From to-do to Done Deal.

I frequently risk being the prisoner of my ambition. I dream big and often, then wake up exhausted with a long to-do list and a sense of dread. How will I get it all done? How will I climb this mountain I have built?

I sit at its base, exhausted by the possibilities, wrapped in a sense of failure before I begin. That sense threatens to keep me from the first step. And the longer I wait to begin, the further away the summit will stretch.

Not doing can easily become a reflex. Like a hoarder with newspapers to the rafters, like a 700 lb. man trapped in bed, like a refugee clutching a trash bag of possessions and a child’s hand, it can all seem too big to tackle. Submission to failure and the monkey can seem the only possible recourse.

But doing, like failure, can be incendiary. I start by taking on one challenge, maybe the easiest, teeniest one on the pile. When I have surmounted it, one checkmark on the epic list, I feel a flicker of hope. I pull the next task toward me and the flicker starts to smolder.

I make the bed, I got to the gym, I do a drawing, I write a blog post, I arrange a lunch meeting, I write a chapter, and soon the flames are roaring, wheels are turning, we are half-way up the peak.

Not doing can easily become a reflex.

Then, I sift through the list. I discard the pointless, the distracting, the indulgent. I break the most overwhelming obstacles into a small series of do-able tasks. I beaver on. Soon the list is a scaffolding, a set of pitons leading me hand-over-hand to the top.

Last night we watched The Martian. It’s a great move based on an even greater book. It deals with an impossible challenge: surviving on Mars, with rescue years away. The solution is increments — tackling one small problem, then the next, and so on. The more bite-sized the problems, the easier the whale is to digest.

Dream big. Start small.

16 thoughts on “From to-do to Done Deal.”

  1. Thanks for this post Danny… I can’t wait to see “The Martian” movie very soon… it’s all very relevant to me as I am currently on my own journey to a summit.. though not easy with a monkey on my back! I can’t wait to see and purchase your new book!

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  2. “Not doing can easily become a reflex”, is absolutely my go to response. For me it’s that stupid fear of failure that motivates it. It’s so frustrating to look back at all the opportunities missed because of not even trying something. This is a hard lesson to learn late in life. Even writing this post took unnecessary effort, when will that awful feeling stop?
    Thanks for putting yourself out there Danny.

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  3. I know the feeling, too many projects, too little time but I start by working on whatever, sort of like batting practice or practicing scales and eventually something good comes of it.

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  4. When you reach the summit you may find you’ve stumbled on a whole mountain range you never knew existed. Will you summit them too? Or just sit back and indulge in the vista of possibility?

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  5. Dear Steven Nagy ~ At nearly 67, I look back at my fear of making art even though I was awarded a scholarship to art school. In the past 10 years I have been in two juried invitationals, had a two woman show and have had my work highly praised by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I have not created ten times more than I have created. Manyfailed relationships, child raising regrets ~ although my son is brilliantly amazing and we love each other dearly. I missed many opportunities, on all fronts, that are lost.
    Many words to let you know you are not alone in this. Have recently discovered that my life experience has created a voice within me, for the first time, that I can now work from on three major art projects. Be gentle and loving toward yourself, Steven. We are all simply human. I hope you can look for and find peace regarding the past and old issues and fear. I’m still working on it.
    I deeply wish you an oasis of serenity from which to lovingly move forward.
    My very best to you, Steven ~ Ann

    Thank you for this thoughtful and moving post, Danny.
    Cheers! ~ Ann

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    1. Dear Ann,
      Thank you for your words. I have been asking “why didn’t anyone teach me how to age?”
      I never planned, set goals, gave my future serious thought. Now, at 58 yrs I sit here wondering where all the time went. I never married, never had children, etc. I don’t mean to sound like such a victim. I understand Stevens words all too well and know what he means when he says “it’s a hard lesson to learn late in life.” yes…it…is.
      Thank you Ann, Steven, and Danny for sharing.
      Jan

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  6. As I am just 20 days away from the manuscript deadline of my first book . . . this post came at just the right time. The task seems insurmountable. But I can do this. One task at a time! Thanks for the shove!

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  7. I found myself in almost sentence you wrote and realized what I needed was a good kick in the creative rear. Have been try get back to Art through a wonderful mixed media class (4 years now) probably have a good portion of my social security payments invested in Golden paints, mediums, collage papers etc. and have a large work space in which to play. My problem is that I won’t give myself permission to enjojy myself and do what means so much to me. I am having the same kind conflict with singing and tell myself the garden needs deadheading and the floors must be vacuumed before I allow this gift. By the way, I am now 74 years old and have fought this pattern all my life.

    Your wonderful posts and books are a great inspiration for me however, and encourage me every day to knock down this barrier. Thank you so muchqq

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