"Give it your all!" they say. "Give it your 110%!" they demand.
Look, I've been there. I've done the sleep-every-other-night, eat-Cambell's-Soup-at-Hand--cold!--while-speed-walking-to-class, shower-every-third-day routine. I hustled and bustled to graduate this school in order to get accepted into that school, and then graduated that school to accepted into this other school to graduate and get a job as soon as I possibly could.
And yes, school is a nice, safe place to tell someone to give it their 100%, or 110%, or 300% or whatever adults are telling kids to do these days. In school, teachers can tell students what to do, students can follow it to a tee and walk out with gold stars, unicorn stickers, and big, red "100%!" stamps all over their homework assignments.
What follows after graduation is a different story. In particular, when you're a teacher, a runner, or a self-proclaimed writer (yes, I am talking about myself in this blog post and in every post in this blog for that matter, damnit), no one is going to tell you that you've given it your 100%, OK, Good Job, You Can Go Home Now.
I mean sure, with tasks it's easy enough to know if you've done something completely wrong: you're a sandwich maker at a cafe and your boss just yelled at you for cutting the cucumbers into quarter-inch slices when he specifically told you to cut them into quarter-sized slices are you trying to run him out of business with all the extra cucumber slices you're practically giving away to customers what is this a soup kitchen for the needy?!; you're a copy runner and you just ran off 80 copies of the first page of an 80-page report instead of one copy of the entire report (again); you live alone and haven't done the dishes in 6 days and have resorted to searching kitchen drunk drawers for lost stashes of takeout chopsticks (something I'm completely making up off the top of my head, what? I've never done this before ha ha ha ha ha).
Yes, it's possible to do tasks completely wrong. Endeavors, as they shall henceforth be referred, unlike tasks, do not come with checklists or cheerleaders or screaming bosses or soft-spoken career counselors that tell you, Yes, You're Doing it Right or No, Slice Those Cucumbers Thinner.
Wait, what are endeavors?
Endeavors are those pesky, soul-churning "inspired" things that you unfortunately love and feel passionate about but are quite often reward-less, save for Likes on Facebook you manage to collect if you so choose to bare your soul on on social media or your own inkling that 'ya dun good, kid'. In my case, that'd be teaching, writing, and running. Now, don't confuse endeavors with the things you're necessarily good at (and if you are, then... says who? just kidding, don't doubt your self-confidence, more power to you). Endeavors are the things that you work really, really, really hard at even though there's no end in sight and even though you can fire off names of ten people better than you at your endeavor faster than you're able to click Skip Ad >> on a YouTube video.
Tasks include things like folding the laundry, remember to buy everything on your grocery list, and getting around to scrubbing the toilet every once in a while. Check, check, check and done.
Endeavors are writing prose, fiction, or poetry, teaching English to 1,000 students, 40 students per hour, or running hard and often. With endeavors, there's no such thing as "done" and in your eyes, there's no such thing as "good enough".
And, to bring us back to the point I'm trying to make here, endeavors are those things into which you pour endless effort and, ugh, too much emotion even though you don't know if you're working too hard or not hard enough or if you're doing anything right, let alone well.
So, teacher, runner, writer, or whoever you are reading this blog post searching for an ounce of validation in the real world after coming out of a world of A+'s and gold stars and extra credit, this I say to you: Give it your 80%.
Seriously, give whatever your passion in life is your 80%. Save the other 20% of your waking time, your emotions, your dedication, and your attention for yourself, for other hobbies, and for other people in your life.
Why give only 80%?
Because when you give your 100%, at the end of the day, you've got nothing left. Your passion, your imperfectible project, becomes your burden. You end up either bitterly harrowing away, working, working, working nonstop like J.Lo's ass (cuz, you know... it won't... quit... I'll see myself out.), spending 6 hours planning a 50-minute lesson or with a trashcan full of revised drafts of a short story and not a single finished product to show for it.
Stop giving your 110%. Give 80%.
But be honest with yourself.
No cop outs. You owe it to yourself to not confuse 80% of your effort with 20, 30, or 40% of your effort. Walk away when you've worked hard, and not any earlier than that.
Don't be the judge of others' 80%.
We're all sitting here in our little corner of the world--cavemen, piling pebbles and chopping rocks for our own pleasure, each of us in search of our own purpose on this earth. Don't criticize others for not working as hard as you are. One man's 5K is another man's marathon.
Give your endeavors 80% of your effort five days a week. Take a break on Saturday and Sunday. Or Thursday and Tuesday. Whatever. 100%-givers burn out. 80%-givers stick to it and produce results. One of my favorite coworkers (and most popular teachers on campus for her organization and strictness and positive attitude and dedication) dragged me out on a Thursday night to go drinking and attend a concert to distract me from my usual routine of working til midnight and waking up at 6 a.m. to start work and do it all over again. She was a 4th-year teacher and going strong.
Don't feel guilty for hoarding 20% of your self for yourself.
Times when I'm sick is a perfect example for this--to stay home or to go to work? I don't have a fever, but I threw up once last night, once in the middle of the night, and half a time this morning (there was only bile left though, so woohoo!). I feel like a wreck, but I look fine enough. Call in the energy reserves or call in sick? Teach, tough it out, and be miserable... or lay in bed, wrought with guilt and doubt over whether or not I truly am sick enough to miss work? For me, it would get to the point where if I wasn't sick enough when I decided to be absent, I eventually had enough psycho-semantic symptoms from self-defeating thoughts of my work ethic, or rather, lack thereof, and ability to be "resilient" in the face of "adversity" (words normally reserved for athletes of color, kids in poverty, or victims of natural disasters, but when you're down and hating yourself, you tend to use such words more liberally) to really send me over the edge and keep me bedridden all day.
If you feel so sick that you can't make it to work, then you must be so sick that you can't make it to work. Nobody else can judge that for you. You need to stay home, rest up, and then get back in the game. Your rest, your 20% on reserve, is all part of the big picture of you succeeding the other 80% of the time.
And now that you're rested up, just go for it! ...up to a point.
This 80:20 ratio may seem lazy at best and schizophrenic at worst. Take my advice with a grain of salt--what do I know, I'm a 25-year-old acquaintance of yours whose blog post you stumbled upon on your Facebook news feed (hey, thanks for reading this by the way). I do believe that this 80:20 ratio has kept me sane, yet productive; well-balanced, but creative.
The Japanese have two oft-uttered phrases that perfectly counter-balance each other: ganbatte and muri shinaide. The first means "work hard! do your best! go for it!". The second means "don't do the impossible". As I am often one of the slowest runners in our local marathons and races, I regularly hear cheers of the former at the start line and forgiving, well-meaning shouts of the latter from old grannies on the sideline as I stumble and zombie-walk through miles 21... 22... 23...
Shinaide your own muri. That is to say, don't do your own impossible. Don't let anyone else judge what you can and can't do because 1.) they're just old grannies on the sideline, what do they know about what you can and can't do (if you're reading this, screaming old ladies, I finished that marathon! but thanks for your support and tempting me to quit anyway) and 2.) nobody's going to giving you As for effort anymore. HOWEVER. Do do your own possible. Or something like that.
Just give it your 80%, people.