Yesterday, I decided to mow the lawn.
This is only remarkable because, for the last seven weeks, I prioritized writing in my free time in order to get back in the habit of blogging. I did minimal housework and opted out of house projects, including most yard work. However, at the end of each week, the result was the same: I did not publish anything.
With each week’s failure to post a blog, I would try a new trick to push myself to do it the next week. Here is a short list of those tricks:
- Commit to posting it – come hell or high water! No blog.
- Make it my #1 priority! No blog.
- Commit to working on it for an hour each morning – did that! No blog.
- Get up at 4am to carve out that hour – did that! No blog.
- Go to bed at 8pm to get enough sleep – didn’t do that. No blog.
- When all of those failed, I took two days off of work to post the blog. Still, no blog.
At first, the failures stacked up. Three weeks in, it felt like my work was snowballing, so I told myself I had to publish THREE blogs now! Predictably, that approach paralyzed my writing altogether, so I simply committed to working on it for an hour every day.
After seven weeks and two uninterrupted days set specifically aside to publish this blog, I still hadn’t pulled the trigger. I started to suspect that this wasn’t about lacking time or discipline. I suspected that I was choosing not to publish the blog – I just didn’t know why. Patterns of behavior fascinate me, and I can usually root out my own hidden motivations. But this time was different – I had no earthly idea why I was spending so much time on one blog that I repeatedly decided not to publish.
After seven weeks, I couldn’t keep dodging the yard work with nothing to show for it, so I decided to walk away from blogging and mow the damn yard.
As I mulled this over, I remembered something from yoga that I found to be true in my life: “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Given that, I wasn’t terribly surprised when the pattern that dogged my blogging showed up when I started mowing the lawn too.
In a nutshell, the pattern has six parts. First, there’s initial excitement about the new, fun project. That’s followed almost immediately by a fear of the unknown or frustrating parts that threaten to make the project feel daunting before I’ve even started. Third, I strategically pick the hard parts to do first and the most fun parts to do last to help me finish the job. Fourth, after completing some work, I experience a deadening loss of excitement for the project coupled with overwhelming frustration for the difficult parts. Fifth, I decide to keep working, but turn away from the frustrating parts and instead do unproductive but soothing work. Finally, when the project is almost complete, I hit a wall. In blogging and mowing the lawn, I would find any reason to leave the project incomplete rather than finish it. The last steps were intolerable, and I didn’t know why.
After spending five hours mowing a lawn that takes two hours to mow, I ran out of gas. I was elated! Liberated! It was a godsend – as if the universe gifted me with a divine intervention. No one should be this excited about getting out of mowing the lawn they have already mowed to death. This was my first clue that this wasn’t about the lawn. But whatever! I was looking for a way out, and I found one. What a gleeful feeling!
That glee struck me. Not everyone rejoices when their work is interrupted by forces outside of their control. That glee was odd enough to make me realize that I had been in a holding pattern for hours. I was choosing not to finish.
Why? Why did I delight in a job left undone?
I knew that the best way to answer that question was to force myself to finish and find out what I was avoiding. I estimated that I had ten minutes of mowing left to do.
Once I got started, I mowed the remaining patches, which was far easier than I imagined. Then I found myself pulled right back into focusing on inconsequential details. I mowed circles around and around trees. Then figure 8’s. Then ellipses. I went over the mailbox area forward, backward, and sideways. Twice.
I was genuinely concerned about how much longer the neighbors would tolerate this.
After an hour and a half, I finally stopped. At 7:30pm, the project that I started at 11:30am was finished, despite my efforts to abandon it.
Matt knew how much I was struggling, and he asked how it felt to be finished. He said some encouraging things, like, “Look at the lawn! It looks so great!” But it did not feel good. It felt wholly unsatisfying. It would have felt better to have left it incomplete. Knowledge of the imperfections nagged at me. Knowing I could work all day and the grass still wouldn’t be even was discouraging. Knowing there are stray blades of grass around the trees and mailboxes that I didn’t cut down felt like my efforts were inadequate.
Honestly, I just spent 8 hours doing lawnmowing overkill, and instead of celebrating, I was thinking about individual blades of grass??? Stepping back a bit, I was talking about a lawn that gets mowed once a week. What was this really about?
Then it hit me. This all made sense.
I avoided finishing the lawn because the moment I proudly announce, “It’s done!”, I become vulnerable and open to criticism. So when Matt said it looked great, I made sure to tell him about the imperfections before he could notice them. Does that sound familiar to you?
It sounds like: “No one can hurt me if I show them I’m willing to point out all of my imperfections before they do, right?”
Ah. There it is. Something as inconsequential as the quality of my lawnmowing job had me doubting my global worth.
No wonder I wasn’t posting any blogs. Writing is a vulnerable act. It is the choice to allow yourself to be imperfect and seen. I was choosing not to publish any blogs to avoid being vulnerable and seen, and the potential to be hurt.
Once I realized that I was just avoiding vulnerability and criticism, I knew I simply needed to rip the band-aid off and start publishing. So this is my first blog, and I am so damn proud of it.
I’m sure some people will read this and not like it or me. That’s their business.
I’ll leave you with the quote that gave me the courage to write this icebreaker blog:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
2 Replies to “It’s Not the Critic that Counts”
Thank you, Ellen!