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On Balance

Posted Dec 29 2008 4:56pm

I took last week off, not just from blogging but also from e-mail, grading, presentation planning, and everything else save my personal life.  It was lovely.

I spent time with my husband, our two daughters, and our extended families and friends.  We sang Christmas carols, went to a Trail of Lights, cooked and ate fabulous food, read books, carved stone, and played lots of games.  The last time I took more than two consecutive days off from work was about a year ago, and before that it had been almost a year and a half.

I also spent some time with a number of youth in my family and among my friends.  Here is where my holiday ruminations led me: Teenagers often fall into one of two categories: The Overachievers and The Underachievers.  Neither of these extremes are really good or happy places to be.  Of course, we all tend to fall along this continuum somewhere, but teenagers seem to be more extreme in their placement along it than the rest of us.

The Overachieving teenagers drive themselves absolutely in all things scholastic and extracurricular, and this trend is getting worse.  My husband, who is older than me, was talking about a friend of his in high school who was an Overachiever.  He absolutely had to make all A’s.  By the time I was in high school, making all A’s just wasn’t enough.  You also had to have a long list of extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, and at least a few years of solid foreign language classes.  Now, of course, teenagers “have” to do even more - they need to show leadership in at least a few of their extracurricular activities, foreign language fluency (or at least conversational ability), travel experience, perfect SAT or ACT scores, and a list of high scoring SAT IIs and AP tests.  We continue to turn the screw tighter and tighter - and the Overachieving teenagers are entering the ranks of the sleep deprived, foregoing a true social or family life, and learning less and less about life balance.  The problem with this scenario is that American society has not yet fully acknowledged that being completely out of balance doesn’t really help individuals find happiness and success in the long run.

The Underachievers have the opposite problem.  They look at what it takes to be an Overachiever and decide to decline that life path.  Far too often these young people are looked down on - their older relatives ask, “What went wrong?” and remark, “So much potential wasted!”  But really I’m not sure this is a more problematic path than that of the Overachiever, because neither of them have found a balance in their lives.

I know that I don’t always have enough balance in my life.  I tend to lean towards the Overacheiver.  My husband tries to remind me about this at opportune moments by saying things along the lines of: “It’s almost bedtime.  Close your computer and come play a game while the kids are still awake.” and “I see you haven’t eaten lunch today.  What can I make for you?”  It’s good for me, this reminder to slow down and enjoy the passage of life.  It was good to take 9 days off from work.

I hope your holidays were as lovely and relaxing as mine.  I’m getting ready to start back full-force again, and I have lots of exciting things coming up in the new year - including a presentation at an international women’s conference, a presentation at SXSW Interactive, my new website The Belly Project, a part in a soon-to-be-released documentary movie, and maybe some other fun things too.  I’ll be giving you more information on all of these things soon!

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