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Options and Actions

January is more than half over, and in spite of my best efforts, I’m noticing that I haven’t fulfilled my New Year’s resolutions. I didn’t really mean to make resolutions. Those kinds of goals seem like a recipe for failure, but somehow when the new year rolled around, I had all these things I wanted to do and ways that I wanted to improve my life and my self. So, I set goals, and even clarified my vision for the coming year.

January racing byAnd now it’s getting toward the end of January, and I’ve been noticing some patterns. For example, when I get stressed out, I want to get everything organized and cleared out. I think that’s because I feel like I gain a sense of control, and when I’m stressed, I want to know that I can handle it.

I’ve also noticed that I like to keep my options open. Not such a bad thing, except when it keeps me from doing what I want to do. The problem is that in order to go somewhere or do something, you have to decide yes to this and no to that. Every time we make a decision to do something, we implicitly decide not to do something else. How’s that for narrowing your options?

Where is all this leading? I’m beginning to realize that not deciding, not finishing, and keeping my options open are sneaky ways of not doing what I’m here to do on this planet. I suppose there’s some underlying fear of not doing it right, not getting what I want, not pleasing other people or even myself. But what I also notice is that I’m surely not going to get it right, get what I want, or please anybody if I spend all my time opening up the options instead of choosing a place to start. I’ve also noticed that once I get started, the path gets clear and I can leave those unnecessary options in the dust.

Someone dear to me is dying, and she says she’s not ready to die. For a long time, I’ve thought that life is short, and I want to enjoy it to the fullest. Now I’m wondering if my friend and teacher, Paul Rubin, might be right when he says, “Life is long, and if it’s not, it doesn’t matter.”

What would be different about our options and our actions if we believed that “Life is long, and if it’s not, it doesn’t matter”?

Other People’s Projects

When you’re a kind, generous, and concerned person, it’s easy to take on other people’s projects. You like to help. You like to utilize your knowledge and skills, and you like to make other people’s lives better. Being helpful is great, except when it’s not.

I was watching Paul Rubin set up a table in preparation for a Feldenkrais lesson. I asked if he’d like some help. He thanked me, but indicated that he preferred to do it by himself, “This way, I know what the ‘other fellow’ is going to do.”

Norman Kennedy

Norman Kennedy

My friend Norman Kennedy was warping a loom, while I stood idly watching him. When I asked if I could help, he bristled. Among the “old people” in Scotland, where he learned to weave, it was considered an insult to try to help someone do something that they were perfectly capable of doing singlehanded.

I’ve taken on some big jobs that in retrospect were other people’s projects. What I notice—mostly in retrospect—is that they were not my projects. I saw a better, grander, more elegant, more Gika-like way to do them, and generously stepped in to help. What I also see in retrospect was that I got to do a lot of “heavy lifting.” I got to nudge and poke and prod and persuade, in order to get things done. I even found myself occasionally being resentful of the amount of work “I had to do.”

I’m a little humbler now. I know that the Gika-like way is just that: the Gika-like way. Not better or worse than someone else’s way; it’s just my way.

The greatest thing about getting carried away with other people’s projects has been that in between the bouts of heavy lifting, there’s been a lot of room for fun and learning and growing. Some great stuff got done, no one died in the process, and now I’m really clear that I want to work on my projects.

How can you tell that a job is not your project? Were you invited to work on the project? Did someone give you permission to work on it? Are you finding yourself re-inventing or redefining the work at hand? Are you resenting the amount of work involved? Was it your idea?

It’s not always easy to make the distinction between collaboration, genuinely generous assistance, and minding your own business, but it’s worth doing.

Chances are you have some projects of your own that are hanging around waiting for you. How can you tell which ones are yours? The following are clues that you’re getting warm:

  • You get excited, maybe even nervous at the idea of doing them.
  • You wonder if you really could do them.
  • You’d love to, but it makes you anxious, because it’s a stretch.
  • It feels selfish to consider these projects, because they’d be so much fun, so satisfying.
  • If you had the means, you’d pay someone to let you work on this stuff.
  • It makes you happy to think that maybe you really could do this.

Here’s the best part: when you work on a project that is really yours, and you know it in your heart, then, inevitably, what you’re doing is kind and generous and makes the world a better place.