The visit invariably entailed a lot of emotional moments: looking at old photos of my (deceased) father…throwing out 3/4 of her Christmas tree ornaments because she’ll no longer have a full-sized tree…realizing that at her age, the risk of tripping on a Turkish rug far outweighs its aesthetic appeal.
I could go on.
But I was also reminded of a fundamental truth about my nature: I am a born project manager. Whether it was driving to the local, jumbo-sized American liquor store to pick up boxes, sorting through old clothing to donate to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or interviewing potential moving companies for estimates, I was completely in my element.
Best of all, I had a deadline: we had to have the entire house de-cluttered in advance of an open-house scheduled a week after I arrived. So I spent seven days doing nothing but running around making lists, checking items off, and assigning duties to my three siblings for the next six weeks before I return for the actual move.
Manager vs. Maker
I once wrote a blog post with a short quiz to help people figure out if they are fundamentally “managers” or “makers.” (Conceptual hat tip: Paul Graham)
A manager is someone who divides their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job.
A maker is someone who needs large blocks of time to carry out tasks – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.
Most people clearly sort into one or the other category. I, unfortunately, have one foot in both camps: I relish large blocks of time to do any sort of writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently a member of my family…).
The Problem with Being a Creative
Back when I was working, this problem solved itself. My last job encompassed both halves of my personality, such that I spent about 50% of my time writing and editing and 50% of my time managing projects, budgets and people.
It was, in that very specific sense, a perfect job for me.
But now that I’ve been made redundant, I am really struggling to keep that balance in my life. I now have vast swathes of free time, and although I am prioritizing my book project, there are only so many hours in the day one can write.
While there are any number of books out there offering advice on how to develop your inner artist, you don’t hear all that much about how creative types can nurture their inner swim coach.
Cooking as Project Management
One thing I’ve started doing to feed (no pun intended!) my inner project manager is cooking.
Let me confess that I’ve never been much of a foodie. My husband loves food, many of my friends love food, but, until recently, about the only foodstuff I ever really paid any attention to was beer. My sister loves to quote the time I commented, as an 11 year-old: “It was there. So I ate it.” Food had no allure in and of itself.
Nor did cooking. Cooking has always just something practical I did in order to ensure that my family was healthy. But as an activity unto itself, it was completely joyless.
Lately, however, I find myself really getting into making recipes. There is something deeply soothing about listing all the ingredients, tracking them down – especially the rare ones (Ras El-Hanout, anyone?) – and then carefully orchestrating the production of the meal so that it all comes out on time. There is also, invariably, that dreaded terror when (just as when you’re in the office), you fear that you might actually miss that deadline…and then the utter relief when you don’t.
I’m a huge dessert fan, so cakes loom large in my repertoire. But someone also gave me a Persian cook book for my birthday last year and that has been a great source of inspiration.
Of course, there are other ways to exercize your inner project manager if you’re immersed in something creative – volunteering or joining a board is another way to go.
But for me, cooking seems to work just fine, at least for now.
I guess once my mother moves into her new place, I’ll need to start working on some recipes for her…