I Did All That Work for Nothing

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.

The upshot

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.

17 thoughts on “I Did All That Work for Nothing

  1. Bridget

    Oh my goodness, yes. I can relate. I CAN RELATE!
    Perfect example.
    I developed a workshop called the No Worries Workshop. It’s not really part of my work. It’s not about the energetic body. It’s just a very practical workshop about not worrying.
    It wasn’t a hit with my clients.
    I did a lot of hard work on it. I even wrote an ebook that I didn’t publish.
    It pissed me off. Here’s this great content and it’s not a hit with my readers.
    Fast-forward to today-
    I was sitting in my kid’s psychologist’s office. My 12 year old’s teachers thinks he has ADHD.
    The psychologist says, “Technically, it’s not ADHD. He’s just not present and he worries too much.”
    Ding! A light went on. All of the techniques I developed, all of the work I did, it’s applicable to my kid. I can help him become more present and less tense. I know I can because these methods worked on me.
    And it gives me a reason to take the ebook off the shelf and ask, “How does this apply to the energetic body(in more detail)?, and tie it to my “real work”.
    Work you’ve done before, that seems like it was useless, is sometimes just pre-work for the good work ahead. It’s like canning tomato sauce and then forgetting about it until you really need it.
    .-= Bridget´s last blog ..Kind Words from April McCray =-.

  2. Lisa Firke

    It’s times like this when something my father said to me while I was still a young woman really resonates: “Nothing is ever wasted.”

    You may not use something for what you thought you were going to use it for — like you making a blog post instead of having a bunch of revelations about a new thing you’re trying to launch — but the things you make get used nonetheless.

    Exciting to see how, sometimes.
    .-= Lisa Firke´s last blog ..Metaforaging (TM) =-.

  3. Clara

    Thanks. Such a great reminder. I, too, am one of those outcome-oriented people. I talk a good game about enjoying the journey, but more often than not it’s the destination that determines how I feel. I’m focusing this year on being grateful for the blessings in my life, and it’s amazing what an effect this is having across my world, including this particular issue. Becoming more aware of the small, good things is helping to counteract the “oh, damn! I can’t believe this didn’t pan out” feelings. How could it be that bad when I noticed so many good things along the way? A small step, perhaps, but hey, that’s all that’s needed sometimes.

  4. Briana

    I so relate to this! And it’s a big recipe for stuck for me because if I think I wasted my time on something, getting down on myself is usually the first place I go. So I end up spending a bit (tons) of time reflecting on all of the good things that came out of the thing that was supposedly a complete waste. For some reason, the goods usually have to do with stuff on the softer side – like the people I wouldn’t have met or experience I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t done the thing that technically failed.

    As for enjoying the things while I’m doing them… oh, that is my real aspiration. Can’t wait for more epiphanies about that.
    .-= Briana´s last blog ..Cookies and clarity. =-.

  5. Patty K

    Um…yeah…where do I start?

    Years and years of “wasted time” along with it’s evil big brother “sunk cost” – all in pursuit of “making money in IT” so that I could eventually stop and *then* pursue doing what I want to do. Along with years of wondering why this grand scheme was not working…

    And now? Dozens of not-quite-completed blog posts, workshop outlines and business/marketing ideas. All neatly (who am I kidding…I mean randomly) filed away in my computer.

    My conclusion? Same as yours. Not really wasted time – necessary learning about myself. I’m even starting to look at “sunk cost” as an educational investment. And, yes…the idea of enjoying the process.

    Awesome article…thanks for sharing. :)
    .-= Patty K´s last blog ..Put one foot in front of the other…and don’t look down =-.

  6. Kelly Parkinson

    I never would have thought to notice I did this until YOU noticed you did this. And so by you noticing, you’ve helped me notice, which makes me feel like maybe all of that work wasn’t for nothing. (My work, your work, everybody’s work.) Thank you for writing this! You’re on fire, Shmoria! Hot hot hot! (OK, so Aaaaagw wrote that lost bit. But I agree.)
    .-= Kelly Parkinson´s last blog ..The Patent-Pending Aaaaaaagw B.S. Detection Device =-.

  7. kate

    aahh i needed to hear this. i tend to be a tad impatient and when i am not getting the results i want (usually in an unrealistic time frame!) i get annoyed and frustrated. making a conscious effort to notice and appropriate the journey as part of the outcome is huge. difficult! and yet, usually, the most important piece.

  8. Danielle

    I can COMPLETELY relate to this too. Oh my goodness, yes! As I get older and more practiced with things usually not going according to some plan I made for myself (which happens, um, a lot), I start to see the value in the content or the work or the structure I did complete. Because I can often go back to whatever *didn’t* work and refine it or make it better later … and when I do I’m so grateful for what was already done, even if I didn’t use it in the way or the time I thought I would. It’s like my unconscious mind is chugging along just fine, but it’s the external value or timeline or whatever I put on it that is what disappoints.

    Awesome food for thought as usual, Victoria! Thank you!
    .-= Danielle´s last blog ..There is no place for guilt in wellness. =-.

  9. Victoria Post author

    @Bridget – Thank you so much for sharing that story! That’s it, exactly, and how beautiful that the work you did can help your own son.

    @Lisa – Clearly your father was a wise man. I may have to print out that sentence nice & big and tape it to my wall.

    @Clara – I am so with you on “talking a good game about enjoying the journey.” Enjoying the journey is not at all easy when we’re smack in the middle of a disappointment. Yay for gratitude, though, right?

    @Briana – Interesting observation about the value being “in the soft” in terms of people met or experience gained! For some reason you mentioning getting down on yourself after-the-fact made me realize a separate-but-related tendency for me, which is to anticipate that something might turn out to be a waste of time, and therefore give up before I’ve even started!

    @Patty – Hello, my fellow IT-escapee. Ah yes…”sunk cost” – such a tricky thing. It should free us (“Hey, it’s a sunk cost, so I may as well walk away.”), yet it is so easy to fall into the trap of trying to *recover* it. But sunk cost as “educational investment” sounds like a brilliant way to reframe it.

    @Kelly – *blushing at Aaaaaaagw’s kind words* I love that my noticing prompted your noticing. Which of course is what I’d hoped would happen by writing this, but I was prepared for the possibility that it wouldn’t, and I would have to just find the inherent value of writing the post. ;-)

    @kate – I am right there with you on the impatience and the frustration and the unrealistic timelines, for sure. *And* with you on how difficult it is to shift the mindset. :)

    @Danielle – “It’s like my unconscious mind is chugging along just fine, but it’s the external value or timeline or whatever I put on it that is what disappoints.” Yes! It’s yet another way we tend to get in our own way!

    @Megan – Thank you!

  10. Jessica

    I’m even later to this comment party but just stumbled on this post and had to share something. Yesterday my dear friend Gina over at Embodygrace.com said this in a blog post: “There is a use for all of it, a way to turn everything into compost and therefore a beautiful garden.” Along the lines of “nothing is wasted.”

    This seems to be a theme for me this week – enjoy the journey and the process of everything. Don’t get so caught up in the outcome. It’s particularly hard when I’m getting a bit low on cash and really need to get my business started so I can pay for stuff like, oh, my mortgage. But if I don’t enjoy the journey while I’m going along, my negative attitude will likely affect my work and therefore the success of my business. The ultimate Catch-22 I’d say.
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Epiphanies involving Julie Andrews, trampolines and three ring circuses =-.

  11. Michelle

    Victoria, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been revisting this post for inspiration the last couple of weeks. I’ve been revamping my business and my blog focus, and switching gears has triggered some of the same “but I did all this work for nothing” feelings for me. Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve been up to since last time!
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..The Power of Word Choice =-.

  12. Andrew Lightheart

    I just realised that I play this silly game in my head, where there’s the voice of my biographer saying:

    ‘And little did he know, this was the turning point…’

    You never know…

    *bites lip and nods, eyes wide*
    .-= Andrew Lightheart´s last blog ..This just in… =-.

  13. Rebecca Prien

    Yes, I am so there with you!

    But I had this beautiful experience last summer where a whole cluster of projects that I’d thought were “faillures” or a waste of time or somehow had missed the mark came together as the perfect learning experiences. I curated an art show, literally from the ground up, found the artists, painted and decorated the space, orchestrated the food and flowers, marketed, etc. etc. And it was a wild success! More than 80 people came to the opening. We sold work. Everyone had a fabulous time, including me. And in that moment, I realized that everything I had attempted or organized–college conferences, novel writing, my own business–had taught me exactly what I need to know in order to be able to pull off that show.

    Thank you, Victoria, for reminding me of this right now. I’m in a space where many things with my business seem for naught. And I’m plagued by the needing to make a living at IT. And the thought that maybe nobody wants my Thing, maybe there’s nobody to give it to.

    I’m not contented or settled in yet, but you all have brought me back to the learning curve. Thank you!
    .-= Rebecca Prien ´s last blog ..Why is Law Stuff so Scary (and Distasteful) for the Creative? =-.

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