There it was, heaven falling from the sky. I sat staring out the window over the breakfast table at the accumulation of snow that had fallen the night before, with it still falling. As with many children on the first snow day of the year, I was excited. Another winter season had befallen our area and this year would be epic. I had plans. Winter was always one of my favorite times in the year, yes it was cold … and yes it got dark early, but winter was when things happened! Sledding, skiing, hockey, snow ball fights, and snow forts. Summer sports were not to be left out during this time of year … fishing, camping, hiking were all things we continued even as the temperatures dropped. Taking the BMX bikes out for a spin in the snow and ice was quite the rush and later in my teens we even attempted to play a round of snow golf by painting our golf balls in florescent colors so we could see them.
So at the breakfast table that morning my pre-teen mind was envisioning the wonders the season was to bring … I could not wait to get outside.
This evening I was working with my oldest on some writing practice and he had hit a road block. A problem he had been running into recently. Often I feel he has so many thoughts running through his head that he can’t get them out onto the paper. I tried to offer a couple different tactics but he was only getting more frustrated and my “help” was not helping, but only driving him into a greater state of frustration. So I changed my tactics and took him for a walk, away from the pressure cooker of the assignment. After a short while he was able to describe the situation a little better, middle school is a big transition and there is a lot going on in that quickly developing brain. After digging through some of the weeds (pressures, time limits, self-expectations) we returned back to focusing on the writing and he shared that he just didn’t know how to get his ideas out. He had his writing plan. He knew what he needed to write. He was just stuck.
Back in the cold Caribou, a central region of British Columbia, I shoveled down my breakfast, pulled on my snowsuit pants, climbed into my boots, and tossed on my jacket as I headed out the door. I knew what I had to do, I was on a mission. Now you might find this part a bit strange, but I was racing out the door to shovel the driveway. No, I was not the worlds’ perfect child, while shoveling the driveway or mowing the lawn was a thrill early on, as it meant you were growing up and becoming a man, my focus that morning was on my own mission. A huge pile of snow. Honestly, think I shoveled some of the lawn before I was done.
Since the year before I had been dreaming about a huge snow fort, for that I needed a huge pile of snow. With it we would cut tunnels with our feet, digging like a boring machine through rock, and create our own cave system. I remember my mother several times having a heart attack as she saw what we were doing, collapses were dangerous but a part of the process – I was only focused on how cool it would be. Each year I wanted to make the snow bank bigger, grander … and clearing the driveway had the added benefit of also clearing a place to play hockey.
My vision was etched in my mind as I grabbed the largest shovel from the shed and walked to the far side of the driveway. I made it about half way across before I stopped, it had gotten heavy. I buckled down and pushed harder squeaking out another few inches. Wasn’t long before my Dad was telling me to hurry up before too many people drove on the snow, packing it down and making it harder to shovel. Didn’t help, the snow was damp and heavy … I wasn’t going anywhere.
Of course it is easy to see the solution when you are staring right at the problem; a piled white mass laying right there in the middle of the driveway. I needed to push less snow. My Dad seeing my struggle brought me a smaller and lighter shovel. But more importantly, I had to take smaller, often shorter paths. If I could not push the entire width of the driveway in one go, I would do half at a time. Eventually, time caught up to me as I realized I could not push ALL the snow from the driveway to that single snowbank. Yet, after only a few snowfalls I was out there cutting my way into the snowy mound with a smile on my face.
Not sure why it came into my head this evening, possibly it is all the snow scenes from friends and family, perhaps it is that my son is about the same age I was. Yet, it seemed strangely relevant to what my son was experiencing … and where I think many of us find ourselves from time to time. He had his plan for the assignment, he knew he needed 5 paragraphs and what each paragraph was for. With his plan he started in on the opening paragraph, and I must say it was well done. But then he was stuck and could not push it forward any further. He had the vision, set the expectations, knew what needed to happen … and now he was frustrated at himself.
I think many of us have those visions and dreams; a household renovation, a new business, a personal hobby project. When I have these I often find I do exactly what my son did today, I put a detailed vision in my head setting the expectations of what I want. Even map out what needs to happen to get there before dropping into the work. Inevitably at some point along the way I too find myself stuck, unsure how to move forward. When this happens I usually find that my plan was less a plan and more of an overview of the high-level tasks. Segmenting of the remaining tasks and getting better definitions, in other words getting a smaller and lighter shovel usually gets the project back moving again.
When you get stuck on the path towards your dream, take a step back and make sure your shovel isn’t just full of wet snow.