NaBloPoMo #10: The Little Engine that Probably Shouldn’t but Always Can

Prompt: What is the hardest part of a big project: getting the energy to begin, finding the time to work on it, or feeling down that it’s over?

Recently, I’ve begun to feel a bit worn out. For the past several months, I’ve been working at a breakneck pace, studying for the GRE, applying to graduate school, working approximately 40 hours a week, upping my programs at work, posting daily on this blog, trying to draw, helping my sister and girlfriend, maintaining an active social life, and working on my physical therapy. Being so busy feels right whereas having nothing to do feels wrong. Even if I’ve been busy all day at work or school, I still feel lazy and unfocused if I don’t have something to do at home. It’s like I’m wasting my time.

See, projects are goals and goals are things that must be accomplished. “Yes, obviously,” you scoff, but I don’t think that you understand. Goals must be accomplished. They are a compulsion, the completion of which helps you feel whole and centered. Not completing a goal is analogous with failing, and not having a goal is analogous with being worthless. Goals are not things that you do, they are part of who you are. Well, part of who I am.

The reason for my obsession is that I’m good at identifying what I’m very good at and then building goals around it. Fortunately, I’m good at things that traditionally garner praise like school, work, art, and writing, so I don’t have to look far to find a goal. There are many other people in the world who struggle to identify what they’re good at or who aren’t necessarily good at the things they love. For them, it’s difficult for them to find a goal and even more difficult to accomplish a goal. My brain works like a machine, chugging away, incorporating new information and skills, and converting it into a product. It’s as easy as breathing and more natural than sleeping.

That doesn’t mean that I am a machine, capable of tackling big projects with aplomb. Sometimes, I can, though those are usually spontaneous projects that I work with other, equally enthusiastic people. Most often, I struggle to start and maintain a project. Starting is probably the biggest problem as it requires that I shift around my schedule, disrupt my routine, and start chipping away at a mountain. I would rather maintain my current momentum, and so I put the project off, reasoning that this, that, or the other is a bigger priority until I’m on the cusp of causing a problem. Then I dive in, more often than not finding it was never that hard to begin.

Maintaining a project, especially if it is a personal or long-term project, is a completely different issue. For example, I’ve been working on a graphic novel about the frontovichki, Soviet women soldiers in World War II, for almost two years now. I’m not even halfway done. Over and over, I’ve struggled with the project, trying to locate the best texts, carve out the time to read, force myself to synthesize the information into a palatable chunk, and then gain the confidence to actually write the script. I see great things in this project, but I still cannot complete it. There’s just always something “more important” (i.e., less scary/makes me feel less vulnerable).

What I want is not starting or doing a project which, while fun, is still work and comes burdened with emotions, fears, and hopes. No, I crave the sweet feeling of triumph and accomplishment that comes after completing a project, even if it was not done as well as it could have been. I want to check a box off my to-do list, add another line to my resume, and rack in the accolades. Then I want to do more and better and feel more and better again and again and again until my death. That, while stressful and energy-sapping, still feels right, and so I do it, regardless of the personal toll.

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