My Napkin of Bits

Have you ever felt like there are so many things you need to do and they all pull on you in different directions? When I think about one task, another pops up in my mind. I feel like I can’t keep up. I’m on this obstacle course of decisions heading to a destination that I have not yet defined. So I just push the gas pedal and start. I have to do something, right?

I envy the people who have fixed goals. They know what they want and take specific steps to get there. Even if they are sidetracked, their goals are still there. They recalibrate and move forward again. My goals are malleable. They shift and readjust as I move along. Which is perhaps why I never seem to attain them. I’m moving, I’m developing, I’m making progress but the direction is not in my control.

Making lists helps. I list concrete tasks and mark them off as I complete them. Then, I have this false sense of accomplishment. And later when I lay on my bed waiting for sleep to envelop me, I ponder the day’s accomplishments and realize that I am really not any closer to achieving any major goals.

When I was young I used to love Lucky Charms. Do you remember that cereal? There were toasted oat pieces that were rather bland and tiny multicolored marshmallow bits. I would spend fifteen minutes pulling every marshmallow bit out of my bowl. I piled the bits on a napkin. Then, I would pour milk over the toasted oat pieces and eat them all. I rewarded myself for finishing the plain tasting oat pieces, by eating all the sweet bits at once; like having a delicious, well-deserved dessert after an ordinary meal.

It was a strange habit. It didn’t stop there. I also had a method for eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I would first make myself eat all the crust around the edges and my reward was the soft, sweet middle portion. I did the same with my cinnamon toast. Now that I think about it, I was rather OCD. But that strategy, that habit of earning my reward has stayed with me in every aspect of my work. I can refrain from dessert for long periods of time on the premise that I don’t deserve it, yet. In this way, I can trick myself into accepting mediocrity under the rationale that I don’t deserve success.

In many ways this approach has served me well. It has motivated me to continue to function even without reward. One time my older sister noticed that I would separate out all the bits. In typical parasite fashion, she would eat her full bowl of Lucky Charms and enjoy sweet bits in every bite. Then, she would distract me and steal my napkin of bits. Before I could complain to my mother, she would eat them all. It so disappointed me that people like that could exist in the world, people ready to steal your hard earned labor and not blink an eye about it.

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