My daughter isn’t two weeks old yet, so sometimes she doesn’t want to sleep at night. When I go take my turn trying to console the angry little tomato while my wife gets an hour or three of rest, I know that there is one thing I cannot do that would calm this child down: lactate.
She’s hungry, I can’t feed her, and there’s nothing I can do to stop the wailing and gnashing of gums.
But I have to try and calm her down.
Sometimes I get a moment where she stops crying to burp. Sometimes she’ll even sleep for minutes or (right now I can’t believe this is happening) an hour. Or sometimes she’ll still be bright red but will stop gasping and protesting long enough to take a few good breaths. All of those belong in the win column, even if they don’t mean I get to go to sleep quite yet.
When I sit down to work on yet another draft of something, I try not to think that this will be the time I fix all the problems. It probably won’t. I may not even fix a single problem, and actually create five new ones.
But I have to try and put words on the page.
If I go in with the enthusiasm that this time will be different, and this time will make everything perfect, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. But if I believe that I might not make any real progress and can still push ahead, that sets me up to feel like I at least accomplished the attempt. That I can mark off one more day in the chain of trying.
The Hagakure talks about how a retainer should go into battle believing they are already dead so that they do not act as if they fear death. This is maybe a little morbid of a working motto to attach oneself to.
Brian Eno has a more moderate line:
“The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.”
It’s a quote I keep up on the wall to remind me that not every day will have an epiphany. Not every run will be a personal best. And now I need to remember that every silly song or diaper check will not necessarily be the thing that calms the ferocious infant.
But that shouldn’t stop me from trying.