I’ve been working on a project lately. A big one, and out of my comfort zone. You know the kind. It’s on paper instead of metal, words instead of shapes and textures. And when I get stuck in the middle of a project like this I use a technique I like to call The Creative Dump Truck.
A lot of people use this tactic. You may have even used it yourself. It goes a little something like this:
Find the nearest friend or family member and unload on them.
It reminds me of the front loader on Alan’s tractor. It’s a giant metal bucket, and when you push the lever up, it drops its entire contents onto the ground right in front of it. It’s not glamorous, but it does the job. And its job is to unload everything as quickly as possible.
I personally have two versions of the Creative Dump Truck: the OMG I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING dump, or the OMG IT ISN’T WORKING dump. When I’m really on my game, I can do both at the same time.
The problem with this technique is that most people – including me – do it wrong. They do the unloading part well, but they expect someone else to somehow pick up the pieces and assemble them in some sort of satisfactory way.
But that isn’t how it works.
The tractor doesn’t expect anyone to catch what it’s dumping. It just needs to unload it. It doesn’t expect another tractor to give it a pep talk, solve its problems, or tell it the Right Answer.
There is no right answer.
There’s just rocks. OMG rocks and WHATDOIDO rocks and IT’S TOOHARD rocks crying out for help. And if you’re not careful, they can bury your loved ones.
I know this because not long ago I buried a friend who didn’t see the tractor coming. I felt really badly afterward. I unloaded on her and left her with a giant mess – a mess she felt obligated to clean up.
Most of my family have learned to avoid my unloading. They know the telltale signs – the emotional equivalent of the beep beep beep of the tractor backing into place. Alan knows them so well that he can time a cup of coffee perfectly so that it finishes brewing right at the break in conversation. (You know, the point where I pause to let him solve all my problems.) He’ll take a sip and say “I’m sure you’ll figure it out” right before quickly retreating to another room. The rocks are on the ground, and he’s safely out of the danger zone.
And, I’m left alone with a pile of rocks.
But, I’m suddenly no longer burdened by carrying them. What was once a mountainous weight on my shoulders is now on the ground where I can see it for what it is, a collection of individual problems and challenges and needs – that each need to be solved. I pick them up one at a time and figure them out. Not all at once; not right away. And the big, heavy ones take longer than others.
But I do it. And by the time I’ve gotten one or two sorted out, he’ll reemerge and ask how it’s going. “I’m figuring it out,” I respond.
There’s a better process, I know. Like, maybe to not unload on anyone in the first place. Like, to pick a safe spot to gently put the rocks so that I’m not burdened by them, but they don’t run the risk of hurting anyone else, either.
There’s a better way – but that’s its own rock, and I’m working on it.