The point of “I don’t care”


Have you ever experienced periods of time when you’re so tired you can’t string together a cohesive thought? When even sleep is elusive?

Have you ever felt so emotionally drained that your goals fade, your efforts feel increasingly irrelevant, and an insidious voice in your head tells you not to care?

I came out to the living room early this morning to find math study sheets spread across the worn cushions of the couch. The now one-and-only “shared” laptop was neatly closed, and a few more textbooks and an HP calculator were piled nearby. All lights in the house were blazing. These were signs of another long night for my teenage son. And I can only imagine, a point of “I don’t care” reached, or possibly exceeded.

Setting attainable goals

There are times in our personal and professional lives when we must push the envelope. We’re chasing dreams, or trying to hang on to them. We’re doing the “work” – of making our living, repairing a relationship, helping our families, or learning under pressure.

As for my son’s academic goals, I believe they are within grasp, but require considerable effort in a competitive program. Our technology dramas of late haven’t helped, but nor can they be used as excuses. Life will throw everything at us; we have to deal. Still, as I sit here knowing he is spending his morning in testing (again), I hope that he didn’t hit his wall of “I don’t care” during the night.

Parents as models of work ethic (for better or worse)

I can’t help but consider the expectations I’ve demanded of myself most of my life, and the kind of role model I must be. I think about the goals that have been attainable albeit ambitious, and those that were beyond reason. Perfectionism played its hand, though the origins of my work ethic are more complex than that. No amount of effort on my part appeared (to me) to be too much; I carried an inordinate, and disproportionate sense of responsibility for the success of anything that involved me.

  • I felt this way about my studies; reasonable, except in group scenarios.
  • I felt this way about my career; reasonable as an individual contributor, and not – as a team member or a resource constrained manager.
  • I certainly felt this way in marriage; unreasonable – as it takes two to do the work.

As for parenting? I’ve poured my heart into it, yet over time I’ve been more relaxed. I expect my sons to follow core values established in this household: honesty, respect, learning, and yes – hard work. Other than that? I’ve insisted there always be “kid time,” and I’ve tried to stand back and let them own themselves.

Emotional subterfuge: “I don’t care”

Years ago, after two pregnancies one right after the other, I was carrying considerable weight that I couldn’t seem to shed.

I felt sluggish and unattractive, and the more I dieted, the more I was the poster child for the yo-yo effect. Between a hefty professional workload, two young children, and a largely absent husband, there was no “me” time, and I compromised my sleep, my nutrition, and to a lesser extent, daily walking. I existed on auto-pilot, and remained that way for far too long. I was often sick, and ignoring the fact that I was sick.

As for the weight, I reached a point of  “I don’t care” after trying to lose it and failing repeatedly. But my nonchalance was a cover for pain, an attempt to distance myself from my feelings of failure. And eventually, I took to a regimen that was slow and sensible, and I succeeded at losing some forty pounds. Best of all, I no longer had to pretend that I didn’t care, when I did.

Of course, “I don’t care” can signal more significant issues. For children, teenagers, or adults, signs of apathy may be warnings of substance abuse, depression, or being overwhelmed. Saying “I don’t care” masks fatigue or frustration, but also, the pain of loss, fear of failure, and a good deal more.

The cost of working too hard

We live in a culture that seems to worship at the altar of workaholism. I realize now, of course, that it is possible to work too hard, and in a way that is counter to one’s health, well-being, and sense of self – not to mention the very goals we are determined to meet. When we sacrifice sleep, nutrition, and necessary human connection to overwork, we may sabotage relationships, unwittingly. We’re more susceptible to illness. In the long run, we under perform. We hit our walls of “I don’t care,” when in fact, we care very much.

Yesterday’s discussion on whether or not we work too hard was illuminating. Not only do many of us believe we work too hard, but we do so at the wrong things. We pour precious energies into activities that don’t necessarily serve our passions or our goals. I wonder how many of us are working ourselves into a mechanical state of not caring, and need to take a fresh look to regain perspective, and potentially make changes.

  • When do you reach the point of “I don’t care?”
  • Does it happen professionally or personally?
  • Is it a matter of fatigue, frustration, or something else?
  • Do you set challenging but attainable goals?
  • Do you place impossible expectations on yourself?

As for my son, he was quiet in the car this morning. I wished him luck when we arrived at school. I watched him smile and wave at his counselor as he headed inside. Tonight, I’ll cook another hardy meal, turn over the computer to him when he needs it, and let him be. Last night I said: You’ll need some kid time this weekend.

He nodded.
© D A Wolf