On July 19, 2012 I declared I’m going to Stop Sucking and Start Kicking Ass— for a good year. (I’ll publish a thorough report in a month or so about how everything is going.) Today, I’m almost two months in, and I’m facing my first deadline: September 15, my birthday. It’s completely self imposed, and if I hadn’t set myself up for some public accountability, like I’m doing right now, I’d just let it slide by.
My T’ai Chi Teacher and Doctor, Martin Inn, used to tell me when I was stressing out:
“Deadlines are rarely dead.”
It’s true. A deadline used to mean:
– a boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards.
It would be a mild statement to call our current use of “deadline” semantic stretch. I don’t know anyone who’s died from crossing over a deadline. To give meaning back to the word perhaps we can reserve the term for the moment after which work toward a goal becomes meaningless— or at least much less meaningful.
For example, if your goal is to make it back to your papa’s farm for the spring planting, this would be a deadline:
Noon: the last boat back to the mainland till May.
The Making of a Deadline
Just so I’d complete some important, non-urgent goals, I made a deadline that involves some of the people I care about most. On Saturday evening a group of friends and family of unknown size will converge at my home for a birthday, housewarming, charity benefit, potluck party. I have about 74 hours to prepare.
Here are some things I have to check off my list by Saturday night:
Wrap up and stop doing home improvement projects. Having just moved into this new little place, I had a big list of stuff I wanted to do to make the place feel and work better. I’ve finished a bunch of projects and decided to let some wait a year, but in the next three days I need to:
- Build and install an acrylic awning over my entrance (to keep rain off visitors).
- Install shelves in my daughter’s bedroom.
- Hang lights off the peach tree in my garden.
- Unpack that last 4 really difficult boxes from my move.
- Paint the stairwell.
- Take stuff to goodwill.
- Clean up and get ready for the party.
Stop Campaigning for Charity: Water. In July I pledged to Scott Harrison that I’d help him raise money to solve the world’s water problem. His organization makes sure every dollar we donate goes to directly to water projects. As a result, it takes only $20 to get one person access to clean drinking water. I’ve been trying to raise awareness and money for this campaign using my birthday as a focus and a deadline. After my birthday I’ll stop.
Get ready to sing in public. It’s been years since I sang solo in front of a crowd, and I chose my birthday party to step out again. Working with a new teacher, Vismaya Lhi who has taught me surprising lessons in micro steps, I’ve come to understand this is not a time for me to show off, which for the past 3 weeks has been a lurking, hidden, and now slightly embarrassing desire. Instead, it’s a time to show up! Vismaya suggested two things that I’ve never done during a performance:
- Breathe through my nose down to my belly between every line.
- Focus on the meaning and the feeling of the words, one line at a time.
This is not advice for everyone. But it’s how I will avoid worrying about how I sound, make sure my body remembers I have a skull and a belly for singing, too (not just a throat), and keep a strong connection to each song. Every breath gives me a chance to reset the experience for me and the listeners. Before Saturday night, I have to practice!!!
By finishing all these things, I can stop doing them completely so I can focus on what’s more important to me for the following 10 months.
(NOTE: I’ll probably sing in public again, just to show off.)
A Sucky Start to the Day: The $110 Ticket
Today was all lined up with a realistic, Gung Ho Day’s Plan, and then a friend and neighbor called to say he had left his laptop and iPad in his home, sitting in a backpack in his hallway, his door wide open, and contractors, carpenters, and sheet rockers coming in and out all day. Could I run over there and save it?!?
Perfect! A moment to be a hero! Yes! I’m here for you buddy!
I grab my keys and run out the door in my flip-flops, eager to solve his easy problem and avoid my difficult ones, when I notice the street cleaning sign. Right, I have to move my car before tomorrow morning or I’ll get a ticket. I bark into my iPhone, “Siri, remind me to move my car at 3pm!” (That’s when spots are open.) Then a block later it occurs to me, why don’t I move it now?
Flip flopping back to the car, I calculate, I could get new guitar strings, too. This is synergy!
Within a few minutes, his backpack safe in my hands, I’m parking right across from the funky Noe Valley Music— without my wallet. In a fury to check a few things off my list, I motor back home, quickly park my car in the driveway blocking the sidewalk for a second as per Mission District standards. I dodge into my home to grab my wallet. Oh, I should also get the stainless steel bolts and the drill bit for the awning. My car needs gas, too, and a washing. Wait Delp! Don’t leave without a good list. Aw, just go get guitar strings and get that other stuff later.
Five minutes is all it takes for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to write a ticket for blocking the sidewalk. I had one of those cliche cinematic moments yelling into the sky:
Here it is.
The Cure for the Sucky Start of the Day
I like deadlines sometimes. Feeling urgency around something I care about is a great way to deal with the mundane tasks required for it. I’m really tired this week from all the running around, and I have much more to do before Saturday, and home improvement projects make me hemorrhage money which in turn causes me anxiety, even though I’ve set aside money for this stage in my life.
And the a friggin’ ONE HUNDRED TEN DOLLAR PARKING TICKET.
I swing by the car wash and put my Honda in line and settle onto the waiting bench with the others, ready to fork over another handful of cash for gas and a clean car. Oh, and a tip. How much should I tip the dozens of people who are now squirting and rubbing my car with cleaner and rags, respectively?
The guy in the BMW doesn’t tip anything.
The lady with the SUV? Nope, nothing.
Okay, I guess you don’t have to tip. Cool. I don’t want to spend another penny.
And then, of course I realize the ridiculousness of the situation. Already $180 dollars into a day spent sucking at dealing with my car, I pulled out a ten dollar bill.
“The whole thing?” asks the surprised last guy with a rag.
“Sure, you guys are working a lot harder than I am.”
Then, I buy myself a SUZY-Q and decide to go home and write about it.
The morals for this story
Making a deadline feel real is a great way to get important stuff done.
Guerrero Street is not in the Mission District so parking rules actually apply.
Feeling like you’re hemorrhaging money is no excuse to stop feeling generous. Click here to donate to Charity: Water. It’s my birthday for crying out loud!