Baby Steps

My wife was in her second trimester when we received the notice that our rent would be increased (again). It was time to move, even if she wouldn’t be able to help with the heavy lifting. While we were fortunate to find a better apartment quickly, there was still a catch: They wouldn’t wait until our current lease was up and we’d need to pay a month of double rent.

In an effort to control costs, and to try to turn a series of negatives into a positive, we decided that I’d try to move the majority of our stuff slowly, over the course of that month, using our Honda Fit.

And so it began. A little at a time. One or two car loads a day, day after mercifully mild August day. On a single trip down the three flights of stairs to the car, carrying a box of random kitchen gadgets or a lamp, it would feel like the task was never going to get done. The Honda Fit may be aptly named (especially when you fold down the back seat), but we had accumulated a lot of things over the last five years of living together, along with the new things for our family-member-to-be.

Any time I wasn’t busy schlepping was earmarked for working on the last sprint of a script draft. This schedule didn’t offer a chance for many uninterrupted writing days. I would get an hour here, maybe 20 minutes one day. If I completed a scene, it was a victory.

The friction was greater in both situations, because every day I’d have to go through the process of convincing myself to get started, even though I knew I wouldn’t have the time or energy to do all that much that day. I knew that to fill up the car one time, I’d need to make 10-15 trips up and down those stairs. I knew that the distance to “Fade Out.” was still a long ways away even if I saw a good daily bump in my page count.

But the jobs got done. Friction can work in your favor, too, like erosion. A persistent chipping away at a massive project produces more results than inaction. Sometimes your sense of how well your work is going doesn’t matter so long as you keep at it. You’re too close, too stressed, too scattered, or too… anything, really. You don’t always know what you’re capable of until it’s done.

And it starts this way for all of us. Learning to walk. Learning to speak. Learning to breathe. Even before we know we’re working towards something larger, we’re taking small steps.

It’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the fear of missing out, or the fear of moving too slowly. While on my way to teach the other day, I saw an investment company advertisement with a picture of a baby which seemed to scream at commuters: “If your baby is already born and you haven’t saved enough for their college education, you’re a failure, and they will be, too.” It’s a message designed to reinforce the idea that it’s impossible to keep up with life, but you should still break yourself trying.

Right now I’m working on taking satisfaction from finishing what I start. Setting goals and making progress toward them, even if it may not move as fast as I want. I’m working on taking satisfaction from the doing. If I can do that, then the friction of moving in smaller increments could become the joy of persistent meaningful effort.

It just may take a little longer than I expect it to.

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