The Secret to Life

The big stuff is easy: climbing a mountain, running a long race, writing a novel. You can do it. Seriously. Whatever the goal, divide it into smaller steps and then make them over time. If you make the steps small enough and then spread them out over a long enough period of time, you can do absolutely anything.

Maybe I shouldn’t give this away, as it seems perfect for the self-help book I probably should be writing. But, here it is. I can’t help myself.

The thing is, though, that life—real life—is not about making it to the summit of Kilimanjaro or crossing the marathon finish line. So this secret, that the big stuff is easy, is actually not all that useful. I mean, sure, knowing this, and then putting it into practice, can make you look good on Facebook, or at your high school reunion, but it’s not going to get the laundry done or put dinner on the table. And, for most of us, on most days, that’s the stuff that matters. Sigh.

I was a journalist at a daily newspaper and, doing that job, I got really good at meeting deadlines. To this day, I am relentlessly consistent about getting things done on time. Even my kids were born early.

That’s how I stumbled on the whole big-stuff-is-easy idea: I just started giving myself more deadlines. Meeting each one, checking each box, I’d get just enough satisfaction to keep me going towards making the next one.
By the way, the Jay Z song, “On to the Next One,” is an excellent addition to your running playlist. But I digress.

My challenge is the small stuff, the stuff where there’s no deadline, no finish line, no high five for a job well done. You know, the work you do everyday, the kind where the only reward for a job well done is, well, more of the same job. Or, to be more succinct, I guess I could call it “motherhood.”

So the secret I’m left still looking for is how to tackle that stuff with the same gusto that I have for life’s big projects.

For years, I drove myself crazy, thinking that the way to do this was to apply the same standards of excellence to this stuff that I did to everything else. That was the season of artfully-designed Bento Box lunches and a hyper-organized laundry area. That, my friends, was unsustainable. The place I’ve come to now is one of acceptance: some things I do are going to suck. Not every meal is going to be nutritionally optimized. Not every stain is going to come out.

I’ve been patting myself on the back, thinking this was some kind of deeply Zen insight, that it was, in fact, getting pretty close to another Secret of Life level revelation.

And then it was pointed out to me that this philosophy—that you just don’t pay attention to stuff that isn’t top priority and you feel totally OK about half-assing it—already has a name. And many followers.

It’s called being a guy. And it’s probably why, several decades in to the post-feminist era, they still run so much of the world.