January 15, 2014

I Used to be a Type A, Now I’m Just “B”ing.


We can choose to balance hard work with mindfulness, presence and joy. It is, for many of us, the work of a lifetime to unlearn what we’ve been taught, to learn a new definition of “success.”

Recently, an article came through my Facebook feed. It was titled16 Signs You’re A Little (Or A Lot) Type A.

I had to look, because at one time I not only was a “Type A,” and I was really, really proud of it. (In my defense, I was raised in a really competitive world, and came of age at a time when success, particularly in business, was worshipped).

I was thrilled to discover that I’m no longer a  “Type A.” I’m maybe not even a “B” these days. I’m, like, some kind of aging slacker.

The thing is we still live in a society in which speed, monetary success and all that comes with it are hard-wired into our Puritan psyches. We are not a culture of leisurely meals, afternoon siestas or long Sunday walks; we are all about “you snooze, you lose.”

We teach that to our children, often out of genuine concern for their well-being. “It’s okay to be a dreamer, to be an artist/musician/inventor/writer” we say “but you still have to get the grades in calculus and play a team sport or you won’t be able to get into a good school, get a good job and have a good life.”

There’s nothing wrong with a strong work ethic; hard work is good. It’s essential for our mental health and the health of society.

But it’s not the only thing that matters. Human relationships matter, nature matters, and moments of deep rest and renewal matter.

We can choose to balance hard work with mindfulness, presence and joy. It is, for many of us, the work of a lifetime to unlearn what we’ve been taught, to learn a new definition of “success.” It feels a little like unilateral disarmament to let go of the need for speed and the illusion of control while the rest of the world keeps pacing, fuming and fretting.

Below are the “16 signs” listed in the Huffington Post piece and my reactions—many of which are radically different than they would have been five years ago. See how you answer, think about it, maybe notice that little voice that says “Awesome, I’m a ‘Type A!’”

Consider this: no matter where you start, when you work towards balance, you will lose nothing and gain everything. If you’re really lucky, you might hit fifty happy just to “B.”

Waiting in long lines kills you a little bit inside.

Nope. Not at all. Not even a little. I notice my surroundings, people-watch, or read my book. I strike up conversations with total strangers. I send funny texts to friends.

You bite your nails or grind your teeth.

I do grind my teeth, but that’s because I’m crazy, which is a totally separate issue for another day.

You have a serious phobia of wasting time.

Holy smokes no! A thousand times no! I used to feel guilty if I wasn’t doing anything productive (meaning that someone else would think it was productive). These days I revel in un-planned swathes of time. When I’m working, I’m working hard. When I’m not…ideas come, dreams expand, and naps happen.

You’re highly conscientious.

Well, yes. Because I’m an oldest child and my parents were Catholic and Jewish. Not my fault, and totally okay with The Dalai Lama. I checked.

You’ve always been a bit of a catastrophist.

Not any more. As a result, I grind my teeth less and less.

You frequently talk over and interrupt people.

I used to, but now I don’t. It’s really impossible to be present with someone and also deny them the time to express themselves fully. Unless I am on fire and the person is slowly telling me how to find the nearest water source, I have all the time in the world. And I’m never, ever sorry I let anyone roll out thoughts at their own pace.

You have a hard time falling asleep at night.

Not any more!

People can’t keep up with you—in conversation or on the sidewalk.

Another “not any more.” I used to take great pride in my speed, and be a little judgy about folks who couldn’t keep up. These days it seems kind of pointless to speak with someone in such a way that they can’t understand me. I also can’t walk as fast as I used to.

You put more energy into your career than your relationships.

This one I never did. For which I am eternally grateful.

Relaxing can be hard work for you.

Yes, but I’m working on it. In a very relaxed way.

You have a low tolerance for incompetence.

I did, but I don’t. I actually used to call peoples’ managers to explain that an employee had failed in every possible way. These days, when I catch myself huffing and tapping my fingers I make it a point to be extra nice to the person who screwed up. We are all happier.

You’d be lost without your to-do list.

Yeah, well, we can’t change everything all at once……

At work, everything is urgent.

I fixed it! If no one is in imminent danger of death, I can take a deep breath and get calm. Everything always gets done if it needs to get done, and my blood pressure stays normal.

You’re sensitive to stress.

Yes, because I hear whistles only dogs can hear. It turns out, though, that this can be channeled into writing, which is hard and satisfying work, which is good.

You make it happen.

I can. And if it’s important beyond my little bubble, if it makes the world a better place, I do. If it’s just showing off or boosting my ego in some other way, I try to walk away and save the juice for things that matter. I’m learning to trust my intuition on this stuff, and to figure out whether it feels right and gives me energy or feels like one more damned thing and makes me hate everybody.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Celestine Chua on Flickr


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