Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peanut Butter and Project Work

As a kid, a little thing that my sister and I used to fight over was who got to start the new peanut butter jar.  There's something about dipping a knife into that fresh jar of soft, pliable nut butter that's just appealing.  It's the representation of something new, something fresh and untasted, the beginning of something really good.

Even as an adult in my 40s now, I still love to start the new jar of peanut butter.  In fact, to tell you a little secret, I think of it as being symbolic of my personality, for better and for worse.  Like that first dip into the jar, I am usually excited to start something new:  a new project; a new adventure; a new commitment.  The follow-through is often what's more difficult for me, because I tend to want to move on to the next project before finishing the old (which explains a number of things around my house).  I admire people who have the stick-to-it-ness that is needed to finish things off.  I wish I could be like that.  What I'm good at is being in the moment, not so much the after part.  I'm working on it, and I am often intentional about ensuring that I finish things, but I suspect that this will be a lifelong quest.

Classic 'Ruth' was a project that I took on this summer.  I decided that during Matthew's week of Adventure Camp, I would tackle the task of getting our paperwork under control.  Knowing my propensity to leave things incomplete, I thought for weeks in advance about how I really needed to stick to my project goal and get it done!  Finally the first day of Matthew's camp arrived, and I was pumped to get started.  And the first couple of mornings went great.  I was motivated, ambitious, focused.  The problem is that I decided to expand my project, and I quickly got overwhelmed.  I'd begun with the goal of sorting through and shredding old archived papers that we no longer needed, and filing about eighteen months' worth of papers that needed to get into the filing cabinet (yeah, I know - embarrassing!).  That was great - I was even close to finishing that task.  But then I realized that, to do a thorough job, I needed to go through the filing cabinets, too, to weed through it all and shred what was no longer needed.  So I began to wade through file after file, drawer after them all out and eliminating them where I could.  Then I realized that, if I was going to do this, I may as well go through my two packed filing drawers stuffed with client files from the past five years, knowing that I really only need to keep files for current or recent clients.

The whole thing morphed into this elephantine-sized project that overtook the dining room table (and the floor around it), the kitchen table (and the chairs around it), the office desk, and the floor around the big filing cabinet.  Oh, and don't forget about the shredder where I left it sitting in the middle of the kitchen for five days, surrounded by bits of shredded paper where they had escaped the shredder's cavity and fallen to the floor.

On the third morning of working on 'the project,' and in the midst of all of that chaos, I decided that I was sick of it - the project was just too big for me.  The only problem was that it was too late to put it all back because I was 75-80% done.  It's always that last 20% that's the sticking point for me.  So, like anyone motivated to finish off a project I...went to a movie that third day in the afternoon!  I 'vegged' that whole afternoon...and again the following morning, when I went to a nearby Starbucks with a book for two hours.  After all, I reasoned to myself, I'd never had a week full of days without Matthew, so I may as well enjoy myself a bit, too.  It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon and a morning.  But not entirely guilt free, to be honest, because I knew what was waiting for me at home.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, the guilt becoming as heavy as the loads of shredded paper I took to the recycle bins, I sighed heavily, turned CBC radio back on, and buckled down to finish the task.  It took me the rest of that afternoon and a short time the next morning...not even that long, in the scheme of things.  I am proud to say that I finished my project...expanded though it was.  Never has my home had such an organized paper system, complete with pretty new mail and shredding boxes, a system to capture both action and filing items.  It's totally awesome and a peak point (from a paperwork perspective) of fifteen+ years of marriage.  

It was good reminder for me that sometimes it can be very satisfying to finish what's been started.  Though I have to admit that the other day, when I dipped my knife into the new peanut butter jar, I grinned as my knife made its first foray into the peanut perfection.  It's still awesome to be a starter.


  1. I remember that same feeling from when I was a kid...and funny enough, I am a great starter too! Unfortunately, my son is allergic to peanuts and so we have a peanut-free home...which sucks!!

  2. you and I are even more alike than I thought! I could have written this entire post except the foreign part at the end when you actually finish the project. My house is just one big unfinished project as all the little ones have added up to make one big overwhelming one!

    Your correlation with the peanut butter jar is very interesting!