“When you finish…do you have the proverbial grit under your fingernails, splinters in your hand, sunburn on your face and ache in your joints? If so, chances are you put your whole soul into the effort.” —Hope Clark
Manual labor is not my best friend. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that given the choice on any given day, I’ve chosen lawn chairs over lawn mowers.
Settling into the chair, steadying my book and drink, a hint of guilt has been known to creep into my head. I can usually shake it off.
I admire people who work outside all day. I’m just not one of them. I’m not conditioned for it since my days are filled with central air and fluorescent lighting.
It’s easier to opt out of the sore muscles that accompany the physical stuff. Like gardening. Sure, it sounds all dainty and sweet, but if you’ve done it, you know the truth.
In the best light, my thumb is a sallow shade of lime and I couldn’t tell you what to plant where or when. But I made an effort a few years ago by turning a small piece of ground behind my house into something resembling a flower garden. I was covered in dirt, dripping with sweat and had the worst backache I’ve ever felt.
As I fell over from exhaustion, at least I had some really pretty flowers of some kind to land in.
Maybe there was something to this physical labor. I had something to show for my effort. It felt good.
Putting extra oomph into something that takes energy and strength is a natural stress-buster. When you’re crossing over comfort lines, there’s no time for wallowing in problems. That’s when you get to say, “I didn’t know I could do that.” That feels good, too.
I imagine this is the mindset for overachievers, serious athletes or superheroes. I think it can work for the rest of us, too. Success comes in different forms for everyone, but there is some truth to the old adage: no pain, no gain.
But it’s more than just the pain, it’s the process. I fight procrastination on a daily basis. I’ve decided it’s a medical condition and am waiting for the FDA to approve a pill. I even put off the things I love to do. During these procrastination periods, I come down hard on myself for not getting things done. It’s a crazy cycle.
At my wits end, I used my journal to take notes of the things I put off. What did I put on the back burner? What else was going on at the time? What finally motivated me to get them done?
I saw that the one thing that always got me back on task was physical activity. And I realized that if I do find myself stuck on a paragraph or a sentence or a single word in a column like this—and that’s more often than not—I can keep typing random four-letter words out of frustration or I can back away.
The tasks (or entire days) that seem impossible to get through are the ones made for cleaning floors. Or going on a run. Or chopping wood. Or weeding a garden. Just breaking a sweat.
Maybe you won’t change the world in that moment, but you can still do that tomorrow. Instead you’ll be really tired, sleep soundly and wake up a little sore but with a tangible achievement met. Maybe even push through a mind block.
I’m working on procrastinating less and producing more. As I sort out the details I’ll be in my menial flower bed, pushing up daisies.
There’s probably a better way to word that. I better go scrub something.
The original version of this column ran May 28, 2008. Questions or comments on Parts of Speech can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org