Have you ever tried to download a number of large files to your computer at the same time? If you’ve purchased a TV series through iTunes or received high-resolution pictures from an important event that you couldn’t wait to view, you can probably identify with this scenario.
You sit impatiently as the progress bar barely creeps toward completion—one painful percentage point by painful percentage point. Maybe you get up from your chair, spend a few minutes doing something to take your mind off of the files, and return a bit later only to find that not a single file is complete yet. Argh! If you can manage somehow to sit long enough to watch this mind-numbing process, one file eventually finishes. Hurrah! Then another. And another. Soon enough the progress accelerates as fewer files remain in the queue and eventually the download is complete. The waiting is over.
Lately my life has been feeling like a collection of slow simultaneous computer downloads. My “files” include a book, a podcast, a new professional website, a training, and a number of consulting ventures. Although I’m disciplined enough to work on each of them at least semi-regularly, each effort gets a much smaller portion of my attention than if I were to focus on a single project. Even if I were able to shift my energies to completing only one of these at a time, all of them are collaborative endeavors involving other people. In the end a lot of the progress is beyond my control.
Over the last several months I’ve wasted a lot of energy feeling annoyed with this overall lack of progress in my life. Some of these projects have been going on for years at this point, those pesky “to do” items that I can never cross off my list. I can’t count how many times I’ve expressed to others, “I just want one of these to be done!” Like painfully watching the slowly downloading files, I’ve been sitting anxiously with an inner sense of dread: this process will never, ever be over.
Sometimes I find it somewhat amusing if not entirely useful to entertain briefly the worst-case scenario brought to the surface by my anxiety du jour. What will happen if every single one of these efforts fails? If my book is never published, how will I feel? If my new website is never launched, what will that mean for my life?
I keep coming back to this hard reality: I’ve got big stakes in a future that I have no control over. As long as I believe my self-worth lies in what is beyond my ability to shape, I am destined for a lifetime of suffering.
My go-to coping strategy in these situations is to make myself busy and do a bunch of stuff to make me feel like I’m holding everything together. This time I’m trying something different.
With the guidance and encouragement of wise women in my life, I have been attempting to shift my perspective on this period of anticipation and waiting. Rather than spin my wheels trying to find another strategy to try or project to start, I am beginning to experiment with doing less. Releasing expectations. Holding with curiosity and gentle attention the anxiety and fear of not measuring up to my perfectionistic standards. Instead of doing something to distract myself from them, I’m holding them in my heart with love—or at least tolerance.
Inhale. Breathe in compassion. Exhale. Breathe out love.
My perfectionism runs deep, but the Spirit of love runs deeper.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires communities to create a more just, compassionate world. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press in March of 2018. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.