The 1980s and 1990s produced a bounty of deliciously terrible television programming, both for teens and adults. On the adult end of things, made for television movies were all the rage. Kevin Spacey portrayed fallen televangelist Jim Bakker, both Alyssa Milano and Drew Barrymore starred in competing versions of the Amy Fisher story, and Meredith Baxter was so fabulous in her role as jaded divorcee Betty Broderick that she actually got 2 TV movies out of the deal. (Fun fact: the cast of the first installment of Meredith’s TV movie – “A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story” – included Leonard from The Big Bang Theory, Milton from Office Space, Kitty from That 70s Show, and the father from 7th Heaven!)
On the teen programming side of things, the quality of programming was similar, but the purpose was different. Afterschool specials – 2 hour long, terribly-acted PSAs featuring cringeworthy performances from people who later became legitimate actors (Google “Helen Hunt jumping out a window on angel dust”) – were all the rage. In addition to producing programs directly aimed at tackling important issues, networks made a concerted effort to weave PSA-related storylines into entertainment programming.
Which brings us to Saved By the Bell. If you haven’t seen Saved By the Bell, turn on your TV and there is a 99.99% chance it is being aired on some channel in your cable subscription right now. For those of you who have seen it, we all remember the episode where Jessie Spano, everyone’s favorite cause-driven, feminist overachiever got hooked on “caffeine pills” (which at the time must have been the hardest drug allowed on Saturday morning television) and essentially had a nervous breakdown while scream-crying that classic Pointer Sisters hit, “I’m So Excited.”
So, why am I bringing any of this up?
Because every Type A overachiever has a Jessie Spano streak. Like Jessie, we’re dependable, we’re competent, and we get sh*t done. Whether “getting sh*t done” means pulling an all-nighter to meet a tight deadline, spending more hours than we can afford to give on a volunteer project, or sacrificing personal plans to pick up slack on a group or committee project, we do it. Since this is no secret, anyone who is looking for a committee member, board member, fundraiser, team leader, taskmaster, etc. will approach us and ask for our help. And if we are not careful about creating boundaries and saying no when necessary, we are prone to spreading ourselves way too thin. While dogged persistence may be enough to keep all of the proverbial plates in the air short term, it is just not sustainable long term.
Let’s return to our friend Jessie. She wasn’t always a caffeine pill junkie. She began that episode as a typical high school girl facing typical high school problems (namely, managing her schoolwork while trying to start a girl band named “Hot Sundae”). However, as the episode progressed, she continued to take on more and more additional commitments until she inevitably snapped. And what happened after she snapped? She burned out big time.
I’m not saying every Type A with a busy schedule is going to become a caffeine pill addict scream-crying a Pointer Sisters classic at a close friend. However, I am saying that we have a much greater tendency to drive ourselves into burnout by trying to please everybody, so we need to keep our inner Jessie in check. Regardless of the mechanisms you use to keep your inner Jessie in check (for example, self-care, hobbies, meditation, etc.), you will likely need to set some boundaries in order to successfully implement those into your daily life.
Preparing for the boundaries conversation…
While re-setting some of your personal boundaries is important to do, it can be extremely uncomfortable. After all, since you are able to consistently get sh*t done, your newfound boundaries are going to impact those who rely on you (rightly or wrongly) to be at their disposal whenever necessary. Some of these people may guilt trip you by telling you how disappointed they are that you are unable to help, or beg you to help them out on short notice “just this one time.” If you are a people pleaser, this reaction may be anxiety-provoking, and you may have the urge to cave and revert to your old habits.
Following this boundary-setting conversation, one of two things will likely happen: (1) the other person will simply find someone else to be their dumping ground for projects, or (2) the other person will understand your need for some additional space and provide you with additional flexibility to the extent they are able to do so. When I have these conversations and they result in the first outcome, I view that as an indication that the person with whom I’m speaking just needs someone – anyone – to be their dumping ground for projects. On the other hand, when I have these conversations and they result in the second outcome, I view that as an indication that the person with whom I’m speaking truly values me and my work.
While the first outcome can be a bit of an ego bruise, it also frees you up to focus your efforts on those who truly appreciate you and your work. Those are the people who will speak highly of your work to others, advocate for you to be considered for other opportunities, and continue investing in their relationship with you. And, most importantly, they understand that it is better for you, them and everyone involved for you do what you need to do to keep your inner Jessie in check. That, my friends, is something you should be genuinely excited about.