Right now, I’m in the midst of the two biggest challenges that I’ve ever chosen to undertake. What they have in common is that there is no linear path to the destination. Instead, there is a roundabout route with detours, roadblocks, and occasional dead ends. And, of course, there’s no road map.
My first challenge is parenting my toddler son with patience and compassion.
For me, taking care of a newborn was a piece of cake compared with parenting a toddler. I would take the spit-up and dozens of diaper changes and feedings every two hours around the clock in a heartbeat if I could trade the irrational tantrums, the constant demands and interruptions, and the times that my toddler bites me on the leg repeatedly and laughs about it. To him, it’s a fun game.
The last item has me at the end of my rope. I’ve read that toddlers bite for a number of reasons: to relieve teething pain, to get a reaction, to seek attention, or even to show affection — not because they will grow up to be a Dexter Morgan-class psychopath one day. But still, when I am trying to cook dinner and have to ward off his little fangs in my leg again and again, I find myself getting furious and exasperated instead of giving him a firm but loving course correction.
A major reason that I handled a newborn with relative ease was that I was on maternity leave then; the only thing I was doing was parenting, and I could recoup any lost sleep during the day. Now I am working a full-time job outside of the house, then I start my second shift as a mom, and after that, my third shift as a writer. Every day, I am exhausted.
I’ve found that parenting is a series of daily victories and failures. Among today’s victories were making my son giggle by playing peekaboo, and reading him the same books several times in a row. Among today’s failures were handing him to his father when he was screaming for no discernible reason, and saying, “You deal with him. I just can’t right now.”
I hope to do better tomorrow. I fail, I learn, and I recommit to being a loving parent. I focus on the goal of teaching my son to be a kind, resilient, curious person, and doing whatever it takes to get there.
My second challenge is writing the Reschool Yourself book.
As incredibly difficult as I’m finding it to be the parent of a toddler, it’s been even more difficult for me to write a book. I wish that reading a whole lot of inspirational, female-protagonist memoirs translated neatly to producing one myself, but unfortunately that has not been the case. I wish that writing countless blog posts added up to writing a book, but it turns out that they’re completely different beasts. Blog posts are short and make a single point. Books have a plot and structure, characters and dialogue, and a narrative arc that keeps readers turning the pages. Their sheer word count is daunting.
The six years that I’ve been working on the book have been comprised of a series of peaks and valleys. I’ll get some inspiration that will put fuel in the tank, and then it will run out and I’ll be stuck again.
Seth Godin describes this phenomenon as “The Dip,” or “the long slog between starting and mastery.” He describes the excitement that we all feel at the beginning of a new project, and the inevitable letdown once the novelty wears off and the hard work begins. All of a sudden, things get real. When they hit a low point, that’s the Dip. Godin says that if the goal is not worth the effort — that is, you don’t really want it, or your hard work won’t ever pay off — you should strategically quit, and quit fast. But if it is worth the effort, then you’ll be in the minority of winners if you keep going through the Dip and come out on the other side. A key to succeeding, he says, is knowing that the Dip is there, and that you’re currently in the middle of it.
I’ve let the Dip stop me from finishing the book many times, but what’s more important is that I’ve eventually picked myself back up and recommitted to my goal. Each time, it’s difficult to overcome the pure inertia — the habit of not working on the book — and the self-loathing I feel for having failed once again. But I do it anyway. I will keep pushing through Dip after Dip and recommitting to my goal as many times as it takes to get the book done.
I am also trying to keep in mind a vision of what it will feel like to achieve my goal, to run my hands over the cool, smooth covers of my book and to hear readers say that my words made a difference in their lives. The comments that people leave on my blog posts give me little glimpses of this feeling, and they refuel my tank when it’s running low.
To recap, what I’ve learned from being in the midst of these two tough challenges: Envision how you’ll feel once you achieve your goal. Know that you’ll hit peaks and valleys along the way, possibly more times than you can count. Celebrate your smallest of successes, forgive yourself for even your biggest failures, and recommit to your goal as many times as it takes. I’ll be right there with you.