Recovering Type-A

One of the most driven and talented women that I know posted an article link on Facebook, “11 Things Every Type-A Person Wants You to Know.” I clicked the link, interested and nervous to see what generalizations, exaggerations and oversimplifications I would find. This was the list:

  1. We’re not impatient, just efficient.
  2. Arriving late to anything is agonizing.
  3. We live by to-do lists.
  4. Each task we’re assigned to is urgent.
  5. We’re extremely goal-oriented.
  6. It’s hard for us to relax.
  7. We get stressed our easily.
  8. We have nervous habits.
  9. We’re emotional.
  10. We’re constantly ruminating over something.
  11. We have a competitive side.

When I read the list the first time, I actually felt remarkably less Type-A. Maybe not less Type-A than most people, but less Type-A than I used to be.

You see, I recognize that I fit nearly all of those statements. But as I’ve gotten older and wiser I feel like I’ve been able to learn how to channel the positive attributes and reduce (but not eliminate) the negative impact of the harmful ones.

I am extremely goal-oriented and competitive. I can make anything a game and in games themselves, I can be a little motivated to come in first. I ran track for five years not because I like to run (I hate to run, really) but because I love to win. Heck, even now I set a goal of 2.5 posts per week on this blog and you better believe that I check my week-to-week views to see if I’m making improvement. 

But at this point, the goal is to make sure I reward myself with a hobby and the person I am trying to beat is myself.

And in terms of the potentially negative attributes — inability to relax, stressed out, ruminating constantly — being married to an easy going guy for 20-years has helped smooth out the rough spots. He makes me take vacation, helps me unwind over the weekend and reminds me that it will all get done…somehow. Years of seeing that the world did not end, the sun rose again and stressful times were endured helps. When I was young and thought that my success or failure would be the difference in the world’s success or failure, I didn’t realize how truly insignificant I was. 

It came to a head for me when I was pregnant with my second child.

At about 32 weeks, I went into labor. Not fake labor, real labor with real contractions. We went to the hospital and they were able to stop it, but the conversation with my OB/GYN was hard. The same thing had happened with my first pregnancy and I had ended up on bed rest for five weeks. Five weeks. I’m still not sure how I did it, except I had to, so I did. But I looked at my OB and asked her, begged her, “Is there anything we can do so I don’t have to be on bed rest?”

She knew me, the person I am and the way I operate. She paused and we just looked at each other for a long moment. Then she said, “We can try a limited work schedule and see if that works. Six hours a day. If you have another incident, bed rest.”

At the time it sounded like a victory, but working six hours in a job where you — and others — routinely work twelve is harder than it sounds. Especially for a Type-A person. And one day, when I was pushing it a bit past the established boundaries, my boss’ boss came over to my cube and said, “Mel, aren’t you supposed to be out of here by now?”

I started to explain all of the important urgent work I was doing and that I was only a little bit over the timeframe and that after all everything was fine — I rationalized. He waited for me to pause and then patiently said, “Mel, they made cars the day Henry Ford died. Get the heck out of here.”

I remember that moment because I didn’t for a minute feel unvalued. I felt incredibly valued. Here was someone would knew me, my current health limitations and my personal tendencies, and was able to make the right action so obvious in a single sentence. We’ve got it here, do what is important to you. I went home that day, right then. And ever since I have been able to remember the lesson he taught me. I sometimes use that line (or variations) when I meet mini-Mels.

My friend, the Type-A who posted the link, is a pediatric surgeon. Her job really is life and death, and not just any lives but children’s lives. I’m not sure how she finds a way to balance out the harmful stuff.

Except I’ve seen the pictures on Facebook — she goes on some pretty amazing vacations.

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