I had plenty of time to replace that light bulb while the tea kettle got ready to boil. But it is an outdoor fixture, and the housing is secured with two screws, and there’s yet another windstorm blowing through the neighborhood, and the screws had to go in right beside swallow droppings which are icky, and when I dropped the screw I had to run into the driveway without watching my feet because I didn’t want to lose sight of the screw as it went under the car. That’s when the whistle blew. One thing at a time would have been far less frantic. Lots of life can be tackled that way.
Luckily, I didn’t trip running down the stairs; the kettle could whistle for a long time before I burned my tea water; and, I was relaxed enough from a nice weekend (did you notice that I didn’t post on Saturday?) that I wasn’t stressed. I walked back to the light, attached the housing, went into the kitchen, took the kettle off the stove, and poured the water into the tea pot. One thing at a time.
Twenty years ago (20!) the movie “City Slickers” came out. It was fun. I don’t watch it repeatedly, but I repeatedly return to one snippet of a scene.
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.
I won’t say that I’ve figured out the “one thing”, but I admit to finding an interpretation that I refer to frequently. At any moment, despite appearances of multi-tasking, I can only do one thing. I may do many things in quick succession; and that can look like multi-tasking, but each moment contains one thing, one thing to focus on, respect, and pay attention to.
Many aspects of life are overwhelming. There’s no need to list mine. Your list is different and more important to your life. Taxes are one thing we may have in common. Thinking about taxes can make me anxious. I ease my way through by hiring help. Every year I buy TurboTax, answer their questions, make sure the result looks reasonable, and then send it off to the authorities. The US Federal Tax Code and it’s labyrinth of intertwined forms is reduced to a long series of individual questions and answers.
Personal finance is another one that most folks encounter. Some people simplify personal finance by ignoring it and hoping nothing goes wrong. That can work if there’s a big enough pile of money to spend. For most folks though, money must be managed, and that’s why I am an advocate for the 9-Step Program championed by the New Road Map Foundation. It reduces the effort to discrete steps and simple processes. Following it is one of the reasons I retired early. (Making my retirement weather the current storm is obviously another issue, which is obviously large enough to encompass this series of blog posts.)
Individual investing can seem that it is more complex than the tax code and entails far more than nine steps. Yet, investing can be simplified to individual steps. The list is too long and has enough caveats that I won’t include it in a thousand word blog post. That’s why I wrote the book, Dream. Invest. Live.; as an aid to describing how one person, me, invests. I learned more than enough to fill a book by taking a series of simple steps, occasionally making mistakes, often enough having successes, and building from what I’d learned. Eventually, I gained confidence that remains even amidst the current turmoil.
Yesterday (Saturday) I was in a class called Right Brain Writing, led by Sandra Rodman and hosted by Craig Weiner. There was an intriguing exercise when we paired up and shared advice using a technique that I won’t describe (that’s why there’s a class, eh?). The question I posed to my exercise partner came from a couple of life coaches who cornered me years ago. They told me that I was awesome and that I merely had to step up and into myself to succeed. I’ve been busy. I work hard, but yesterday I wondered if I had missed that step. So I wrote on my card, “How do I step up and into myself?” We traded question cards. I scribbled away at answering her question and stopped when I filled the paper. As I went to trade cards with her I noticed her odd expression. She didn’t understand the question so she hadn’t written anything. She’d sat there pondering its meaning and why I’d ask it. She sees me as already having stepped up and into myself. Her odd expression came from wondering how I could be so unaware that I hadn’t noticed that I’d taken that one step long ago. She was an excellent mirror and I thank her for doing that one simple thing.
What can be more complex than the inner workings of a mind and a soul? Yet, she was able to accomplish a major revelation without writing a word. She merely stated what she saw to be an honest and obvious truth, and was equally surprised by how much I appreciated her response. She saw her effort as incomplete because she hadn’t written anything. I saw her as the producer of a precious gem.
Our world is complex. It can be overwhelming. Global, political, societal, and community issues can seem unsolvable. If we focus on the problems we can reinforce those perceptions. Within my community and because of my book, I hear many laments about people being overwhelmed by the complexities of finance. I remind myself that I probably felt overwhelmed as I was getting ready to take each of those steps. I remind myself that the steps that overwhelm them or me may be handled the same way. If instead of worrying about the problem we focus on solving this one thing, and then that one thing, and if we look to others for a bit of help, and if we persist, then we’ll do many things – and in some cases we may find that we’ve already succeeded – and that the next thing might be to do no thing, at least for a while.