I Started Reading a Book

mayday

I’ve spent almost a year away from this blog. I can say it was because I have a toddler who didn’t start sleeping through the night until a few months ago. I can say it was because I make words at a computer for my job, and I don’t have many left over for blogging. I can say it was because I felt exposed and awkward after posting something to this blog before.

All that is true, but the truest reason for this absence was much more complicated. I started this blog with the idea that it would be about self-improvement, about the joys of being an autodidact, about dreams and goals and motivation and the beauty and ethereality and emotions that get us through it all. But shortly after beginning this project, I started reading a book.

As a bibliophile and romantic, I’ve often been swayed by the written word. The assuming and hokey intro of this book I started reading purported to define the soul. I was not yet swayed.

Nevertheless, as I kept reading, I found my inner world interrupted, besieged. Ideas that seemed true as water to me suddenly became hollow. One of them was the idea that self-improvement is a worthwhile activity. This book claimed that my self didn’t need improving and that the whole notion of self-improvement was a ruse used by my inner critic to get me to engage in judgmental warfare.

soulwithoutshame

Byron Brown’s Soul Without Shame is a self-help book. It’s not classy. It’s not high-brow. It’s not low-brow enough to become high-brow kitsch. It’s not even close to the “best” book I’ve read in the last year. It’s just some wisdom, to take or leave. If I’d read it 6 years ago, I may not have made it past the introduction. As it is, I still haven’t even finished the book! I’ve found so much to process in the first half that I keep rereading sections and letting them simmer for weeks at a time. I wouldn’t even recommend this book, necessarily. I think it can be amazingly profound for someone who’s already spent a lot of time thinking about her inner life and/or going to therapy.

Anyway, all that’s to say that I’ve spent this year breaking up with some of my idea commitments and forming new ones. I’m not exactly sure what I have to share with you anymore, but I still vehemently believe that writing makes for better thoughts. So maybe I’ll do some writing here and see what happens.

Today, I’ll leave you with this: an essay from a guy who left the internet for a year and returned today, full of wisdom and regrets.

Fits and Starts

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time, of course.

But what if the thought of eating an elephant is really abhorrent? What if I don’t want to consume an animal that buries its dead and can communicate with its friends who are miles away?** What if I think that’s pretty much the worst metaphor for finishing a project that I’ve ever heard?

What do you have when you’re done eating an elephant? A whale of a stomachache, that’s for sure. And, well, nothing. The point of finishing is to get something, right? A medal, prestige, a degree, a new painting, an empty closet, peace of mind. It’s the end point that keeps you taking one more bite of that stinking carcass, right?

I used to call myself a passive perfectionist. I had such a strong desire to get it just perfect that I would put off all projects until I was so close to deadline that perfectionism wasn’t a possibility. At that point, I could set aside perfectionism for “just get it the heck done already!” It wasn’t the most efficient way to work, and it pretty much guaranteed that I never turned in a perfect or near-perfect (or even best-effort) term paper. But I graduated! From high school. And college. And graduate school.

Passive perfectionism (i.e. procrastination followed by frenzied efficiency) is a fine strategy for meeting deadlines. But it’s a terrible strategy for self-improvement. With self-improvement there are no meaningful deadlines. Sure, I can impose one on myself, but what happens if I miss it? An internal wagging finger and maybe a little self-loathing. Nothing I can’t handle. I’m not going to lose my job or get an F.

If I follow through at all on personal projects that don’t mean much to anyone else, I do it in fits and starts: I throw a fit, and I start again. Example:

FIT: “Holy crap, it’s been 2 weeks since I’ve written my first blog post, and I haven’t posted anything since! 14 days is like a millennium in Internet time! I must be the worst blogger in the world! No one will read anything I ever write again! I’m lazy! I suck! I’m George Costanza! I’m bad bad bad bad BAD!”

(re)START: Maybe I’ll just hit PUBLISH on this post and see what happens.

How do you follow through? I could seriously use some help on this one.

**They can seriously do this! Read this book if you want proof.