Friday, August 10, 2012

Simplicity: On Knowing When Not to Start a New Project

Texas Dusk with Flags on the Side

I think a lot of us thrive on the energy of new projects.  Something new gives us a burst of energy and inspiration, a feeling of ambition and the desire for accomplishment.  New projects are powerful!  They also challenge us, make new demands on us, even frustrate us.  Above all, I think they motivate us in a way that our existing projects may not, simply because a new project is novel.  Our brains crave novelty.

I started a new project-within-a-project at work this month, and it’s been tremendously satisfying to master the technology and see the data.  I won’t bore you with the technical details, but as I was doing the pilot analyses, I was reminded of how important novelty is.  Even though it frustrated me when the analysis wasn’t working, it felt so, so good when it finally was working.  I don’t get a lot of instant gratification in my work, but when it happens, wow.  It’s awesome.

I’ve been thinking about this question of new projects a lot lately.  Maybe it’s the time of year—back-to-school time for the college students around here, and soon it will be back to school for the younger kids too.  But for me, it’s work as usual—mostly the same as ever, with the occasional exception of something new to try.  On the internets here, there is no shortage of cool projects you could try, and the three that have captured my imagination the most are:

* Kendi’s 30x30 Remix, which I think some of you already know and love.  The gist: pick 30 pieces of clothing from your closet and make 30 outfits.  If feeling ambitious, photograph your outfits and share them with the internet.  (Read more about 30x30 here.)

* Rachel’s No Spend Month Challenge, held annually every July.  The gist: spend less money than normal by restricting the household budget and then making good use of your pantry, home cooking, cheap ideas for fun, and general frugal living skills.  (Read more about the No Spend Month Challenge here.)

* Finally, and this is my very favorite: cook every single recipe in a special cookbook.  For example, Teena cooked and blogged her way through The Gourmet Cookbook.  And now, lucky for us, she’s cooking and blogging her way through Gourmet Today.  I’m so excited to see her back on-line and blogging regularly!  Hip hip!

I feel excited just thinking about these projects.  But what I have realized this summer is that I do not have room in my life right now for any of these things.  My days are filled to the brim with work, running, friends, and taking care of myself and my home.  I don’t want the added pressure of a new hobby project because I just know that I’ll feel guilty if I can’t give it the time I think it deserves.  In fact, I’m even several posts behind on this blog—I’ve got news for y’all that I just haven’t found the time to share!

Simplicity is knowing when not to start a new project.  So for now, I’m just going to appreciate other people’s efforts on their projects while I stay focused on my own.  There’s nothing wrong with being an audience member rather than the performer.  In fact, if all of us only cared about being the star, there would be no audience to appreciate our efforts!

I remind myself that my word for this year is devotion, and it seems that I chose the perfect word.  This year has tested my devotion to my work, to compassion and kindness, and to staying calm.  As the old saying goes, “Nobody said it would be easy, but they said it would be worth it.”

(But I still hope that some day I’ll have time to do my own 30x30!)

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