Put Your Effort Where It Works

Wishing for what isn’t is not way to live happily. Wishing that it were cooler (if you live here in the Sonoran Desert) makes it seem hotter. Wishing you were richer makes you feel poorer.

All those yellow flowers and green leaves? They’re not coming back.

In July, the serious heat sets in. July is the hottest month for most Northern Hemisphere areas, and we often have 30 days of more than 110 degrees–they aren’t consecutive,  but most of them happen in July and August. Each year, I buy plants that say “full sun” on the little white plastic spears that come in the pot.  Our “full sun” melts the little plastic signs, so the plants don’t

Each year I struggle to keep those plants alive. That makes as much sense as trying to keep the leaves on the trees in October in Vermont. It’s just not going to happen.

This morning I quit watering the straw those plants turned into and decided to put my efforts into the ones that could survive without a lot of extra work.

Not going to make it, no matter how much love I pour on it.

And that’s exactly what happens with your creativity, too. Put it in a place where it can’t possibly survive, and the struggle is ugly and non-productive.

Whether that’s a bad relationship, bad retreat you feel you should have loved, bad project you thought would be great, or bad book you are reading, there are some efforts that won’t be rewarded. Goethe, the German thinker and poet, said “Die Arbeit ist nicht immer mit Erfolg gekrönt,” —Your work is not always guaranteed success. (I know it’s not the literal translation, the interpretation was called for here.)

So why not eliminate all those dead projects that aren’t worth saving? Flogging a dead horse is not always noble or even what’s called for. Sometimes it’s far more worthwhile to be very honest, determine that you do not have the stamina, strength, materials, smarts or spirit to make this project succeed, or even move forward. The smart thing to do is to stop pouring your effort into a bottomless pit and spend more of your effort doing something that will give you a better result.

This is the one that will make it. This is the place to put the effort.

Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it. The other half, of course, is knowing what you are good at and doing more of it.

Yes, this is different from stopping because you are bored or tired, or walking away from your marriage because there is something more appealing to go after.  You know the projects. You’ve been there. Spend the precious water you have in the Sonoran desert to nurture the plant that can adapt to the desert. Put your energy behind the projects that will work. They will thrive and so will you.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.