How I finally came to terms with a characteristic of mine that caused anxiety growing up.
When you’re an only child living with a single parent, it’s pretty much your problem if you want to keep on top of things.
I remember being about seven or eight when my mother told me that. In fact, she’d told me that not long after she mentioned she’d have to go in and have an angioplasty. She’d spend time on the bed or on the couch for a week or two afterward, and I was going to have to be independent if I wanted things to get done around the house. It was good advice because it got me thinking: how in the heck do I keep on top of things?
Around that time, and also while attending elementary school, I became acquainted with the idea of an agenda or planner. Part of it was childish vanity; I really liked my handwriting (these days I don’t generally feel that way) and part of it was giving my mom something easy to take a look at that I had worked on during the school day. Soon, however, I realized there was something fun and addictive about keeping track of how I used my time.
Well, that is until I found out one day that being a planning nerd was, well…nerdy.
I was probably in about sixth or seventh grade. I’d been sitting outside one recess with my planner when these girls came up to me and asked if I’d done my homework. I knew they were about to cause trouble because these were girls that never talked to me unless they had something nasty to say. I replied, “yes,” and then asked them to please go away.
One of the girls proceeded to hit the bottom of my planner; it hit me in the face, and then the whole thing ended up in a puddle. This was my life for the next few years: these girls, unfortunately, followed me to high school and did much of the same thing the first few years, but I managed to survive. I’d keep two or three notebooks at a time and kids would point and laugh. At one point my mother dragged me to see the doctor because she was mortified I’d developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I was eventually told I had. (I have actually managed to keep my OCD under control by changing some of my habits, which provides some impressive relief.) I also learned to make friends with like-minded kids; kids who cared about how well they did in school. (And I’m actually still very good friends with one of the kids I went to school with today — I actually had the chance to watch her get married!)
Organization and planning were also effective tools I took with me as I headed off to post-secondary — and that was definitely a whole other ball game compared to grade school. Throw in the fact you’re adding other responsibilities to keep track of and your organized mind goes into hyperdrive. But you learn and adapt, and hopefully you thrive.
Fast forward to today and I am probably at my most organized. I keep a bullet journal and everything in there is colour-coded. I have a second notebook I keep for meticulous daily lists. My husband has gone along for the ride and is 100% on board with my filing obsession. And it’s all worth it in the end: these days I’m paying my bills on time and I am able to keep track of my pretty busy life. This has also allowed me to divide up my time so that part of it is spent working while the other part is spent enjoying it. As for the ‘enjoyment’ part — well, that has taught me a really valuable lesson: just go with the flow, breathe, relax. It’s okay to take the time to enjoy what you’re doing — you don’t have to plan every last step. Time is the most precious commodity. You need to make the most of it.
I have a very good friend who left me with a great piece of advice my first year into journalism school: control what you can control. Since then his simple but very wise words, combined with all the planning I like to take on, has served me well.
So, I can absolutely say, it’s okay to be organized. I’m proud of it.
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