Projects. I’m terrified of them.
I have been since not long after we moved to Australia, when I was first introduced to projects in primary school. I wish I hadn’t been. They had this mean look to them, like they already thought I wasn’t good enough for them.
Elitist snobs, are what projects are, I thought. They always looked at me like they were expecting me to be someone I wasn’t. Even thirty-five years old, a (supposed) grown-up, and they still terrify me.
Even the ones who I ought to like, the ones who I name-drop like they’re my best mates: Mr. Dream Novel. The Podcast Sisters. Major “Rip” Bodhi and Captain “Dawg” Trainer. The Foxy Lady. Young NaNoWriMo (he likes to sound all gangsta like that).
(I mightn’t have introduced you to “Strummer” Kimbara yet; he’s a bit hard on the ears until you take the time to get to learn his language. Some of you folks at work have met him; Pascale, you even gave me a book on the conversational basics.)
They shake my hand and smile for the camera and I go all gushy about how awesome they are and how awesome the stuff we’re gunna do is gunna be, but really, they keep looking at me like I’m some annoying hanger-on instead of someone with whom they actually enjoy hanging out with.
Because they reckon I won’t give them what they want: Respect.
How can I? I barely have the chance to get to know them, and right away they want long-term commitment out of me. I have no idea what the hell I’m committing to.
A week or so ago, though, I finally realised what they really need from me at the start of the relationship:
A good date.
It’s odd that I never figured it out before. When I was young, the first thing folks would talk about when introducing me to a project was a date by which it would pack up and leave.
Instead, it seemed like I was being given a sentence: After that date, the project would go around and tell everyone I knew what a lazy, crap person I was. I’d have to live with that public shaming for the rest of my life.
Not only that, it seemed like a paradox. How come the date I was being given to give the project (like a present my Mum and Dad had bought me to take to the birthday party of this guy who they said was going to be My New Best Friend) was the last one, and not the first?
But over the last week, I’ve come to embrace the paradox, realise what a good thing it is. How it lets my projects and I have a meaningful talk about the nature of the relationship, the give and take, and how I just might be a better person by the time each of them leaves.
More importantly, how it helps me see past the intimidating front that projects often like to present so that I can find some common ground – someone I can respect.
I’ve had conversations like that with a couple of my biggest projects on Tuesday. The conversations, I’ve noticed, had a lot in common, and I’d like to share them with you in the hope that they’ll help your conversations with your projects go a bit easier, maybe let you respect them a bit more.
How to Talk Your Way Into Respecting Your Project
Here’s how my recent conversations went:
Firstly, my project and I set a deadline.
Projects like that word, “deadline.” It sounds scary.
I’m learning that it’s all part of that front they put up, though. Really, all it means is that paradox of the last date, set first.
It also makes sense. If I want to get something done, then I jolly well ought to have a target time that I want it done by. I’ve also noticed that, after my project and I set the deadline, the dreaded “I’ll Never Get This Done” feeling when I take on something new goes away.
Isn’t it strange? Starting a relationship by feeling glad that the project isn’t going to be around forever. Yet it works.
Secondly, we talk about what we’re going to do between now and then.
Look, I’m a smart guy. Give me a project’s name and I’ll have a pretty good idea of the sorts of things it likes to do. I mean, take Mr. Dream Novel. He told me recently that his real name is The Elizabeth Vaughan Novel Challenge (his date is the sixteenth of September, 2013, by the way, and he wants a nickname – I have the feeling it’s “Slamdance,” but we’ll see).
That tells me that we’re going to be doing a lot of writing.
It also tells me, though, that I’m going to have to work out some stuff beforehand:
- The plot I want to write, from the characters that will inhabit and drive that plot to the events they’ll react to (and cause).
- The time I’ll need to get a first draft done.
- Break times so that I can get some distance before reviewing and redrafting.
- People who’ll be willing to review my later drafts.
- Most importantly: Why I called a halt to my previous attempts at getting the novel written. Was it just frustration and disinterest in the result? Was there something I could do differently this time around?
I’ve been writing stuff like that down and shuffling it around so I have a better idea of the order I need to do them in; it also suggests the even smaller stuff in between those bigger activities that I hadn’t thought about yet.
Thirdly, we talk about going on more dates.
My date with the Elizabeth Vaughan Writing Challenge is a good ten months or so away. Plenty of time to get stuff done. Plenty! In fact, why am I even worrying about all this planning crap? I can do that later, and in the meantime, me and the Challenge can just play some Halo 4, right?
Nope. Procrastination is not treating the Challenge with respect. I know it and he sure as hell does.
So what we’ve done is talk about dates we can have in the meantime. The reason make them dates is because they’re more than just hanging out doing project stuff. These are capital-D dates where we get dressed up and have deep-and-meaningfuls about the progress of the relationship: The things I’ve done so far, things I’ve not had time to do, things we didn’t realise we don’t need, even new places we could to take the relationship to.
Finally, we have a big group discussion with all the other projects in my life.
You know, I’ve known intellectually that everyone has a lot of projects in their lives. I thought that people were just playing around, you know, too afraid to commit. Probably behind the back of their main project, too. Hussies.
But I’m starting to realise that people can have working polyamorous relationships – with projects, anyway. You just have to make sure you treat each project in your life with respect, up to and including telling a project or two that, look, it’s just not going to work out. Sure, it hurts in the short term, but it’s better than stringing them along.
It’s best to do it early. And, irony of ironies, it doesn’t really work unless you’ve done those first three steps with your projects. You cannot say a respectful “yes” or “no” to a project unless you’ve had a chat over a drink or two (alcohol optional), got to know it better.
Now, because I’ve not been respecting my projects until now, I couldn’t really tell you how many I have. Yep, too lazy to even keep a Little Black Book, that’s how little respect I’ve had for them.
Here are the ones I’ve been hanging out with a lot recently:
- The Elizabeth Vaughan Novel Challenge, a.k.a. Mr. Dream Novel.
- Born To Be Mild, a.k.a. The Foxy Lady.
- Young NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. Hicks and Prime.
- The Web Log.
- The Podcast Sisters, Paid to Play and Business Web Integrations.
- The Super-Secret Project Whose File Folder I Named “My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction” Because No Bugger’s Gonna Go Looking In Oh Shit.
These ones I’ve spent some time with, but been neglecting just now:
- Captain “Dawg” Trainer, a.k.a. Getting Sookie (and Myself) Trained.
- The Bathroom Shelves Project.
And there are a lot whom I’ve been telling, “sure, honey, I’ll call you sometime” and then blowing off:
- Major “Rip” Bodhi, a.k.a. Adding Some Muscle Mass.
- The Garden.
- The Bathroom Renovation.
- “Strummer” Kimbara.
- A bunch of others whose names I can’t remember right now (see? No respect).
So which projects am I going with? Which am I going to have to let down gently?
I’ve been getting to know Mr. Dream Novel and [My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction] lately – we’ve done deadlines, talked about trips out and planned some Big Dates – I’m going to stick by them at the moment.
- I still have a thing with The Foxy Lady, but I think we’re going to need to get serious, work out a deadline and talk about what we’re going to be doing together. I don’t think she wants much of my time – no more than a few months – but even though she’s talking about how being on with her will save me money in the long run, she’s not a cheap date while we’re going out.
- I’ve been ignoring Captain Trainer lately, which is mean, especially as all he wants is to help make sure Vickie and I can safely walk Sookie. Though he’s talking about more classes with Pupstars, he and I need to talk about the meantime stuff, daily training routines, food rewards.
- The Web Log, the Garden and the Podcast Sisters are tricky. See, they want a real long term commitment; no final date. But all they really want is for us to have a nice, comfy routine, maybe an hour or two a week each. Still, I’m tempted to have a heart-to-heart with Paid to Play, see if we can take things a little more slowly, maybe make our thing a fortnightly one (you know; quality time).
- Bathroom Shelves… She says just wants a short, intense fling; one final date, some stuff to do, no review dates. And hey, Vickie is cool. Except Miss Shleves has this “bunny boiler” look in her eye. If I’m not careful this could get very messy. I think there’s even the potential for injury. (I shouldn’t be surprised – if they like doing it in the bathroom, they’re bound to be kinky.) (And I mean “bathroom” in the “room with a bath” sense, you U.S. readers. She’s not that kinky.) But, a man’s gotta do… So, deadline, stuff in between.
Which means I’m going to have to have a quiet, one-on-one “it’s not you it’s me” chat with:
- NaNo: Maybe next year, G?
- The Major: I mightn’t be muscle bound but my BMI is right in the healthy range (and those let-me-ups are killers).
- The Bathroom Renovation: I’m not in the right place for a high maintenance relationship just now. Still, Vickie keeps trying to set the two of us up (just like she does with me and Bathroom Shelves), so you never know what the near future will hold.
- “Strummer” Kimbara: I know we could make beautiful music together but we also know I’ve not been putting the time in since you moved up here.
It’ll suck, but as long as I have the guts to do it right, at least it won’t hurt anyone too much.
The secret to respect is honest communication.
I’m still a little terrified of projects, but at least now, I know why. It’s because they expect me to be willing to learn new skills, have the patience to see them through instead of expecting all the good stuff to happen at once. They like people who’re willing to take the time to get to know them.
They know they’ve not got long, you see, and don’t want to waste a second.
Embracing that is the key to treating a project with respect. The deadline, which only sounds severe because they’re not bullshitting about not being around forever. Then the plan, the reviews, the check of the rest of your life to make sure you can fit them in.
Instead of being a sentence or something you can put off, it turns your project into something finite, something you don’t want to waste time faffing about with. You want to make sure that as much of your time together is quality time.
And that’s the most respectful thing you can do for a project.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and have some hard, but worthwhile, conversations.
Are you curious?
Come on, you lech, be honest: How many projects are you on with at the moment?
How many have you got to the Big Final Date and bid a fond farewell?
Which projects do you most regret having the “it’s not you, it’s me” talk with?
Are you stressing?
Which projects are you / have you been terrified of?
Images sourced from StockXchng.
People in period dress by cinacchi.
Ice cream date image by Thom Wall.
Shadow scene by Alex Bruda.