Stilts on My Mind

When I was a child I was given a story book about a kid on a marvelous pair of stilts. I immediately showed the book to my dad and asked him if he'd make me a pair of stilts like it. He said yes, and I couldn't contain my excitement at the prospect of having my very own pair of stilts.

Weeks and months passed, and not a hint that my dream of having stilts would finally materialize. Now, a handful of months shy of thirty, I can still remember feeling the stone-cold ball of disappointment sinking into my stomach when I finally realized that not only had my dad reneged on his promise, he had probably forgotten all about it as well. I don't blame him or anything--even then, I figured he was too busy to make me the stilts I wanted and honestly, to a grown-up, a pair of stilts was no big deal anyway. Nevertheless, the disappointment I felt was real, real enough to take a little piece of my childhood away.

These past few days for me have been horrible. I was assigned to write an article about a rather difficult subject at work, and given a deadline to do it. I was also trying to finish a major project at the same time, plus several other deadlines, and with one thing after another I ended up doing the same thing I always do whenever I feel overwhelmed and anxious and unsure about my ability to do the tasks before me: I procrastinated like hell. I waited till past deadline to do the research for the article, ruined an entire weekend for my family and a friend with whom I promised an afternoon together because I had to rush the article, and finally submitted the damned thing five days after deadline. By the time I finished the article--which was, in itself, quite a feat, given the difficulty of the topic and my complete lack of background information when I started writing it--I was a wreck. I snapping at my husband and my daughter and trying to appease my hurt friend, and I was completely unmotivated to go to work, unable to take pleasure in my accomplishment and unable to look my coworkers or my boss in the eye. The guilt and shame are plain depressing.

But worst of all, I was disappointed in myself.

It was like the stilts all over again. It was as if the child in me had come up, all bubbling with excitement, to show me the stilts in the book and ask me if I could make her a pair. And I failed her. The disappointment now is as stone-cold and heavy as it was years before.

We've been told that one way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by and subsequently procrastinating is to use the word 'no.' Say 'no' to people who are opportuning you with stuff you honestly can't do or don't have to do or will have to do at the expense of your self-respect. Say 'no' even when the habits of a lifetime are urging you to be good and selfless and say yes. There's great wisdom in that, but I think one reason for this is because the word 'yes' is so much more powerful.

The word 'yes' contains within it all the power of a promise, a contract that is as binding as any signed on paper. Whenever you say 'yes' to something, you commit an essential piece of your soul to it, and it doesn't matter if this something is big or small--it's still your soul, or your integrity or honor or self-respect, if you will. I've read somewhere that promises are sacred, and must be kept even at the price of your life: that's how powerful the word 'yes' can be. Because whenever you say 'yes'--to an afternoon with your girlfriend, to a day in the park with your daughter, to a deadline at work or even to the much-needed task of cleaning out the basement--some deep, intrinsic and at times still idealistic part of you sits up and looks you in the eye and nods in acknowledgment. The contract has been drawn up. And if you should for any reason fail, the disappointment can cut really, really deep.

I think that's why the word 'no' is needed so badly; it's to keep us from frittering our energies away on promises and contracts that should never have been made in the first place. It's to remind us to respect the power of 'yes'--the power of our focus and effort. And if we're aware of just how much saying 'yes' actually takes out of us, we'd be more careful about bandying it around. And when we do so, then we should be prepared to look our inner child in the eye and say 'yes' with all our heart.

Me, I'm taking some time off to have a little chat with the child in me. She's still waiting for her stilts, after all. And I'm learning how to make them. Bit by bit, I'm learning.

And one day, we'll walk tall.