the spiraling nature of getting things done

Time is an interesting concept for me! I have a fascination with the idea that every day is a lifetime, a chance to change your whole life, a microcosm of your larger life.

Since I’ve been feeling more and more restless, aging closer to 30 and still far from where I’d like to be, I decided to make this the year to actualize a goal of mine: By the end of 2018 I want to be living in a van. To me this will mean the absolute freedom of not paying rent, being able to roam around to national parks and new cities whenever I want, and being self-sufficient. I have infinite ideas in mind blooming out of this goal, and it is not an end point but the setting in motion of something much larger. Committing to it and making a concrete timeline came with a great sense of clarity, the relief of sureness that I know what I’m doing.

Yet as soon as I decided to make this particular idea happen, I was immediately confronted with every single aspect of my life that blocks it from being a reality in the present, such as: I need to learn to drive. Before that, I have to get over my intense fear of driving. I have to reduce all of my belongings down to only the essentials that will fit in a van. Before that, I have to deal with all the books and projects I’ve been putting off until later. Not to mention, I have to buy a van.

For a few months I felt paralyzed and overwhelmed. I tried reaching out to driving schools and selling a few of my things, but the reality of this goal felt like it belonged to a completely different person. Even if my desire for it was clear, I couldn’t imagine how to physically get all the way there.

What broke me through the really stuck phase was picking up a book called “The Happiness Project” and recognizing through it that procrastinating and feeling stuck is a drain on your own energy. I had always thought of my goals and to-do lists as dreary articles of work to slog through and would feel incredibly guilty if I didn’t live up to them. I know this might sound ridiculous, but it was actually groundbreaking for me to begin thinking of my goals as meaningful tools for clearing my mind of self-doubt and becoming happier. I’ve always had a hard time creating and following habits for myself, and that book helped me shift that into a view of how much better it feels to follow through.

A dear friend also gave me some advice to do one thing every day that moves you toward the goal, no matter how small it might be. I decided to make a huge list of every task I need to do and then routinely complete at least one task every day. On the first of August, I began what I’ve been calling the Daily Challenge.

So, August has been quite a month so far. I have been holding myself to this challenge and following through with it. One day I might empty out a small drawer and feel like that’s progress; another day I might sign up for a driving course and feel like that’s progress. Today I mailed someone a rock from Iceland that I had been holding onto for months; that’s one less “thing” I own, and that’s progress.

I’m shedding layers and releasing old attachments, but also, as I get around to reading my books and working through the projects I’ve had laying around forever (braiding that rug, using that dye, binding that notebook) I’m feeling more thoughtful and engaged. I am recognizing the ephemerality of the things I own and the value of what I can learn from things, too.

It’s interesting to feel myself “actualizing;" not stuck, not yet “there” either, but in a process. Every small action I take each day brings me closer to the big picture… which, itself, is a small step in a larger picture. As I go through each daily task and confront what it brings up for me— variations of relief, wonder, frustration, neutrality— I’m excited to unearth a new aspect that is growing. And every time I cross a task off of my enormous list I feel thrilled to see tangible progress, even if I still feel like that ultimate goal is far away.

Is there any idea or mindset that has helped you grow through an “actualizing” stage? I would love to know.