On Getting Out of Your Own Way

I spent a good bulk of years collecting bad habits until, like the most memorable characters on Hoarders, I couldn’t make my way to the front door. These bad habits were nothing more than doing nothing. I moved slowly, pitched in tar all around me. Within this sticky goo, I’d made movements seemingly grandiose to the outside world. I raised a boy into a man, managed three graduate level degrees, published, held down jobs. But in the eerie war-torn hours after midnight when the dust settled around my various apartments and my son snoozed into his next day of aging into manhood, I was bolt-upright. Sitting in fear which served no purpose. Instead, I simply thought about these many flashes of once-sharpened ideas that, like all the others, floated into the ether.

My successes, while admirable, were only challenging because I fought them. I resisted success because like a lot of people, I wasn’t ever encouraged to do much. I never learned discipline, buried beneath a sorry childhood. Since then my inability to function in fits and starts has gotten better, but the rubble was still all around me. I stood my ground, standing in my own way. I was aces at it. And until I learned how to step aside and allow myself to move freely, I remained stuck.

I had to learn to lift my invented and thoughtfully-placed bricks to clear a path. I had to get to My Ideas. These ideas I had were good, I had a lot of them. I wanted to be a novelist, a poet. Writing a cookbook of survival-as-a-single-mom-on-welfare-clawing-through-graduate-school was in my plans. I wanted to write Great Research Tomes dismantling punishing systems of stratification. Play professional roller derby. Sew my own clothes and clothes for my son. Plant a garden and keep it alive to feed my family. Raise chickens. A goat. Make cheese from the goat’s milk. Open a restaurant that doubled as a Free Library. Have more kids.

But there I was, busy with a young child and living in a town where I knew nobody, launching into graduate school. I’d had dropped out of high school when I was fifteen and managed to graduate from a college in complete bewilderment. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I even knew what “Ph.D.” stood for. I was, in a word, a mess. I had to move the bricks or suffocate in the cave I’d built for myself.

When we think about clearing the rubble in our way so that we can move forward with all the awesome plans we have for ourselves, most of us lock up. It’s that moment you know well, I imagine. You very likely have great ideas and no idea how to make time to implement them because you’re too busy with your regular job and your art project and your kid/s and your partner and family and…well, the ideas sit and stew, staring up at you like orphans waiting for tuppence.

I figured out how to move the bricks. Today, I think about how to chunk my ideas into pieces I can manage. I also try to remember that saying Yes to one thing usually means I have to say No to another. This is the price of change and movement — and when you pick something to focus on, you have to remember that you’re taking the focus off of something else.

This is usually the point at which you should step aside so you can make movement. Getting out of your own way is one of the more challenging things you can do, but it’s also the one where you will find clarity and closure while you open something else.