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The myth of competence

Woah, there goes another tumbleweed bowling past.

A Good One
Creative Commons License photo credit: Claire L. Evans

Yes, sorry about the dusty ghost town feel around here of late. There is a very simple reason. 365 Jars has been kicking my ass. Hard.

In my enthusiasm for starting a new project – ‘yay, new art project, yay’ – I forgot that new projects are always intense and all-consuming. 365 Jars is especially full on because it is a ton of work: I seriously underestimated how much time it was going to take every day. Plus starting a new daily walking habit has been a shock to the system. Don’t fret, I’m OK but between all that and recovering from The Hideous Flu, I’ve been distinctly overwhelmed and I’m still behind with everything.

I don’t know about you but I live with the pretty fiction that I can somehow Get On Top Of Things.

Let us pause for a moment for the hysterical laugher to subside.

Despite 43 years of solid evidence to the contrary, I persist in believing in a mythical point at which I will be Up To Date.

I secretly believe that it’s possible that my inbox will be empty, the laundry will be washed and put away and I won’t have any urgent outstanding work. Furthermore, I believe that it’s possible for all this to happen on the same day!

There is no indication that this is humanly possible but like a fervent believer in the Loch Ness Monster, absence of hard scientific evidence does nothing to dissuade me. The truth is out there, Scully, the truth is out there.

Surely it’s theoretically possible that one day I will complete all my unfinished knitting projects? And all my paperwork will be correctly filed with no missing bank statements and my accounting shall be done to a level that would make the Inland Revenue smile and pat me on the head. And the floors will be clean and I will have cooked in recent memory. And angels shall sing and fairies shall dance in my spotless kitchen and all will be well with the world. And all this shall happen before civilisation crumbles into oblivion, the sun explodes or we are invaded by aliens who eat our brains.

In short, I believe that it is possible that I will be On Top Of Things Like A Real Person.

IMGP1957
Creative Commons License photo credit: Don Fulano

Now, I do not know who these Real People are but apparently they are capable of a mystical level of organisation that I can barely aspire to.

In truth, like many people, I exist in a state of barely controlled chaos.

Recently I had a staggering insight. There will never be a point at which everything is working. Never. There will always be something undone, something lost, something falling off the bottom of the list, something a mere moment away from a crisis. Always.

So what to do with this insight?

I could forgive myself.

Hard for a perfectionist but OK, I’ll give it a go. But then I just wind up crying into my cornflakes about how I’m not forgiving myself perfectly enough. Oh wait, I see a slight problem with this approach.

I could seriously cut back on what I’m doing.

Ah, this feels better. Is everything on my list really necessary? Is it all equally important? Will the world end if the laundry is not put away? Ah wait, perhaps this is that mythical ‘prioritising’ of which I’ve heard? Why, goodness me, I do believe it is.

But truthfully, right now, even the thought of prioritising makes me want to cry. It seems to demand more competence and energy than I currently possess.

Oh dear, we’re back to forgiveness again.

So I’m falling back on that old standby: ‘tiny steps’. It’s not big and dramatic but it works. I’m not taking on new responsibilities and I’m patiently nibbling away at existing ones like a harvest mouse.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Chris Barber

In the meantime, does anyone want to come round and put my damn laundry away?


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Comments

  • No, just stuff it in a corner and have tea and biscuits with me instead. :)

    [Reply]

    Kirsty Reply:

    @Ryah Albatros, That is an excellent idea, Ryah – don’t mind if I do :-)

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  • Wait…WHAT? You mean Getting Everything Done is a myth? Dang, how’d I miss that memo?

    Thanks, Kirsty, for a great post. I operate in the same squeaky-clean-shiny-tidy fantasy land. It *seems* attainable (everyone does it, right?) but yet just beyond my grasp. Rather like an oasis in the desert: I can see it, but can’t quite get there.

    p.s. Take comfort in knowing that your 365 Jars project ROCKS!

    [Reply]

    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Karen Koch, Thanks Karen. Apparently quite a few of us are suffering from this delusion, it’s good to know that I’m not alone.

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  • I have decided to embrace the concept of “good enough”. The laundry is clean enough, the meals are nutritious enough, the filing is…well, never mind. You get the idea. Nothing is perfect, I’m never really caught up, but we are less stressed, most of the time. It’s a work in progress.

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Frances Vettergreen, I need to practice more ‘good enough’ Frances but I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so it doesn’t come easily to me.

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    Frances Vettergreen Reply:

    @Kirsty Hall,
    No, me either. I’m getting better in some areas but not in others. Practice, they say, makes perfect — no, change that, good enough!

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  • I SO relate to this post in a big way. Today I was just lamenting about how “behind” I am on my laundry. But laundry, dirty dishes, schmutz…they never sleep. You’re never done. I try to see it as some sort of flow or dance (do it to music even) and use it to be in the moment, but sometimes doesn’t work at all…atall.

    Just give yourself a break and start wherever you are and Be. Here. Now. It’s better that way.

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Georgene Lockwood, you’re so right, Georgene, it’s a never-ending treadmill. Thankfully, my husband and son helped me put the laundry away after I wrote this post, which reminded me that duh, I could always just ask for help!

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  • I leave the dried laundry on the double bed in the spare room and with luck it will be worn before I get round to putting it way.

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Lorna, we often live out of the laundry baskets too, Lorna.

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  • I think it’s incredibly hard to let go of competence-guilt. I currently like the idea of creating, and indeed living, as the primordial ooze. You have to let stuff make its own unexpected combinations as well as mixing it yourself, and let some things sink to the bottom while others rise.

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Jo, primordial ooze, oh yes, I think we might have some of that in the bottom of the fridge. :)

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  • Oh, I can so totally see how 365Jars takes up much more time than expected! If it were me, I’d have figured 1hour a day for the walk, and one day a week to make jars. But that doesn’t account for writing the posts, taking/editing photos, laying out the post, answering comments, emails and getting supplies!

    I was in a e was a conversation the other day about laundry, and how it could never *all* be clean, because even on that last load, you were dirtying up the clothes you were wearing. Unless you do laundry in the nude, which gives a whole new meaning to “horrible behind” and is not-sexy.

    I had a point, but I seem to have lost it under the pile of dirty dishes…

    [Reply]

    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Tori Deaux, that’s *exactly* the maths that I did, Tori & I came to that same conclusion. I was so wrong!

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  • My kids use the basket of clean laundry as their closet – you mean that’s not the ‘perfect’ way to do it?!

    I’m not so hot at forgiving myself either (have I really forgiven myself? has thinking about it proved that I haven’t been forgiving?) and when prioritizing I worry if I’m using the perfect system of prioritizing. (Please, go ahead and laugh!) So now I just try to think of it as ‘cutting myself some slack’.

    I still wish I could get it all together like those mythical “Real People”, or even follow a train of thought for longer than a goldfish.

    Now, what was I doing again?

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Caroline Roberts, We almost always live out of our laundry baskets, Caroline – I’m not sure my teenager really grasps the concept of ‘wardrobes’.

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  • Well, now you’ve gone and ruined the post I was just writing about how I can never catch up with everything. I hadn’t even thought about forgiving myself, and hilarity wasn’t an option. What am I going to write now?

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @LaVonne Ellis, well fair play, LaVonne, I was going to write something for Customer Love about how I wasn’t really fully engaged in the challenge and then you went and said it instead ;-)

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  • Haha, we’ll never get it all done and we’ll always miss out on something! Two truths that ease the pressure in my head when I start going down that path of overwhelm.

    I don’t know any of those Real People either but if I ever do meet one, I’m going to kick their ass on our behalf!

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Sandi Amorim, give them an extra hard kick from me, Sandi!

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  • Oh for goodness sake — here I thought I was the only one to believe that some day I’d actually be on top of things! When I figured out it was never gonna happen it was actually a huge relief.

    Now, whenever I chant my usual mantra of “I have so much to do! I have so much to do! And not nearly enough time to do it in!” I’m able to kind of “step outside of the distress,” as it were, and notice that in fact, I’ve ALWAYS felt this way, and WILL always feel this way. And yet, life seems to go on, and the sky has not fallen yet.

    I still always assume that everyone ELSE is on top of things better than I am, though. Kinda nice to know I’ve got good company. ;)

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Melissa Dinwiddie, We can be chaotic together, Melissa. If it’s any consolation, I’m always impressed with how much you do.

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  • Kirsty, My delusions are shattered. I thought there was a TOP SECRET METHOD that everyone else used to keep their lives in top order, their inbox = zero and their projects on track.

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Tammy, Sorry to break open that delusion, Tammy :-)

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  • Completely empathise. I also have a habit of imagining small jobs are actually huge which stops me tackling them and makes me feel overwhelmed, of course, I usually find out that it only takes 10 mins… And there’s the other jobs that you think are going to be quick and turn into a chaotic labyrinth. No, we’re not going to win. I’m trying Michael Nobbs’ 20 min plan, to at least get my important work done, thinking of applying a 10 min plan for housework…

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    Melissa Dinwiddie Reply:

    @Ruth Churchman, for awhile I was dealing with ONE PIECE OF PAPER every single time I walked into my studio. Filing, recycling, whatever — the requirement was just ONE.

    I’ve fallen out of the habit, but want to get back to it. My studio is a disaster, but my goal is to have a spacious, tidy space to come into, and the only way to get there is one piece of stuff at a time.

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  • Hi Kirsty,
    love the Chinese acrobats spinning plates – when I was a textile design lecturer at UWE>Bristol, light years ago, I always used to explain the first days’ teaching a project as “spinning plates” – I just used to have to cruise the studio after the introduction and sort of set students off again when they flagged while thinking/drawing/researching before they coaght fire and got their own momentum – I never thought of it as such a glamorous occupation as you have illustrated.
    Janet

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @janet haigh, it’s probably not glamorous for the plate spinners either, it just looks that way from the outside. Hell, there are probably people who think that our lives are glamorous ;-)

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  • hmmm… projects that are too big, no, no experience with those, laundry sort of folded because it has been in the basket for several weeks, again no, urgent deadlines, no, lack of self forgiveness, no, OK really YES! YES! YES! Hideous panic attack witnessed by ever loving hubby, yep that was today.. must be karma that I happened by tonight. Thanks for being honest and reminding us what a laugh it is, that perfection…the enemy!

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @deb, You’re right, Deb, it’s all down to perfectionism.

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  • The 365 Jars project rocks and the only person I know that has an always clean house and folded laundry does nothing else and just how boring would that life be?!

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    Kirsty Hall Reply:

    @Kirstin, Thanks Kirsten, it’s true that we have to choose our priorities and while there’s nothing wrong with having a tidy house, it’s never been one of mine.

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  • A clean house is the sign of a dull woman !!

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  • Thank you Kirsty,
    I feel sooooo much better after reading your post, and not alone in my chaotic world! I like the comment above mine. When my children said I was good at cleaning the house and car when I asked them what Mummy was got at and they there was a long pause, I nearly cried! I felt so dull! I am not even very good at cleaning I just do it a lot. I decided to get on with what I really want to do. I started an art group today, I am hoping more people will make it easier to get stuff done.

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  • Member of the perfectionistic/chaos club here.
    nope, I will never catch up there are too many things I want to do and not enough hours in the day…
    I’m trying to set up a system that catches all of my ideas (whether or not I ever get to them) and keeps my studio floor from becoming the only available work space. If I could do that and get to the point where I’m not constantly putting out fires I might be satisfied, unfolded laundry or not!

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  • There will always be something undone, something lost, something falling off the bottom of the list, something a mere moment away from a crisis.

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  • t’s probably not glamorous for the plate spinners either, it just looks that way from the outside. Hell, there are probably people who think that our lives are glamorous ;-)
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  • something lost, check
    something falling off the bottom of the list, check
    many projects half done, check
    volunteered to do too much, check
    crisis in my mind: "I will get caught up before (fill in black)." check

    [Reply]

Hello comment person, you rock!

  

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