There is more to creating a productive and satiating life and business than the what of a to-do list and the when of a calendar. In the S4D we continually explore all the Elements that make up every efficient and effective system or project. Each month, I share small excerpts of from our studies so you too can begin to craft holistic and synergistic systems that support real life.
The S4D follows a rhythm of quarters that start in February, May, August and November and mark the beginning of spring, summer, autumn and winter respectively. Observing the seasons is important both literally, since our energy and activities are impacted by our natural surroundings – as well as figuratively, since we pass through the phases they represent not just every year, but at every time scale and in the course of every system and project.
Given that Summer is about ripening the seeds you’ve planted in Spring, given that it’s the season of maturation and refinement, I knew when I sat down to write this essay I was supposed to share something of what I know about follow-through and attention to detail. I was supposed to encourage you to streamline the systems in your life that need to become more stable and reliable or to complete those projects that are nearly finished except for that last pesky 5-20%.
And while those are all good things to do and talk about, I had no enthusiasm for doing so because the last thing I felt like doing was refine something.
Well, at least not until I remembered what refinement actually is.
• • • • •
When I was trying to choose a song to pair with this essay, at first all I could come up with was Alice Cooper’s School’s Out for Summer. I’m not a fan and don’t actually like the song, but it did capture my current mood of rebellion pretty well.
I want a break from the striving, ambitious energy of Spring. I am longing for the relaxed qualities of Ordinary Time. It’s not that I want to stop working or learning, I just want a break from trying so hard to get it “right”.
- I want to love people up, not convert them (in the religious or marketing sense of the word).
- I want to strengthen my body, not mold it into a conventional standard of fitness.
- I want to water my enthusiasm (as Sarah Bray would say), not deconstruct and apply strategy.
I want a break from my current collection of “shoulds” and narrow expectations of myself. I want to follow my own inner compass to my own north star – and for the love of all that is sensible and holy: have some fun doing it for a change.
I am completely envious of all the summer camps I could attend if I were a kid. Art, film, theater, dance, choir, and orchestra camp. Rock n’ Roll camp for girls. Climbing, sailing and running camp. Unleash Your Inner Jedi (fencing) camp. Pony camp. Trapeze and acrobatics camp. Building and power tool camp for girls. STEAM camp (not to be confused with steampunk camp, which doesn’t exist but would be awesome). College camp. And, of course, good old fashioned nature camp.
But when I really thought about it, I realized I just want to go to Freedom from Self-Improvement Camp. And that’s when I remembered Freedom from Self-Improvement Camp is the same thing as Refinement Camp.
• • • • •
Way back in 2009, I wrote an essay clarifying my real purpose in debriefing my weeks and capturing any “lessons learned” because it would be easy to mistakenly interpret that as an attempt to fix what is broken about myself.
…all the noticing I’m doing about what is happening, all the evaluations I’m making and conclusions I’m drawing from it, are about what I need to do to make it easier to be me. Not change me. Be me. As often as not, it’s about removing what’s getting in the way. A simplification. A paring down. An elimination of unnecessary rules and shoulds. It’s not so much fixing as a refinement of all that is already going well, of what is working.
How could I forget? Weeding. Pruning. Thinning seedlings. This is what you do in a garden in order for things to ripen by end of summer.
“Just like people, a tree only has so much energy to blossom, bear fruit, make new branches, heal cuts, fight disease, and manage stress. The more places it needs to spread those finite resources, the smaller and less abundant its fruit. … If you want big, juicy, tasty fruit, you must limit the number places those resources need to go.” – Jennifer Hofmann
The season of Spring is about the creative mess of gathering ideas, putting them all on the table and experimenting with how they fit together and what works. By the end of Spring, you’ve got a decent idea of what that is. That’s when the season shifts from one of invention to that of execution, from gathering to paring away and then refining the remaining essentials. That’s what it is to ripen something.
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
For reasons I don’t quite understand, there is a precarious moment between the Spring and Summer of a project when I not only forget how much I enjoy the process of paring away what doesn’t belong, I forget that it’s the next step altogether. In that moment after the honeymoon is over, when I am most aware of what feels like a canyon between idea and tangible realization and what it will take to bridge that space, I forget closing that gap starts with clearing off the table. I forget the first step of Summer (or the last step of Spring – graceful exits and entrances are one and the same) is clearing away all the ideas, expectations and strange baggage that came up during the exploration phase that don’t have a place in the final product or the process that will bring it to completion. In that brief moment of forgetting, it feels like I have to fix it all and what is most in need of fixing is me – because: omg, look at this mess! Besides being overwhelming, it’s just plain unappealing. Next thing you know I’m looking up Alice Cooper videos on YouTube…
Thankfully, I consider my Inner Rebel my ally rather than my enemy. When she shows up in the form of resistance – especially the middle-finger-in-the-air variety – I know she’s trying to help me understand something about myself, the flaws in the rules I’m trying to follow, and what I really need right now. And I know her to be incredibly smart about this stuff in a way my Inner Goody Two Shoes is not. So I really try to listen to what she’s saying.
And in this particular awkward moment between Spring and Summer, she insisted that I do a really proper mise en place for the coming quarter to clarify exactly how I wanted to go about doing what I knew needed doing, especially how I wanted to feel doing it.
Since I happened to have the house to myself, I treated myself to a little planning retreat and devoted most of a leisurely Saturday to journaling and collaging my way to answering those questions (something I haven’t done in ages because it usually turns me into a navel-gazing idiot in less than an hour, but this time it was great).
In the course of the day, I renamed my current projects (because what you call a thing matters). I rewrote my story about what is true lest I choose strategies based on outdated assumptions about myself and an understanding of the world formed when I was a child. I explored the paradoxes that to feel safe I need to feel free and that to feel free I need a stable foundation.
I had cleared so much off my psychic table that by the time my Inner Rebel started cranking up Alice Cooper and demanded that I plan the whole season like summer camp, I could say: That’s a great idea! In fact, it’s perfect.
Because summer camp is a fun and welcome break from the routines of the school year that still has structure. In fact, it requires structure. Because whether you’re unleashing your inner jedi or circus acrobat, rockstar or rock climber, pony whisperer or rocket surgeon, all of it takes practice. A lot of practice. Such camps are devoted to almost nothing but refinement and structured to support it. And yet they are also loads of fun.
And so I was finally able to reconcile the seemingly incompatible qualities of Summer: relaxation and refinement, play and practice, flexibility and finishing.
I’ve made some tweaks to my daily planner, weekly schedule and project plans – my day-to-day systems – to embody these summertime qualities, but they aren’t really all that different than they were a month ago. Most of what needed paring away was in my head. Now that I’ve pruned what was dead, diseased, broken or at cross-purposes, now that air and light can flow through my branches again, I’m really looking forward to the season of ripening.
I’ve also regained my enthusiasm for sharing something of what I know about practice, follow-through and attention to detail. But that will have to wait until next time, so stay tuned.
Until then, I’d love to know if you’re also longing for a break from the striving, ambitious energy of Spring and how you are giving yourself a more playful and relaxed – yet still productive – Summer. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below or send me at note at hello [at] thirdhandworks [dot] com.
peace and love,
P.S. Breaking the Rules is actually a lesson in the foundational curriculum of the S4D – and a skill we continually put into practice. If you’d like to befriend your own Inner Rebel and learn how to benefit from her wisdom, I warmly invite you to join us.
“We’re gonna smoke and drink and fool around…”