Ugh, I recognize this feeling. I know it well. It gives me flashbacks to university; that something hanging over your head feeling, that dreading a due date feeling. But not being able to get to it just yet, because there are sixty-five other things in the queue ahead of it.
I’m living in the shadow of a looming deadline.
The deadline was manageable from far off. I still had lots of time, so it was easy to back-burner it and address the other items first. But now, THIS is the next thing. This is the job that needs to be tackled. And I find myself somewhere between total paralysis and running and avoiding as though chased by some beast.
For the most part, I have learned to turn and face, head-on, jobs that need to be done. I used to avert my eyes and rush by the dishwasher full of clean dishes, begging to be unloaded. Though it was a five-minute job, I would spend sixty avoiding the task and praying someone else would do it before I finally got to it. Writing school report cards three times a year no longer ruins my life like it used to. With the implementation of good practices, like rewarding myself with candy, coffee and facebook breaks after each small goal is attained, the daunting task has been rendered palatable.
But this writing deadline I have approaching right now is kicking my butt! Sometimes writing ideas rush out of me like powerful rivers. The thoughts are born, formed and ready. I love it when this happens, but it isn’t always the case. More often, it’s a gut wrenching, insecurity-inducing, dreadful act of will. Sheer perseverance akin to labour. It requires sitting your butt in the chair and refusing to move; determining to stay in the water, like I wrote about in my essay: “The Pool.”
Though I’ve had thoughts and ideas floating around in my brain for the particular piece I need to produce, I’ve struggled to articulate it clearly. How am I going to say what needs to be said in 400 to 800 words? If you’ve read any of my essays, you know this is near to impossible for me. My first pass was as exciting as a chapter from a psychology textbook. In the second attempt, I managed to completely undermine my own thesis statement. And so far, the third go is total crap. My confidence is shaken.
And so, I’ve been avoiding. Not entirely consciously, but yes, avoiding. Suddenly, I need to clean out my bathroom drawer, because there are just way too many face mask samples filling up the space. And all of the baseboards in my house have a layer of dust that is, all at once, intolerable. And it is definitely time to purge my closet. And “Hey kids, who wants banana-chocolate chip muffins?”
And how about, instead of writing the actual essay that needs to be written, I write an essay about how I’m avoiding writing an essay?
How often do we do this in all parts of life? In avoiding a task—whether house maintenance, a difficult conversation, booking a doctor’s appointment to address a medical concern—we allow the small thing to become a big thing. In avoiding what we’re dreading, we end up enduring far more angst and stress than we would have done had we simply faced it in the first place.
Recently, while rehearsing for a difficult conversation that was on the near horizon, I experienced something like an expansive, dark shadow over and around me. Its borders were wide. I felt small in the middle of it. I felt fearful and tired as I huddled there in its darkness. And then I heard the words:
“The shadow looming is larger than the source. Turn and face it. See it for what it is.”
When I turned around, I saw a surprisingly small tree. A small tree that was throwing a very large shadow. And here I’d wasted all this time cowering when the actual thing wasn’t to be feared at all.
When we avoid something, we send ourselves the message that it is to be feared; we give it power over us. We unwittingly agree to become its victim. We give it permission to harass us and weigh heavily on us. But when we face it, we take back our control.
In the extreme, avoidance can present as numbing behaviour, such as drinking too much or eating too much or sleeping too much or watching too much television. When we notice that these parts of our life are out of balance, it’s probably safe to assume there is something we are avoiding; a task, an event or an issue that we don’t want to face.
Maybe it’s legitimately scary and overwhelming. Maybe you’re avoiding medical tests, because you would rather not know. Maybe you’re avoiding having an honest conversation with your partner or spouse about an issue because you would rather sink than rock the boat. Maybe you’re scrolling on Facebook instead of updating your resume because you’re afraid to apply for that new job.
But it doesn’t have to be something big—even small things can rub. Think of a pebble in your shoe! Maybe you’re filling your time with trivial tasks that don’t really need to be done right now because you’re not sure how to begin the massive job. Maybe you’re flipping through a trash magazine instead of opening the book you know will call you toward spiritual and emotional health.
Or maybe you’re writing a different essay than the one that needs to be written. Touché.
I can’t speak for you, but I know I’ve been giving the shadow power it doesn’t deserve. Friends, let’s turn around and look at the source; let’s tame that thing looming over us. It’s already wasted too much of our time and emotional energy. And it’s probably not as big as we thought.
As for me, I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and lock myself away in my office. It’s time to edit a 3000 word essay into an 800 word essay (barf).
We can do hard things. We can do hard things. We can do hard things.