Breaking Up with “Doing My Best”

Aim High!
Give it 110%!
You can do anything!
Reach for the stars!

But I ask you this: what’s wrong with aiming no higher than personal satisfaction? Or giving it a percentage that mathematically exists? Or recognizing that yes, you might be able to do anything, but do you really want to? Or seeing that reaching for the stars is a bit overkill?

I’m taking you in this direction for a reason, so just bear with me for the next few paragraphs.

This past week, thanks to the creativity of my Supermom and my own get-up-and-go-ness, I have embarked on a little project for the neighborhood kiddos whom I enjoy so much (read the previous post for more details).

Since they adore hanging out at my house, either coloring, reading, or playing games, I figured why not turn my home into a little playhouse of sorts? Well, to do this would be great, but I have no books (the ones they read last time belong to a school), a short order of art supplies, and limited games (aside from the ones made out of throwaway items).

Soooo, the idea is that we will sit together and design and decorate bookmarks. These will all be very unique, particularly considering the children range from ages 4-15. After they make a zillion gajillion bookmarks, we will have them laminated and tasseled, and then when my sister comes in October to visit, she will take them back to the States and give them to my mom who will then sell them for whatever people are willing to give. All of the proceeds would then come back to setup the playhouse, where kids can come and do activities that they normally don’t get to do in their own homes.

So that’s the plan. We had our first and second bookmark making sessions this week and they were both a success.

Success? Did she just say success? Martha Stuart would be rolling over in her grave if she heard that and if she had one. To start, the first day I didn’t provide appropriate cardstock or art supplies to make the bookmarks, so we just used regular typing paper and markers. I didn’t really show them any special way to make the bookmarks look professional and artistic; I just gave them a few ground rules and said “Go For It.” The second day I did obtain cardstock, but the crayons were too thick and the markers too few.

Nevertheless, between ten and twelve children joyfully made 58 bookmarks this week, and they can’t wait to come back and do it again. And I had fun, too! See the pictures attached.

(If you want to place an order, please leave a comment on my blog saying, “I want, I want!” And I will figure out a way to send some to you; but you won’t receive them till November!)

But after they left my house, I kept hearing the fiendish little voice from the Ghost of Julie Past haranguing in my head,

You could have done better. You didn’t try very hard to find the right cardstock or coloring materials. You’re kind of doing a half-ass job of this. Everyone’s going to tell you this could be really big, but you don’t really want it to get that big. That sounds like a lot of work. What’s wrong with you? Why are you so unambitious? Why don’t you want to make it better and more professional and more successful? You know you can do better and not be so half-hearted about it. Don’t you care about the kids? Don’t you want the most for them?

And during this episode of psychotic self-beratement, I stopped dead in my mental tracks and thought, “Julie! Shush!” I know, I know…not a deep thought. But the subsequent thoughts kind of were. I started questioning why I felt so bad about doing something good in the first place. It shouldn’t be that way. I should feel proud of what I’m doing, not guilty for not doing enough.

AHA! That was it! …not doing enough. Not good enough. Not working hard enough. ENOUGH! Western culture is constantly pushing the idea that one can always improve, which isn’t in itself a bad thing. But it doesn’t stop there. We are also told that not only can we improve, but that we should improve. That we should not settle. We can always work harder, be happier, be wealthier, be thinner, be stronger, do better, and all those other irritating “-er” words.

Why can’t we just be who we are? By believing we should always seek to “do better,” many of us assume therefore that we must not be good enough as we are.

I am finding a lot about myself here, particularly in terms of balance. I’m not a person who enjoys or functions well on stress and high expectations (particularly the self-inflicted sort). I gather many people aren’t. Ironically, that’s how I’ve spent much of my life. And I’ve made the mistake too many times of quitting or not even starting something because I didn’t think I’d be good enough at it, or because I knew I wouldn’t be willing to put in the effort – the 110% it would take – to be exceptional. You can see how this kind of logic actually works against a person.

So with this bookmark project I realized I had three choices:

1. Quit and not do it at all because I know good-and-well that I don’t have the energy or desire to turn this into a entrepreneurial escapade resulting in a fully equipped play center with a multimedia library, a laser tag venue, an art studio, and an inflatable castle.
2. Continue the project the way I’m doing it, with a few improvements here and there, as I feel comfortable doing, balancing my own desires and drives, yet all the while feeling guilty and ashamed for not “reaching for the stars” and only giving my 65%.
3. Continue the project the way I’m doing it, with a few improvements here and there, as I feel comfortable doing, balancing my own desires and drives, and all the while feeling good that the kids can come over and be excited and proud of their work, and even make a little money from it, despite me only giving my 65%.

“But,” you ask, “wouldn’t the kids be more proud and more excited if they had better materials and a more prepared teacher, willing to go the extra mile to make these bookmarks look like they came out of Barnes and Noble?” Probably. “But, Julie!” you exclaim, “It would be so easy to turn this thing into something really successful if you just dedicated more of yourself to it!” Probably. But that would be at the expense of me and my time/energy expenditure allotment. I just want everyone to have fun with this and see where it goes. It’s just that simple. No stress, just good times.

I know that in order to be at peace with myself, I need to live in balance, both literally and mentally. If I don’t, I’ll just end up quitting or crying or both. Not pretty. I’m not saying never try to improve or never work hard. Not at all. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t put out great effort. I’m just saying that it helps to know what your priorities are and to not beat yourself up for having to prioritize in the first place. I can’t (no do I want to) give everything my all, and I’m finally learning that feeling guilty about that is highly counterproductive.

Sometimes reaching for the stars burns you. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you actually doesn’t make you stronger, it might really end up killing you. And sometimes you freeze and end up doing nothing because you’ve been told you can do anything. So I’m peacefully pleased to be starting this humble little bookmark venture, seeing where it goes, and enjoying each moment of it with the kids. And that’s good enough for me.


29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Aunt Suzanne
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 14:58:33

    Julie, just keep doing what you are doing, and listen to your heart. Our God is speaking to your heart and He will supply you with your needs. Love is what it is all about.

    I am sure there are so many that would like to provide you with supplies and more books, if we only knew how to get them to you.

    Love & prayers,
    Aunt Suzanne


    • Julie
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:45:13

      Thanks, Aunt Suzanne! Unfortunately, there will be no more of sending me things because I have yet to receive the last six packages and letters sent. I’d like to think they got “lost” but it’s more likely that someone else is enjoying the contents of them. I’ve heard that sending things through a private carrier like FEDEX, UPS or DHL is better, but I’m still hesitant. If you’re still interested, I will send you my address.
      Much love, and thanks for always being such a positive and supportive reader!


  2. Steven Fulmer
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 15:03:55

    Count me in, I’ll take a couple. May I repost this article in my blog?


    • Julie
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:47:21

      Great, Steven! I will reserve some for you! And of COURSE you can repost this! Anytime you like; you don’t even have to ask! Thanks for helping me be the person I am today. I fully support you in all your good work. Love, Julie


  3. Annie Otley
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 15:22:36

    Julie- look at the smiles on the children’s faces! They are having so much fun! Also, I love you just the way you are.


  4. Lula Chance
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 16:28:25

    Hi Julie, You may remember me from what I do for your Dad at ForesTel. I am such a fan of yours and feel you deeply as do, I am most positive and probably more so, your family! I want to send you a book titled, Power of Now. I read it a few years ago while struggling with some of the same questions that you are haveing and it has completely changed me. What is your address?

    ps, I’ll probably include another called “The New Earth.” Both are excellent.

    btw, I would love to have a bookmark!

    I am sending LOVE to you because, THAT IS ALL THERE IS!

    Your fan, Lula Chance


    • Julie
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 17:52:20

      Lula, you are incredible! Thanks for the response and for reading my blog! It’s so funny because a friend of mine here already gave me A New Earth to read (though I’d read it before), and I’ve already enjoyed the Power of Now! I’ve also read Stillness Speaks, so I think I’ve got Eckhart Tolle covered! I’m just reading Adyashanti’s new book, Falling into Grace, which is equally amazing.
      And I would love to have you send another book of awesomeness, but unfortunately I haven’t been receiving packages recently, so I don’t want people to bother sending anymore because I fear it will be a waste of everyone’s time and money. 😦 But I really appreciate the thought, and I will definitely send you a bookmark!
      Much love, and thank you again for your positive energy.


  5. Julie Surface Johnson
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:51:16

    Julie, Yes! Great thoughts!! And I’d love four bookmarks, one for each of my grandchildren!


    • Julie
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 18:55:49

      Wonderful! Four will be reserved for you! I’m laminating the first batch this weekend, but can’t send them back Stateside until November! Just in time for Christmas! Thanks, as always, for your support and comments, Julie!
      Love, your legacy-carrier, Julie!


  6. Dallas
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 23:16:22

    Lovely Julie. Once again, thank you sharing your experiences and personal growth. I will take some bookmarks if they are available.


  7. Sara Ware
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 05:35:14

    Julie, this is a great idea and I would would to get 4 of your students’ bookmarks! You are doing such great work!
    Sara Ware


  8. Kari Misegades
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 07:08:14

    You are so wise. Love is where we are to put forth our effort…and that’s what you are doing with these beautiful children. Love is all…and you get it.
    Grateful it is YOU there! Thank you for sharing your amazing love that you give so freely.
    Have fun!
    and I want, I want,
    Kari Misegades


  9. Carrie
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 16:25:07

    Julie- I definitely am interested in some bookmarks. In the meantime though, is there anyway to send a care package to you with supplies for the kids? Would you be interested in making a wishlist for us all? We’re all back here in the land of shopping as a pastime & incredible thrift store deals. Even with my student salary I think I could afford to send some books and art supplies…How is it to get mail from the states?


    • Julie
      Aug 20, 2011 @ 21:01:00

      Oh Carrie, that’s so sweet and awesome of you! I’ll definitely get some bookmarks to you! As far as sending things to us here…well, as I’ve been telling people, it’s not a good idea. I have SIX packages and letters sent between April and July that still haven’t come to me. I’m pretty sure they have been opened and the contents distributed by some really ethical postal workers. So I’m pretty much advising people not to waste their time and money. It’s sad, really. Some friends have told me that if you send something through DHL or FedEx, things will actually get to me, but I imagine that’s quite a bit more costly. I will post my address on my blog soon, and tell people this info, as several people now have mentioned wanting to send things for the kids. Thanks so much for your support!! I hope everything is going really well for you! Peace, Julie


  10. Carolyn
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 01:45:24

    I want! I want! And I miss you and love love love triple quadruple quintuple infinity times.


  11. Anonymous
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 02:13:54

    Your recent post contains so many important messages. I hear so much love!!
    You are beautiful! Keep on shining your light!!
    XOXO, Kris


  12. megan
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 15:08:47

    Julie, this project is such a good idea and the fact that you are in AFRICA, and helping Children and thinking of new and creative experiences for them as well as the rest of us only continues to show that you give 110%(even if it doesn’t exist mathematically:)
    This post is amazing and helped me a lot with my own issues. Here I am sitting in America with this brand new school in a building which has been inspected by the city officials and parents and kids and I still worry at night about buying more things, more materials, making it better… why isn’t it enough?? And here you are engaging children with limited materials in your own home and they are using their hands, repeating their work, being independent, concentrating and most of all SMILING and asking to do it again!! You have succeeded. And we will figure out how to get packages to you.
    A thought: how much is your sister willing to take if I pay for a piece of extra baggage? I could ship something to her…
    My rambling point is, you’re awesome and I am thankful each day that I had the random opportunity to live with you and know you.


    • Julie
      Aug 22, 2011 @ 20:09:22

      Oh, MEGAN!! Thanks so so much! You made my day! You know I admire you so much, too! What you’re doing is so amazing and its just fascinating to me how different and similar our situations are! I think it’s easier here to help children have fun and do *work* (in the Montessori sense) because they don’t have nearly as many options as our kids in the States. Much more will keep them concentrated and joyful for much longer because so much of it is new. Our kids are exposed to so much, which gives them choice and comparisons. Each has its pros and cons! I don’t think my sister can take much else because she’s probably flying stanby (meaning no checked luggage), but I’ll as her. Take good care, girl, and best of luck in your first year at your school! Love, Julie
      Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN


  13. Schanell
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 06:59:23

    great post! you are amazing and I love your perspective on this.


  14. Carrie
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 06:27:43

    I think you totally have the right attitude, Julie. Life is just too short to do things that wear you down — especially when you already have so many things to deal with in Nigeria. Doing hard work that makes you feel great is one thing, but If something good is giving you more stress than enjoyment or fulfillment, then there’s something wrong. That’s my philosophy, anyway, and I think it’s true in a lot of areas of life. love, l.s.


  15. Jenny Fawson
    Sep 10, 2011 @ 17:40:01

    This makes SO MUCH SENSE, Julie! We’re all under so much pressure – culturally, socially and from ourselves – to over achieve all the time. It’s exhausting. And is why so many of us need to see therapists to try to sort our tired and messed up heads out – we’re expecting way too much, and being satisfied with ‘Good enough’ feels utterly sinful and wrong (imagine the reaction if you said all of this to a prospective employer during an interview!). When I get home, I’m going to print this post out and stick it above my desk. Thank you x


  16. Trackback: The Bookmark Project, and Your Own Dreams. « Betta Dey for Okra Soup

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