How many times have you said that?
Or maybe one of its cousins:
“What a waste of time that was.”
“What was the point of doing that if it was going to turn out like this?”
“Two weeks (or months) of work, flushed down the toilet.”
I started pondering this after the following sequence of events from last week:
There I was, lying down in shavasana after 15 intense minutes of Dance of Shiva. My intention? Make all the final niggling decisions I needed to make in order to launch my Shmorian Thing-Finding class.
In the back of my mind, I was semi-consciously aware that my husband was supposed to be leaving for work in about 10 minutes, but hadn’t come home yet to get ready. I shrugged it off, certain he must have the night off but forgot to tell me.
I was just about to start my meditation, when the door that leads in from the garage flew open and my husband was running through the house, trying to eat lunch, shower, dress and leave ten minutes in the past.
So, of course, I jumped up from my prone position on the floor (headrush!), and ran downstairs to try to help.
I wasn’t of much use, though, because all that frantic activity makes me nervous. Had he been able to bark orders, I probably could have helped. But intuiting what he still needed help with and doing those things, all without getting in his way? Nuh-uh. I cowered in the office, figuring that if I couldn’t help, I should just give him a wide berth.
Fifteen minutes later, he was off to work (and got there only 2 minutes late).
At that point I was completely frazzled. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to march back up to my meditation spot and get to meditating.
And I confess I was feeling
thoroughly a little bit resentful at the interruption. Which is right about when I started ranting out loud to myself about how I’d done all that Dance of Shiva for nothing.
*sound of needle scratching across record*
Is that even possible?
Can you really do something like Dance of Shiva and get nothing out of it?
What about writing a blog post that you wind up not publishing? Or prepping to teach a class that gets canceled? Or studying to get certified as a [fill in the blank], and then changing directions after failing (or after passing, for that matter)?
Which then brings up all sorts of questions.
Why am I doing this thing (or this Thing)?
What does it mean to get something out of doing [fill in the blank]?
What kind of angst am I creating for myself when I look at the “failed” outcome as removing all value from the process?
Is it possible to increase my awareness of what I’m gaining from the process, and take some of the focus off the outcome?
(Wow…I could probably keep going with the questions, but I won’t.)
Hearing myself use that phrase that day – “I did such-and-such for nothing” – emphasized for me how much trouble I get into when all my focus is on the outcome of my activities.
In February, when it became clear I wouldn’t be conducting my 10-month program, all I could see was that I’d done a lot of prep work for something that wasn’t going to happen. I already shared how hard that was. I kept thinking of all the things I could have been spending my time on instead, and how they probably would have worked out a lot better. (Hello, pattern.)
Sure, it’s possible that a different focus would have generated different results. Whether those results would have been “better” is a whole ‘nother question that’s not really answerable.
What I couldn’t see before, though, is that the whole “failed class” experience planted a lot of seeds. Seeds that are just barely starting to sprout.
This is still pretty fresh as far as epiphanies go, but among the things I’m thinking about:
This highlights the importance of
doing work that I enjoy enjoying the work I do. Even if I want the benefit of a completed project, if I’m not being fed by the process of working on it, I shouldn’t be spending my energy on it, because the outcome isn’t guaranteed.
I’m also thinking that maybe there are ways to remind myself of the value of what I’m doing while I’m doing it.
Yes to more noticing what I’m enjoying and what I’m not as I go about my work. More noticing how different types of projects make me feel. And more finding ways to spend my time doing the stuff that energizes me.
And guess what?
The noticing adds value to whatever I’m doing, because no matter the outcome I’m learning about me.
Will there still be situations where I feel heartbreaking disappointment at how a project turns out? I’d be shocked if there weren’t.
Maybe it’s just how our brains are wired, but I think our capacity to know the full value of what we’re doing is limited.
The seeds get planted behind our backs, and we don’t even know they’re there until the first little green shoots pop up through the soil. They show up as an unexpected blog post, or an inkling of a new understanding of our Thing.
But maybe by noticing those seedlings we can build a body of evidence to remind ourselves – even in the midst of disappointment and frustration – that there was a point to the work we did. We just have to wait for the seeds to do their thing.
How about you?
Can you relate? What have you found that helps? Want to share your stories of work that felt like it was for nothing at the time but turned out to be hugely important?
I’d love to hear about it.