“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” —Nelson Mandela
A few weeks ago I took an all-day workshop on making shoes. That’s right, I made a pair of sandals from scratch! I thought it might be fun, and I wanted to make sandals that fit my feet beautifully.
The thing is, I had no idea what I was getting into.
I’m not the craftiest person and I’d never done anything like this before. It occurred to me at the end of the day, that making shoes encapsulated all the elements of starting and completing a brand new project of any kind.
Throughout the day, I experienced discomfort in not knowing exactly what I was doing, frustration at not understanding every step as our teacher explained, and inadequacy when others seemed to grasp the process immediately. There were also parts that were fun, yet I experienced all these different feelings.
Fortunately in the end, I came away with a very cute pair of sandals.
The truth is that my skills are stronger in the business arena than in the making shoes arena. But I learned how to do it. This got me thinking about the projects we take on in our business and in life. So today’s post is about 5 strategies to move you through any project — including making shoes — with ease and with grace.
1. Expect a Process
Every project has its own process. And rarely does it go as imagined or planned. Glitches will always come up to some extent, especially when you “have it all figured out” in your mind that it has to go a certain way. Create your plan and outline your details, but be open to things shifting.
For example, I knew that making a pair of sandals would have steps and take time. But not really understanding what the steps were left me feeling uncomfortable. I had to let go of my perception of how it “should” go, and be open to the process that was unfolding in front of me. The class went over 2 hours the allotted time and I kept thinking, “How long is this going to take?” Often the process you expect isn’t the one you’ll get. Sure, some things will flow as planned, but inevitably you’ll veer off course because of a delay or an added step.
The beauty of it all is that even though you don’t always see it in the moment, the process you go through is an enriching experience that gives you a better result. You know more and have a better understanding of what it takes and what you need moving forward.
2. Engage In the Moment
Have you ever noticed how much easier things go when you’re engaged with whatever you’re doing?
Whether it’s simple or challenging, engaging in the moment can make all the difference.
At the beginning of the shoemaking class, the instructor began by explaining the steps of choosing a pattern, cutting it out to fit, choosing leather, cutting a sole, glue, nails, studs, rivets and how it would all go together. I began to panic that I wouldn’t remember it all or know what to do. Then I remembered that all I needed to know was the step in front of me. As I focused in, I got into what I was doing and realized I was having fun!
3. Ask for Help When You Need It
The truth is, the unexpected always arises at some point. When you don’t know something, ask somebody who does. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to figure something out on our own, thinking you should do it yourself. Often that’s when frustration sets in and projects stall.
I have to admit that when making my shoes, I had to ask how to do something more than once, and a couple of times I made mistakes the first time around. I felt like I was the “needy” student.
But you know what?
Focusing on what I was doing and asking for help when I didn’t know something kept me engaged and in the moment.
4. Get Out of Your Own Way
Be comfortable in not knowing every detail of how your project will evolve. The more you can go with the flow, dealing with what comes up as it arises without overthinking your expectations or how you see the project going, the easier it will be to course-correct and keep your project rolling. There’s a sense of equanimity that comes with being fine with not knowing everything, yet knowing what you need to.
Here’s the thing, if I’d engaged with the insecurity and discomfort I experienced at the beginning of the class, I would have had a rough day. Making a conscious decision to get out of my own way and enjoy the process changed the whole day into a positive experience.
5. See Your Project Through
This is a big one. Whether you complete the project as you’ve laid it out, or in a different way, you need to call it done when it’s complete. Sometimes projects morph into something different. Don’t leave a project hanging out there, where it gets added to the list of things that you need to do. Be open to course correction, and make time to complete the step in front of you so that you can see progress as you go. This will make it easier to move on to the next thing. Whether it’s a small or big project, you’ll know when it’s done.
After an 8-hour day of making shoes, I definitely felt done! And I had a feeling of satisfaction at having completed the project.
Were my shoes perfect?
No, but they were pretty darn cute.
Would I do this again?
Probably not, but seeing it through to the end I know what worked for me and what didn’t. For example, I now know that I might want to choose the design for a pair of shoes, but I have someone else actually make them.
Keep these steps in mind and you’ll find momentum in moving through whatever kind of project you’re working on. You’ll find the process is part of the journey that supports you in getting exactly where you want to go, even if you’re unsure on what the end point will look like when you take your first step.