Sunday, January 31, 2010

A conceptual girl in a practical world

The first time I went to stay the country house once it was officially mine, I got out of my car and walked around. I looked at the garden that was so neglected and overgrown that you couldn't see where the grass ended and the garden beds began, at the rusted bits of metal lying around, at the dirt and grease coating the inside of the house, at the enormous rat infested shed packed to the gunnels with rubbish. I got straight back in my car and returned to Melbourne. It seemed too huge to get my mind around.

Getting my mind around things is one of my favourite activities. Growing up I was the girl in the corner with her nose in a book, buried in the world of stories. I have built a career out of it. In my work as a strategic consultant I go into a business, analyse the issues, give my advice, then skedaddle to let others get on with the hard work of actually doing stuff.

One of the reasons I bought the country house was to balance this side of myself. Constantly living in one's mind can be tiresome sometimes to say the least. I had an inexplicable urge to get my hands in dirt, to ... do something.

Once I got back to my apartment that weekend, I did what felt natural to me, I conceptualised the problem by mindmapping on my computer all of the tasks that I could think of. (I know that this is incredibly geekish; you can take the girl out of her mind and all that.) I get depressed when I look at this mindmap. It didn't help, I realised, because I can't just think my way into a beautiful, sustainable property. The country house is doing for me exactly what I bought it to do. It's forcing me out of my mind.

It's hard and a little bit scary to be working against one's inherent tendencies and habits. Unlike work, there's no one to turn to to capture the action point; there's no one else but me. I can't always wait until my mind is comfortable. If I don't get off my butt and out into the fields to cut down the ragwort and thistles (feral weeds in this part of the country), as I did last weekend, I'm the one who gets the polite but concerned call from the neighbouring farmer, as I did last year. He's not interested in the fact that I'm still struggling with my conceptual framework for weed management. He wants to know that millions of my weed seeds aren't going to be blowing into his property right now. Or ever.

I know how whiny and spoilt this sounds with the horror of the Haiti earthquake fresh in the news and when so many people have no choice but to slog each day just to stay alive. The starving children in Africa who used to motivate me into finishing my vegetables when I was a child live on in my conscience. (I am a poster child for white middle class guilt: Chardonnay Socialist is the derogatory term in Australia for people like me). The African children don't get the luxury of having two places to live, or driving back to their apartment in the city to blog about their feelings. Or of lying on the couch as I do, making their way through seven series of the West Wing on dvd while fretting about their procrastination issues.

I have resolved to get more support during 2010 in both my city and country lives. This will involve thinking through (yes! and taking action) to change the way I package and promote my professional services in my business. I'm getting some coaching to help with this at the moment. The plan is that if I can earn more I can hopefully afford more help with the physical tasks that I struggle with. And I plan to consult more experts, starting perhaps with an organic agronomist, to help build more knowledge about managing a property so that I'm directing my hard work in the best way.

The first step in this plan was last week when I interviewed Stella, a possible part-time executive assistant for my business. Her job will be to spend a few hours each month (I'm picturing someone I'm a little afraid of peering sternly over a clipboard) working through my task list to check I'm not procrastinating. It's partly about trying to feel a little accountable to someone else to spur me into action and partly to have someone to delegate to if I'm stuck. As preparation for the meeting I had spent a few hours coming up with a beautiful conceptual framework of my administration. We went through it. Then she looked at me and said: "Just tell me what you want me to do". At first I felt uncomfortable. Then I realised, this is exactly what I need.

The weekend after my first failed country house visit, my friends Lizzie and Oliver came to stay. They were the first of many of my long-suffering friends and family who have donated their blood and sweat to my country cause. We started with the most obvious thing, making the house clean enough to feel livable. We spent three days scrubbing. It felt good.

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