Tortoise and Hare

Last week I went on vacation with a cousin I hadn't seen in a few years. I thought it would be relaxing and fun.

It wasn't.

My cousin is one of those people who does everything fast. When she gets up in the morning, she's ready to go out in in five minutes. When she's deciding about buying something, she makes up her mind in five seconds. When she packs to go home, she's zipping up the suitcase before you've finished folding your pajamas.

I, on the other hand, do things in a way that my husband kindly describes as "with deliberation." I need to spend a few minutes in the morning drinking coffee and planning my day. I like to think about purchases for a while before I make them, often leaving the store and going back when I've made up my mind. As for packing . . . well, OK, let's face it: I hate packing and I will do almost anything to avoid it, which tends to prolong the agony.

Now, you could argue that each of these ways of doing things has its advantages and disadvantages. My cousin, for example, tends to forget to bring things when she packs for a trip: sunglasses, toothpaste, and so on; also, her clothes tend to come out of the suitcase wrinkled and in some cases unrecognizable. I, on the other hand, rarely forget things, and my clothes are always pristine—but I do waste valuable life force by being a perfectionist.

The trouble is, being able to do things quickly is highly valued in our society, most especially by those who possess this skill. It's like getting up early: people who get up at 6:00 am or 5:30 am to go running before they go to work always brag about it. On the other hand, have you ever heard of someone bragging about staying up until 2:00 in the morning to finish a project? Of course not. The same is true for doing things quickly, no matter how imperfect the outcome.

It's this bias that allowed my cousin to say brightly "I'm ready!" every morning when she knew perfectly well that I was still brushing my teeth. It also gave her cause to complain about having to wait for me. I, on the other hand, never even thought to complain about having to make several runs to the drugstore for toothpaste and various other forgotten articles, or going back to the store to return something bought in haste and repented of later.

So I spent my vacation feeling rushed and frazzled and guilty. My cousin, of course, felt justified in being annoyed and complaining about how much time she was losing because of me.

It wasn't until I got home that I started to think about this experience in a different way. First of all, we were on vacation. Why was it necessary to rush around and squeeze every minute out of every day? Second, why couldn't my cousin accept me for who I am rather than criticizing me for having a different way of doing things? Most important, why didn't I stand up for myself?

And that's when I realized that this was really more about me than about my cousin or society or anything else. As long as I didn't accept myself—as long as I felt down deep that I was flawed and didn't deserve respect—I would continue to buy into my cousin's view of me as slow and inefficient.

This made me think of my father. He was one of the most effective and productive people I've ever known, but he was not speedy. Whatever he did he did carefully and thoughtfully—deliberately—and the results were almost always good. When I was growing up, my mother (who was more of the speedy type herself) used to say admiringly about my father that whatever he did, he did well. And because he valued his way of doing things, those around him did too.

So what are the lessons I learned from this trip? First, try to love yourself. (Or at least to like yourself.)

Second, never go on vacation with my cousin.

Roberta Eve Tovey