Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird. – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Do you ever find that you’re juggling all these balls, trying to get things working for you but they just keep falling – and you don’t seem to be going anywhere?
We live in a world where people “make it” all the time.
Are they unique and special?
Were they lucky?
Or did they work ten years to then get an overnight break?
There are probably variations of every story – and it tells us little about what to do other than things happen in the way they happen.
I wonder sometimes what makes the difference between two people – who ends up being the sociable centre of a group and who ends up being on the sidelines.
Some people are just born with the right combination of personality characteristics to get on with other people.
Others find it harder and aren’t fully in tune with how others respond or react in social situations.
And I suppose we learn through experience and by doing it wrong what works and what doesn’t work for us in the situation we are in.
And along the way we experience lots of feelings – feelings of not being good enough, of not being popular, of not being liked by anyone.
And there isn’t much point in telling someone who is feeling that way that the chances are that it’s the environment rather than them that’s the issue.
People don’t really appreciate being told that they’re committing a fundamental attribution error – focusing on personality and disposition based explanations rather than ones based on the situation.
And it doesn’t change as we get older.
You probably juggle a whole bunch of thing now – work, home, kids, health, money, family.
And there are probably times where you’re dropping the ball on each of them, perhaps dropping the entire lot every once in a while.
If you want to change something – for example if you want to lose weight or spend more time helping your kids socialise better at school, you could focus on personality factors.
You’re not clever enough, you’re greedy – and so on.
Or you could realise that the situation you’re in is just too busy, you’re doing too much or being asked to do too much.
I suppose when it comes down to it – the point is not whether you find things easy or hard.
In most cases it makes senses to arrange your life so you spend time doing things that you find easy – because they’re probably easy for you and so you can make a living with those skills.
And then, put time aside to work on those things that you don’t find easy.
You’re not going to lose fifty pounds overnight or learn to do stand-up comedy in a few months.
In fact I picked up a book that had a title on those lines – something about going from an introvert writer to stand up comic in three months.
Except, in the first chapter, the writer talked about how he had always found it easy to be funny – how that was what he did back in school.
So really, his journey was about becoming a comic in twenty years – which is less catchy a title, I suppose.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy to get discouraged when things aren’t going well in whatever you’re trying to do – when you keep dropping the ball.
Some things aren’t important – and maybe you should just leave those balls on the floor where they belong.
And for the others – it’s not about you but about your situation – most of the time.
And the trick there is just getting started.
With the first thing, with anything.
Getting started is half the battle to doing anything in life.