Temperaments, Tendencies, and Why I'm Failing by Planning Too Much

Posted by Sammi Spizziri on January 16, 2019 · 6 mins read

While adjusting to our newborn baby the last few months, I’ve noticed my tendency to plan growing stronger. I’m color-coding my weekly calendar by my 2019 goal buckets, constantly adding to and checking off my to-do list, and finding my Goodreads profile growing with an amazing number of organizational and planning-centered books.

Which is why it’s pretty ironic that two of the books I’m reading have to do with personality. Now, I know myself well enough to figure out why I’m doing this. The unpredictableness of a baby’s schedule combined with a sudden knock to the routine I’ve spent years perfecting–not to mention the powerlessness I’ve felt due to the nature of adoption–all have me grasping at whatever I can to feel in control of my life. But the thing I haven’t thought too much about until recently is why I have such a need for control. It’s easy to think anyone would do the same thing in my situation, but the reality is that’s not true.

Why I do what I do, according to The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: As a melancholic-phlegmatic (or maybe phlegmatic-melancholic? I never know) I value peace. One of the things our adoption social worker complimented me on was the way I’d come to peace with infertility and saw adoption as an opportunity and gift. I’d say that’s the phlegmatic in me–loving harmony–but I think the melancholic motivates me to stabilize quicker than some phlegmatics might naturally do. I’m a perfectionist, and so when my sense of peace is disturbed, I kick it into high gear to get back on track. Right now, I have GOALS (as evidenced by my last post) and even though I logically recognize my life is in transition and I should be patient with myself, I’m still pushing forward as best I can.

Part of my “push forward” mentality has to do with my expectations. Gretchen Rubin points out in her book The Four Tendencies that we all have different responses when expectations are put on us. As an upholder, I react well to the high expectations I put on myself and that society/others place on me. I like rules and pleasing people, including myself. So despite all the changes in my life, when I have goals in front of me and expectations in place, I’ll keep plowing ahead. And here’s the thing about it: some might think it’s crazy to try to do too much at once, or might think I need to relax and slow down. But truthfully? I love accomplishing things. I love order. I love looking at my schedule and seeing exactly what’s expected of me from the day. This is how I operate. It’s how I succeed. And understanding why I do this is key to living better.

I’m not actually sure if understanding your strengths can strengthen them (perhaps it gives you confidence if you’re lacking?) but I am positive understanding your weaknesses is the first step in growing in them. Accomplishing, planning, to-do lists: they’re all wonderful things (in my mind at least!) but I recognize how they affect me, especially if I’m not careful. I tend to place my identity and value in what I do. When I cross everything off my list, particularly when it indicates forward motion (not just temporary household chores that must be redone daily - i.e. dishes, dinner, laundry–but bigger things like cleaning out a closet) I often feel a sense of pride and self-worth. And when I don’t do it all? When the house is a mess because the day didn’t go as planned? Well, then I’m usually a mess by the end of it too. Defining myself by my accomplishments is not only a discredit to my true worth but a set-up for failure, and yet I do it all the time.

If there’s one thing I believe God wanted to teach me through infertility and the adoption process, it’s that controlling everything isn’t the point of life, and will lead you astray if you try. As much as I love planning, I’m challenging myself to be adaptable. To abandon what I’m doing and cuddle my cooing baby when she’s awake, not when I’ve planned for it. To go out with a friend for a drink because she asked, even if I haven’t crossed off the day’s to-dos. To binge a new TV show with my husband instead of finish the Saturday morning cleaning. Planning out the particulars of every moment can bring a lot of accomplishments, but it doesn’t bring the same depth of life as relationships do.

Of course, I know I still need to do things. It’s important to work and try hard, especially on the things we’re called to. But to paraphrase Mother Teresa, God cares more about the fact that we’re doing what he asks than that we succeed at it. I put a lot of value in success.

In the end, I’m looking for a balance of doing and being. Harmony. Maybe that should be my real 2019 goal.