When Should You Abandon a Project?

Trusting the process means being willing to let go when things change.

Major life skills highlighted in this article:

  • Willingness rather than willfulness. Applying yourself to the hilt while remaining receptive and adaptable.
  • Checking in with your deepest values.
  • Being real.
  • Equanimity.
  • Discerning when committing to something means redoubling your effort and when it means letting it go; don’t get attached to the stated outcome when you receive game-changing new information.
  • Yes, a person can fail at an integrity check if they bail out on something when it’s hard. It’s also a fail of integrity to stick with something when it isn’t right for you.

I’m going to share a huge lesson for me.

A few years ago I purchased property in Northern California with the help of money that had been generously donated by friends and family. I wanted to build my own retreat center.

The property that I could afford needed a lot of work. A lot of work.

It was just a shack on ten acres with no power. I was in love!

I had been looking for a place like this for months.

I immediately set out to fix the shack. I lived in a teepee tent with my cat for a couple of weeks. In that time, I installed solar power to the water well and the cabin, rigged up a heated shower, made the cabin fairly habitable, and planted a small garden.

My work had barely begun, though. I wanted a retreat center like a hobbit would build. Long story short, I did a lot of digging. By hand. I dug a cellar. A bathroom. A library. The months turned into a couple of years. In hindsight, I perhaps should have got someone like Bordner Home Improvement in to do some of the work, but I was pretty stubborn at the time that I would do everything I could myself.

It was hard. Part of me loved it. Part of me was terrified and daunted at how much more needed to be done. I wanted guest rooms and a yoga studio.

And it would be nice to have my own bedroom.

I learned that I could follow through with stuff that was insanely hard.

It took me awhile, but I also learned that I make things harder than they need to be. I insisted on doing it all my own way, as much as possible by myself. By hand. No machines.

At various points, several friends offered to come and help.

No, it’s not ready for guests! I insisted.

I wanted to do it all by myself. I spent two years working alone, then my wife finished grad school and joined me and helped, and we got started on putting together a backyard she shed for her to enjoy.

Three years later, we were divorced and we sold the property.

I didn’t finish that project.

My project management sense was out of whack because I didn’t want to see how unmanageable it all was. I wanted to be so busy that there was no time to get real.

So, I worked on everything at once.

I built a hand dug cellar, then a bathroom, then a guest room. All the while planting larger gardens, building an outdoor shower, digging an aquaponics pond with large grow beds… I worked on things not in order of what made sense for the most need based on long term thinking.

Building standalone guest quarters would have been wise. I think that a modern storage shed that could be situated in the backyard would have been the ideal solution, (in my brutally honest opinion). But that would have made space for other people to come and help, and I wasn’t ready for that.

Don’t do like I did.

Sure, there was richness along the way. Tons. So much about that endeavor was pure magic.

Backbreaking magic.

But I was also rigidly attached to some imaginary outcome that was never bound to happen based on what I was actually capable of doing.

Financially, physically, emotionally.

I staked a lot on my expectations of what was going to happen… eventually.

And I never made it to that eventuality.

It happens to people all the time.

Even with something as small as making a purchase. When we get convinced to buy something — there is this sense of promise — we imagine ourselves with that new thing — sure it’s expensive, but it speaks to the little kid in us. We look forward to opening a new package. Maybe this new package will make us the person we were born to be. We get excited. We geek out.

Then it’s just a thing. Another monthly bill. You don’t feel like an excited child or like you have manifested anything close to your destiny when you’re paying that monthly bill.

If your vision doesn’t line up with the reality you want to manifest, what sense is there in persisting?

Look at your life’s pain points. Are there any cycles you are perpetuating that aren’t serving you?

Something has to give.

  • You can do the same thing expecting different results
  • You can make small changes
  • You can dive in like a maniac and see what happens

What are you holding on to: old ideas or the truth of your vision?

Assuming you’re in a safe space, try this thought experiment:

  1. Let everything go
  2. For the moment, accept anything as potentially valid
  3. Assume that nothing you have ever been told is available for you. No “good advice” or anything. Only what you feel right now.
  4. What do these feelings have to show you about what you want to move towards?
  5. Keep things simple.

The question: What do you want?

The mantra of the moment: That was then, this is now.

Anything might be possible tomorrow.

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