I’m not going to lie (a phrase with which my 17-year-old begins 90% of his statements these days), it’s been a tough week.
I feel like I’ve been driving a car with the orange “low-fuel” light on for a very long stretch of highway and have made it further than I expected, but ultimately can’t make it to the nearest gas station. So I’m stopping the car on the shoulder of a particularly empty and overgrown stretch of road. I’m too tired right now to walk to the next gas station and I just want to recline the driver’s seat as far back as it will go and take a sweaty nap on the side of the highway. Not safe, not smart, but I can’t seem to find the energy to do anything else. That’s me — the person napping in her car on the side of the road because despite my best efforts, I’ve run out of gas.
It isn’t a shock that I ran out of gas. The “low fuel” light has been on for a while, but last week, camps for all my kids were officially cancelled and that’s when I knew it was time to pull over. Camp cancellation is not truly not the end of the world particularly when the world is so very bleak, but as my mother-in-law likes to say, “your own toothache is always worse than someone else’s.” So while, on the one hand, I can recognize how lucky I am in the larger global pandemic context, I am also giving myself permission in this moment to feel pretty crappy about my family’s personal disappointments this spring. I was holding out hope that summer might miraculously feel somewhat normal, but last week’s announcement about camp (one which I totally respect and understand and support) has me stalled out. I could already feel my momentum slowing down anyway, finding productivity harder to achieve, my can-do attitude slightly less can-do, but this was the final blow. My momentum is officially kaput. And right now, I’m feeling really sorry for myself and my aching tooth, which is actually hurting, but my dentist office is closed and I can’t do anything about it.
So where do I go from here? How do I get some gas in my car and get back on the road? How do I motivate myself to go somewhere when I don’t know where I’m going or how long it will take to get there or even if once I get there, it’s really the place I want to be anyway? When I was starting Dynamo Girl and was overwhelmed by the too-muchness and not-enoughness of launching a company, a friend gave me a wonderful piece of advice. She said, “When you feel overwhelmed and stalled, ignore the people who tell you to set a five year plan because that will only make you feel worse. Instead, set micro-goals for yourself each week until you pick up speed and find real momentum.” Micro-goals in her description are small tasks and accomplishments that can help feel like I’m making progress each day, baby steps forward that move me a little closer to a sense of productivity that week. I have carried her advice with me since then, almost like a mantra whispered in my head whenever I feel overwhelmed: micro-goals, micro-goals, micro-goals. Over the years, setting micro-goals instead of long term plans has given me permission to count small accomplishments as victories and helped keep desperation at bay when I worry that I’m simply treading water and going nowhere.
At this time when we cannot plan more than a week, or sometimes even a day, ahead I am going to return to the tactic of using micro-goals. When camp was cancelled, my panic levels began to rise, my last stores of energy were depleted and I was paralyzed by the enormity of what lay ahead this summer and into the fall. Camp was the only measuring stick I had been using to determine whether things were getting back to normal (or not) and guess what? They weren’t. So now I need a new measuring stick, not a five year plan, but a micro-plan — a plan for today and a plan for next week and that’s about it. And maybe today’s plan is to shower (it’s already 4pm) and to write something (mildly) interesting and to make a (mediocre) dinner. Done. I’m going to put my driver’s seat back up to a normal position, open the car door, stretch out my legs and walk to the nearest gas station to get some fuel for my car. Because I need to remind myself that running out of gas is not a permanent state. I can refill my tank and get back on the road, even if right now I’m not sure where I’m going.