He was 48 years old, with no previous medical history, apart from a short depressive illness, and was treated by a psychiatrist after attempting to electrocute himself. Eight months later he claimed that his brain had died. Psychotropic treatment had little therapeutic effect. He recognized that his ability to see, hear, think, remember and communicate showed that his mind should be alive, but could not explain how, well his brain, was it dead?
Way out there, one could imagine a group of these neural networks, specialized in reflection, thought, existence, being or not being, above the rest, neuron philosophers, dominating the world, believing in Platonic ideas the classics would say, illustrated, would replicate Frederick II.
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Fighting Ambivalence Among the WoMoBiJos
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One evening when my kids were young, I was outside weeding my infernal gravel yard that, if left untended, begins to look like a furry Chia Pet. They were bouncing with sheer delight on the trampoline. That evening, with a familiar sense of vague panic rising, I felt compelled to finish at least one thing — the weeding — on that long, long list. Or hear my kids go inside. When I looked up again, the sky was dark, the yard still covered in weeds, and I was alone. Because this is how it felt to live my life most days: scattered, fragmented and exhausting.
I was always doing more than one thing at a time and felt I never did any one particularly well. I was always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door. I felt like the Red Queen of Through the Looking-Glass on speed, running as fast as I could — usually on the fumes of four or five hours of sleep — and getting nowhere.
Like the dream I kept having about trying to run a race wearing ski boots. My daughter has stuck yellow Post-it notes on my forehead while I sat working at the computer to remind me to come upstairs for story time. At home, I have constantly written and returned emails and done interviews and research for work. I sit at a table with four other people, pencil in hand, paralyzed.
In front of each of us lies a blank calendar for one week, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday. Each day is broken into hourly grids, starting at 6 a. What would you do, say, on Tuesday at 10 a. What, when you really come down to the quotidian details, does it look like every day to have time to do good work, to spend quality time with your family and friends and to refresh your soul? The to-do list will still be there. That was easy. Everyone jam-packed the little hour grids with so much stuff that the cramped handwriting spilled out into the margins of the page.
We stare, stumped, for several more uncomfortable minutes. Time never changes. There will always be hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in that time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize, she said, is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need to, want to or should do. Eighty percent of your to-do list is crap. Look, the stuff of life never ends. That is life. You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff.
So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? Monaghan looks at us staring forlornly at our blank Perfect Schedules. She sighs. Everything seemed important.
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My work. My family. My friends. My community. Changing the kitty litter. Keeping the incoming tide of clutter in the house at bay. So we end up doing both work and home activities in an ambivalent, halfhearted way, which produces mediocre outcomes and vague disappointment in both. Psychologists say that ambivalence is, literally, being of two minds.
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In their labs, they have found that this nebulous feeling is far more uncomfortable and stressful on the body and mind than either embracing one position over another or merely being neutral. To be ambivalent, say the psychotherapists David Hartman and Diane Zimberoff, is to be preoccupied with both what is wanted and what is not. Sitting in the Time Triage workshop, staring at my blank Perfect Schedule, I realized I would never be able to schedule my way efficiently out of the Overwhelm. I had to face my own ambivalence about trying to live two clashing ideals at once — ideal worker, ideal mother.
There would never be enough room in a day for both. Big social change in workplaces, policies and attitudes is critical to move out of Overwhelm. But change is hard.
It takes time. And I may not live long enough to see it. I had to figure out how to embrace my own life with that passionate commitment in the face of ambiguity, right here, right now. I searched for people who had.
The WoMoBiJos are women in their 30s and 40s who live in different cities and have big careers in finance, the nonprofit world, medicine and other fields. They love their work, yet they are not ideal worker-warriors. They love their lives. And many have found a way to make time for themselves. Though each one lives a busy life, not one described herself as feeling overwhelmed.
In talking to them, it pretty quickly became apparent why: none of the WoMoBiJos felt ambivalent. They worked hard to make things work.
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But without the fog of guilty ambivalence shrouding their days, each was able to embrace her life with passion. Am I doing things for the right reasons? Do I make those I love feel loved? Am I happy? The more I spoke with the WoMoBiJos, it became apparent that they were freed from the mire of ambivalence because the structures of their lives fully support them in work, love and play. They all work in incredibly flexible work environments.
Many WoMoBiJos work compressed schedules or work regularly from home. Their time is their own to control and is predictable. They are unapologetic. Their partners are, to greater and lesser extents, equitably sharing care of kids and domestic work. They automate, delegate or drop everything else — shopping for groceries online, hiring help or not caring if the house is less than perfect or if their husbands always make sandwiches for dinner.
So, unlike a majority of women who still do about twice the housework and child care even when working full time, none face the double-time bind at home. Heyck-Merlin has no qualms about hanging up chore lists at big gatherings of family or friends. The WoMoBiJos are also ruthlessly clear about their priorities.
They feel no compulsion to spend time on anything that feels obligatory. They are all disciplined and organized and have learned skills to integrate their work and home lives. They carve firm boundaries to protect uninterrupted time at work, undisturbed time to connect with family and guilt-free time to themselves. I wondered, Was that it? Their confidence? Were they able to create these rich, complex and full lives and live them wholeheartedly simply because they believed they could?
And if that were the case, could the WoMoBiJos, instead of being just a small group of admirable women in enviable special circumstances, really be pioneers showing us all the way? If they could believe their way into living unambiguously, could others? Could I? Everything is learned. It takes practice. And time. Korman Frey, a Harvard MBA, is an entrepreneur, a mother of two and a business professor at George Washington University who runs the Hot Mamas Project, the largest global database of business case studies written by female entrepreneurs about how they run their companies and manage their home lives at the same time.
She is adamant that what keeps so many people, especially women, running ragged is that most have yet to develop the skill of confidence, or what she calls self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, like grit, can be learned, she said. Like a muscle, like willpower, it can be exercised and made strong. And she is devoting her life to teaching the four ways that famed psychologist Albert Bandura said people could learn it. She calls them Jedi Mind Tricks:. You have the power.