Don’t Over Think It

Some of the best writing advice I ever received wasn’t actually writing advice. It was a handful of wise words from my mother, who often used them to calm down her daughter (that would be me) when she was dead center in a Type A maelstrom:

Don’t over think it.

“What do you mean, ‘Don’t over think it?’” I would moan. “My article is due in less than three hours, and I’ve started and stopped so many times I’ve lost count. Seriously, I’ve got nothing.”

Calmly, my mom would repeat her advice, and then follow with a suggestion to get up and do something else for awhile, which I always thought was crazy talk because my article was due in three hours! But, despite myself, I would listen, rise from behind my computer, pace around the room, do something menial like get a cup of water or straighten the photos on my wall, and, invariably, the words would come.

Anytime I’m blocked, whether the project is big or small, or the articulation just won’t come, I always hear my mom’s voice encouraging me to get out of my own way. Because, more often than not, the simplest approach is usually the most effective.

In the interest of honesty, the idea for this post came from just such an occasion. I’d been pondering for days what living wide lesson I’d recently encountered, and though I’ve had several, none of my ideas were working. Believe me, I got up from behind my computer quite a few times in hopes of inspiring clarity, but nothing seemed right. And then, I heard my mom’s voice.

Her encouragement to not over think things is the perfect synopsis of what it means to live wide. More often than not, we are our own worst enemy. We let our inner critic get the better of us, and we try to over complicate something that truly is very simple.

So get up, go wash a few dishes, shuffle a few papers or get out into the sunlight. I promise, the solution will surface so quickly, it will feel like it was always there.

Finding Serenity

Sometimes you have to leave things just as messy as when you found them. This is a hard concept for my Type A personality to grasp. In fact, I push against this concept with every fiber of my being. I don’t like loose ends. They seem sloppy, ill prepared, like I wasn’t quite up for the challenge, so a lack of success falls on my shoulders. But I’ve recently learned, this simply is not true.

Whenever I’ve transitioned from one stage of my life to the next, it has generally been on my terms. I chose the day to “move on” from a project/job/person. It was always mutually beneficial, you see. I was able to tidy up and package things just so, leaving things/staff/people well equipped in my wake. It was important to me to prove my vitality. It showed that a situation/organization/person was better off for having been associated with me. That I was important. That I mattered.

This logic supposes that I always have the control, which, as evidenced in the Genesis of Living Wide, is flawed. Not always is there a place for everything and everything is in its place. Sometimes you find yourself in an “I’ve done everything I know how to do, I’ve done everything right. Why is this not working? Why can’t I fix it?” situation. Sometimes the needle simply won’t budge. Even if you’ve given your best. Even after you’ve attempted to bargain for a better outcome. And yes, even when you’ve begged a higher power to make it all work out.

When I came to this realization, I didn’t want to believe it at first. In my mind, there is always an answer. If you can’t go around a wall, you go over it, under it, and, when necessary, through it. Obstacles are not impossibilities, they are simply obstructions. But for every rule, there is an exception, I guess. A situation or circumstance that is much bigger than you and your talent/drive/ambition/creativity/stubbornness. And when that happens, you have to make a decision. Do you press on until you completely burn out, or do you leave said person/place/thing just as messy as when you found them and move on.

Many years ago, a succinct little prayer started making the rounds:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Now the mantra of most groups devoted to battling addiction, this prayer serves as a reminder that we are human. We are not limitless or perfect. Sometimes, things will not change because of our associations. Sometimes there are loose ends. And sometimes, we were meant to simply learn from a messy situation and grow because of it. Living wide isn’t about the vanity of a perfect exit and its affirmation of your value. It’s about accepting those things you cannot change just as easily as those you can and using that knowledge to grow your horizon.

Releasing Fear

Whenever I see a bunch of balloons I can’t help but smile. They are brightly colored sleeves, floating atop equally colorful strings, designed to delight and inspire wonder. I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of a bouquet of balloons lifting you from your life and carrying you, just like Dorothy, to a land of wonder far, far away.

When I was in grade school, I remember a day when they assembled all of the students on the playground. Just prior to the gathering, they’d asked us all to write down something we wished or hoped for that we would like to share with another person. “Think big,” they instructed us. “Think about what you would do to make the world different, better.” Lofty instructions for a group that ranged from barely able to read to the borderline between childhood innocence and adolescent angst.

I remembered agonizing over what I was going to write. I wanted it to be something inspiring. Something that the finder would remember all of their life. In truth, I cannot recall what those words of wisdom were, but given my age, I’m sure they had something to do with chasing rainbows.

What I do remember, however, is the sight of hundreds of red balloons bobbing in the wind as we waited for the release signal. I remember the sheer joy of seeing those balloons soar into the sky as we all cheered. And I remember watching mine as long as I could, hoping that the right someone would stumble across my message.

In a way, that’s kind of what it’s like to release fear. Fear’s stranglehold can be debilitating. It can rob you of your confidence and slow your momentum to a crawl. But more importantly, it can severely hinder your choice to live wide.

I am guilty of letting fear snake into my life. Being Type A, I most definitely fear failure. I am frightened by the prospect of poor planning or my lack of accuracy in predicting the outcome. But, can anyone “by worrying add a single hour to [our] life?”* Why do we cede control of our minds to the murk and mire that is fear? Why do we not release it and watch it float away like a scarlet balloon cast against a pale blue sky? Why do we grip it just as tightly as it holds onto us?

It’s not often [I need to get better at that], but when I am able to release my fear to a power far greater than me, I feel an indescribable relief. It’s almost like an elephant, rising from its seat upon my chest.

Take a moment to give shape to your fear. What does it look like? Now pour that anxiety into a bright red balloon. Picture it floating lightly inside a helium-filled orb begging for your release. It’s just waiting. All you have to do is let go. Relax your fingers and let the string pull free. I promise, the relief you’ll feel watching your worry float into oblivion is far greater than the anxiety of refusing to let go.

*Matthew 6:27.