A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

Anyone who’s ever held a phone conversation with me knows I am an inveterate multitasker. I’ve got to be, if I’m going to complete all my self-assigned tasks. While I’m on the phone with somebody– clients, friends, and family alike — if the conversation lasts longer than three minutes, chances are I’m doing something else at the same time. I’ve talked to clients while weeding my garden, driving to school to pick up my daughter, making dinner, and performing myriad other tasks that require half my attention or less. EVERYONE has held phone conversations with me while I did the dishes: I am the mother of two teenagers, a scratch cook, and wholly committed to organic food, and the dishes just never stop piling up.

However, I can’t hold the really intense conversations with clients that our creativity work necessitates while doing much of anything else: all of me goes into those conversations, and I am very nearly as oblivious to the outside world as I am when I’m writing. I probably shouldn’t even drive — and I generally don’t. Usually these conversations are scheduled, and I’m able to be safely ensconced in my office while we talk.

Yesterday, however, I had an Idiot Moment. I was on my way from Point A to Point B, in fact just pulling into the gas station to fill up, when my phone rang; the caller was a person I have just begun working with, who is working on the most challenging project anyone I know has had the guts to take on. The project is esoteric by anyone’s standards (yes, even mine) and my caller has taken on the challenge of communicating some mind-blowing ideas even though not a writer by nature or training. Last week we had an intense, wonderful session that led to a fantastic breakthrough in the structure of the project — but it was one of those breakthroughs in which you can see why your approach isn’t working, and maybe you have an idea of how to proceed instead, but that idea taps into challenging and scary territory. After a session like that, it’s normal to need to sit with one’s own ideas and feelings for a while before even attempting to move forward — and equally normal to feel the need to talk to one’s coach when the moving-forward begins again. Suffice it to say that I was eager for the next conversation, because I hate the feeling of leaving someone I’m working with at sea, even when I understand it’s a necessary part of the process.

Even though I shouldn’t even attempt to drive during such conversations, and even though every instinct I possessed shouted for me to just park the car while we talked, I was on a mission that was pretty important in the mundane sector of my life, and I knew if I didn’t keep moving forward I’d miss a deadline. So I decided to just get through the situation on force of will, pump my gas while holding this important and demanding conversation, and drive on to my next destination. My caller graciously offered to call back another time; but I didn’t want to leave the conversation hanging. I pumped my gas while talking and drove to my next destination, finishing our call in the parking lot before going inside.

But while I did successfully pump my gas, I failed to contain my wallet. I was too locked into the conversation. Because I was working without a headset and attempting to pump gas one-handed, I set my wallet on the roof of my car while I pulled out the credit card for the pump, and — wait for it — drove off with the wallet still on the roof.

Of course it’s gone. I should have known better. I should have understood and respected my own limitations. I can do two things at once, but I can’t do three — and I really can’t do anything else when engaged in intense creative work, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

So, today’s lesson: understand and respect your needs and limitations. Creative work is not like the other sorts of work we do: it demands everything we’ve got. To give it less is to guarantee failure of some sort. All things considered, I’m lucky that my wallet was all I lost.

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