projects, surviving, treading water

No more treading water (getting over Perfect and making Good Enough happen)

File:Tooting Bec Lido 20080724.JPG
Image credit: Nick Cooper at en.wikipedia via CC


I remember clearly the summer I learned to tread water. 

It was supposed to be easy, a way to rest and conserve energy. To my nine-year-old arms and legs, it was a special kind of torture. To pass the test, I was required to keep my head above water for ten minutes by the clock while staying still in the middle of the ten-foot-deep end of the pool. It seemed like the hardest thing I would ever have to do.

I wasn’t good at it. I hated it. But it turned out I was worse at the dead man’s float (because for that one, my face had to be in the water, and that just felt like drowning).

Image:Swim Under Water Without Holding Your Nose Step 4.jpg
Image credit: Wikiphoto on wikiHow via CC

Treading water is definitely better than drowning.

I’ve been treading water lately. I’ve been doing enough laundry that we have clean clothes in baskets but not in our drawers. I’ve been making sure my family has adequate meals but haven’t always included vegetables. I’ve been loading and unloading the dishwasher but also leaving dishes on the dish drainer and in the sink. I’ve been keeping the porch clear of toys but not pulling the weeds out front, and our whole flowerbed has been overgrown for weeks now. (Yeah, I know, it was a rainy summer and everyone’s yard is overgrown…but ours is special. It’s gotten to the point that when my friend’s son jumped into middle of the front flowerbed and she said “Please don’t jump in the flowerbed,” he said, “What, you mean these weed piles?”)

Sigh. Yes. These weed piles. The piles that are not at all symbolic of how I feel about absolutely everything else around me…right? Am I convincing you?

It might be the cooler weather or the changing leaves, but something’s made me decide it is time to start taking care of some of this stuff. Not all at once. A little at a time. I’m sensing a season ahead in which I might be able to do more, where I might be able to move forward just a little bit.

Maybe it’s time to stop treading water and try actually swimming for a little while.

Some of the jobs are Big Things. Some of them keep me up at night with their Overwhelmingness and their Complicatedness and their I-Just-Can’t-Possibly-ness. The thing is, they aren’t going away. They aren’t going to get smaller or less challenging to tackle. At some point, I have to just decide to start doing them.

I’m tired of their Bigness and Impossibleness looming over me all hours of the day and night. It is time to take action.

I have decided to do Just One Little Thing. One tiny thing each day, for ten or fifteen minutes. I’m making a list of the Big Things that are bugging me, and I’m going to work on one of them for a few minutes at a time until it is better. Not perfect. Just better.

Perfect is often the root of my problem. I like Perfect. I want as many things as possible to be as perfect as possible. Sometimes I think God gave me all of my little people so they could swarm around me in a frenzy and remind me that Perfect just Ain’t Gonna Happen around here and I might as well get over it and learn to live with Pretty Much Good Enough.

Sometimes I think I want Perfect so badly that I can’t even see how to get started on Pretty Much Good Enough. So I tread water for a while and say I’m thinking about how to get started but never really get started and end up just wearing myself out with the effort it takes to make no progress.

Enough of that for now. It’s time to start moving forward.

Want to know some of the things?

  • The giant tangle of weeds in the front flowerbed is so high, you can’t see the actual plants any more. (I can’t fix that all at once, but I can weed for 15 minutes.)

  • I have an overdue library book that I’m not finished with and I’m out of renewals and the fine is getting bigger every day and I feel paralyzed about it. (If I read for 15 minutes, I might just about finish the book.)

  • The girls need new sweaters for the fall. I have the yarn and the pattern but not the right size needles to do the project. I could definitely order the needles online in 15 minutes (and when they get here, I can knit for 15 minutes at a time).

  • I haven’t written here nearly enough lately. I have all these ideas in my head and no time to put them down and make them coherent and share them with you.

(This might be my biggest problem, actually. When my head gets full of backed-up words, my life seems full of chaos. I’m not sure that 15 minutes of writing is going to fix anything, but it’s a place to start.)

What are some other places I can start?

  • Setting up the sewing machine with the right thread and bobbin and laying out the pieces of fabric for those kitchen curtains
  • Cleaning out just the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator
  • Bringing in the bins of fall clothes from the shed (so I can eventually change out the summer stuff)
  • Throwing away the trash that has collected under the back seat in the van
  • Picking up the shoes and confiscated toys out of the floor of our closet so we can walk inside it again
  • Setting the timer for ten minutes and filing papers from the Giant Pile until the timer goes off

A tiny bit at a time. Reach out an arm into the water, take a stroke and move forward a little, then reach out again for another stroke.

It is time to make some things happen. Just not all at once.

Do you have something you need or want to tackle that has been overwhelming you? Want to do a little project with me? I’m thinking I’ll pick one thing and work on it for a week, then report back on how it’s going. Do you have a Big Thing, something like cleaning out your pantry or unpacking some boxes that have been sitting around or tackling a pile of mending or organizing your garage?  

Would you share it with me? We can support each other.

If you want to join in, leave a comment with what project you’re going to tackle. Work on it at least once for 15 minutes between now and next Tuesday. Then, check back in next Tuesday to see how we have all done. (I’d like to call it a cutesy name, but I don’t have one in mind just yet.)

I bet at least a few of us will make more progress than we would have otherwise.

Every little bit counts. The best way to get nothing done at all is to keep treading water. Even if we take just one stroke, we’ll be further along than we are right now.

So what do you say? Ready to swim a little bit?


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