The Fly and the Scope Creep
Today’s post comes to you courtesy of a rather truculent mood. Editing will have me sanding down the sharp corners, vaguing up the specifics, and trying to eke out some sort of lesson from it.
A cumulative song is one that starts out with a simple verse and then each verse is longer than the verse before. A classic example of this is “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” that begins with There was an old lady who swallowed a fly; I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – perhaps she’ll die! The song builds progressively until the final, much longer verse:
There was an old lady who swallowed a cow;
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
- She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
- She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
- She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
- She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
- She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
- That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
- She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
- I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – Perhaps she’ll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a horse;
…She died, of course
I enjoyed the macabre ending, because that might actually be the lesson. Really, though, I see it as a metaphor for my life at the moment. After aimlessly meandering through decades of life, I became determined a few years ago to be more deliberate in how I spend my time. This isn’t to say I intended on spending every minute of every day in bliss. It meant that I would make deliberate choices about how I spend my non-household/chore/to-do list/obligation time. I can usually manage this for about a year or so and then something happens. I swallow a fly.
Cut to a year later and I’m a seething ball of resentment who seems to find less joy as each day goes by. What happens? I learned the phrase scope creep from my husband, a computer programmer who has, in the course of his career, worked on corporate projects in an ever-changing environment where there are too many meetings, too many bosses, and too many shiny objects to distract people. The simplest project can be turned into 45 PowerPoints on various aspects requiring more people, resources, and unending bagel-laden confabs (he just told me that they don’t eat bagels anymore – it’s mini-cupcakes). And accountability nowhere to be found.
In my life as an underemployed writer/feckless homemaker, there is no distribution email list to spread the blame. I am the cc and the bcc. If my life becomes an unwieldy mess, I have to put myself on probation. When I suddenly find that my intention to become a better writer is getting sidelined by activities only tangentially related or when my intention to contribute to my community is suddenly me on a committee talking about catering menus, that’s scope creep. My intentions are in sight, but a mile or two back.
It happens slowly. I’m a relatively competent person and a problem-solver. My knee-jerk reaction to any situation is to jump in and try to add value. My jerk reaction is to write a resentful post about it later.
So I’ve hit that magical resentment point where I have to pull back, retract the tentacles, pull the fingers out of one too many pies. While I still make the mistake of saying yes, I can do it, I’m getting much faster at saying, in the words of a friend’s son, ALL DONE NOW.
This year, I’m kicking off the age that the average American woman goes through menopause by rewriting my mission statement (this broad really nows how to throw a party). Mission statements are now part of the corporate self-actualization process along with vision boards and copious amounts of organizers and Post-it Notes. Still, some of these things are useful. If you can’t enunciate why you’re here or what has meaning to you, how do you ensure that you’re spending your time in meaningful ways? Like writing an incoherent sentence that demonstrates the difference between you’re and your.
Eliminating scope creep is a challenge. It means taking back a yes or twenty from other people or projects and giving those yeses to yourself, your projects, your time. And if it sounds a bit self-involved, it’s a damned sight better than putting the things that matter to you aside, and resentfully doing everything else. Nobody wants that person at their meeting.