Catching up is keeping up
It’s easier to keep up than to catch-up.
I have no idea where I first heard that phrase. It could have been in high school or from a coach or at a first job. Wherever it came from, it stuck and I lived by it. Now it's one of those deep-seeded beliefs that feels like one of the unwavering truths of the universe. Like the sky is blue, puppies are cute, and a full night of sleep is important. This week, however, I began to appreciate catching-up in a whole new way.
For some things, that phrase rings clear and true. It's much less daunting for me to spend 20 minutes on a week's worth of household bookkeeping than it is to dedicate an entire afternoon to the mammoth task of several months accumulation. I also feel less stressed about my work email when there is only one or two days of correspondence waiting expectantly in my inbox, rather than the weeks of build-up after vacation or illness. And it's most convenient to be able to find an important document when I'm up to date on filing.
On the other hand, there is also a great deal of satisfaction in catching up on things. I recently decided to brush-up my German vocabulary by texting back and forth in German with a friend. Unsurprisingly, I have forgotten a great many words and my spelling is atrocious. My German would not be nearly so rusty if I had been diligently keeping up with it all these years, but now that I’m catching up it has added a really delightful layer to an already lovely friendship.
There is also something to be said for those times when a person is unable to keep up. Over this last year of Covid (plus everything else 2020 threw at us) I felt like I was trying frantically just to keep up the whole time. It felt like bobbing in an ocean of happenings, trying to keep my head above the surface of the water. Then, as the new year approached, all that keeping up finally caught up with me. And I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I could not keep a regular sleep schedule. I could not accomplish the things on my calendar. I could not face my unrelenting inbox. I was exhausted and there continued to be calamity and incident. So I got behind. I was behind on house chores, behind on projects, behind on grocery shopping, behind on phone calls, and my email inbox was as unsummitable as Mt Everest.
It felt terrible. I felt terrible. It was like I had a weight I couldn’t set down and also couldn’t really get a grip on so it flopped about irritatingly, throwing my entire balance off and getting in my way whenever I tried to reach for anything else. It was maddening and defeating. I was constantly distracted and some days I couldn't settle to anything.
Until I switched to catch-up mode.
While I was still desperately clinging to keeping up, I was entirely focused on what I wasn't getting to, the projects I wasn't getting done, the neglected work I was turning into a burden for my future self. As soon as I recognized that all I was was behind, I suddenly remembered I was not actually a failure at everything. I was just behind, and I know what to do when I'm behind: catch-up.
That perspective shift also allowed me to see that I was keeping up with some things, just not all the things. I was still feeding myself and doing the laundry, still making it to Zoom meetings and attending online workouts, still starting and ending my day with qigong. I remembered that it’s impossible to keep up with absolutely everything in life, work, and the world. And that reminded me of another unwavering universal truth I believe in:
One thing at a time and it all gets done.
I know exactly where I first heard that one. I was sitting in my boss's office, overwhelmed by the state of my inventory and feeling behind on everything. As we reviewed my cases, I shared my actions to-date and my planned next steps. We looked at my calendar and scheduled things. Finally my boss said, "You know how you're going to get out from under this pile of cases? One at a time."
So that's how I caught up this week. One email at a time, one project at a time, one chore at a time, until it all got done. A lesson that feels just as applicable to other areas of my life, notably my continuing work for racial and social justice. That is certainly something I felt very behind on once I realized I should have been paying attention to it my whole life. I’m a few decades in to my life, so I've been working to catch up the last few years.
As a society, we're behind on a lot of things, including racial and social justice. A lot of people need housing and food. A lot of people need education and healthcare. A lot of people need their humanity recognized and their experience honored. The planet needs a reprieve from all the destructive ways we humans live our lives. It's a lot, but we can catch up. One thing at a time, until it all gets done.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.