotion to superior craftsmanship, and mentioned to me that she thought this might give me an alternative perspective from which to view the man. I wrote back that I was well aware that my stepdad was a perfectionist, and that his consistent pursuit of quality didn’t give him free license to be a buttface in his personal life.
There is a lot to be admired about someone who refuses to half-ass something. It’s just that you don’t have to be an asshole to whole-ass. There are a lot of people I know — my wife, for example — who refuse to give in to mediocrity while still managing to be sensitive toward other people and the worth economy.
That’s kind of a tangent, though. The point here is that I kind of tried to think about my life and my stepdad, and see if there was anything that I got out of living with him that I valued. I came to a startling realization that has affected the way I think somewhat.
My mom and I used to joke to ourselves that my stepdad’s bad attitude was “an example to push against” — in other words, I could use his grumpiness not as an indicator of how I should act, but as an indicator of how I shouldn’t act. And while I know that I can be a grumpy little buttface myself from time to time, by and large, I do my best to check myself every time I recognize that I’ve fallen into his example.
But then I realized that there were some things that my stepdad said and did that I was pushing against…that were actually pretty valuable, all things considered. For example, my mother was a very seat-of-her-pants kind of gal. We had all kinds of silly spontaneous adventures, and we treasured that level of off-the-cuffness. My stepfather lived by the mantra: “Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.”
I realized as I meditated upon my life with him, that I’ve largely been pushing against that example. I’ve kind of deliberately tried NOT to plan things out, neither in the long-term, five-year-plan kind of way, nor in the immediate, day-to-day sense. I feel like I thrive on spontaneity, like the flexibility of not being locked into a given route is freedom, and like planning takes too much time and mental energy for the value it gives.
Needless to say, I realized that that’s some pretty stupid shit.
Let me give you an example: for the past few months, we’ve been tracking our grocery bills. Some months, we sit down and plan out some or all of our meals a week or two in advance. Others, we make whatever comes to mind on a meal-by-meal basis.
During the months that we don’t plan ahead, two things happen. First, we actually eat a lower quality of food (and a lesser variety of food!). Second, we spend $200 more per month on the lower quality food that we eat, because we go out and buy things at the last minute and in small amounts, instead of buying them when they’re on sale and in bulk.
For people who live as hand-to-mouth as we do, $200 is HUGE!
And yet, every time we get to the meal planning part of our first-week-of-the-month, I rebel. I mean, I participate, but it’s difficult. I usually end up playing a game on my computer while we plan — it’s like my brain just hates to sit down and think hard about the future.
And yet, my stepfather’s words ring true: I know from experience that proper prior planning does in fact prevent piss poor performance. I just haven’t been acknowledging that. I’ve been pushing against his example in the wrong way; failing to take the good part of his lessons into account, and throwing the baby out with the metaphorical bathwater.
This, of course, affects my wife and child as well as myself. There are days, because of my lack of planning, that my son ends up wearing a pair of pants to school that he’s already worn. Sure, I’ll wash pants, but I do it spontaneously! Sometimes, I wash pants that are too small, too big, torn, whatever might be wrong — because I don’t plan his outfits ahead of time.
Fortunately, as I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve read this book by T. Harv Ecker, who tells us not just that we can examine our past to find the source of the beliefs we hold that are holding us back — but he also points out that we don’t have to fight those beliefs. A lot of times, you hear people — especially the neurotic types — talking about how their childhoods are holding them back or whatever. But the truth is that you can totally Zen that shit and just let it go. This is water. This is water.
I’m letting go, right here today, of the belief that planning is associated with bring a grumpy, forcing-everyone-around-you-to-walk-on-eggshells, people-are-unwelcome-interruptions buttface. After all, I have plenty of contrary examples. My mother-in-law. My wife. My stepbrother, my cousin, my former Bishop…the list is long, and the fact that I’ve never questioned this ingrained assumption before baffles me.
So: No longer do I believe that planning ahead is going to turn me into a Randian Objectivist butt. Instead, I’m letting that go and accepting the fact that proper prior planning does in fact prevent poor performance. Of course, that also means you have to stick to the plan, and follow it…which I’m clearly still working on, seeing as I haven’t posted to this nice weekly blog in what…16 days now?
Ah, well. Past sins behind, moving forward — and planning my steps this time. Maybe if I can get this AND the ‘not a dick to my kid’ thing going at the same time, I can keep him from ‘learning’ the same lesson I did from my stepfather. That’s a goal worth striving for.