What are you waiting for?

My parents collected wine for as long as I can remember. In the apartment I grew up in on Noe Street, they built a wine rack in the hall closet that could hold upwards of 80 bottles, though it was never full. When I got to that curious age of wondering what the fuss with alcohol was, I’d snitch a bottle from time to time. It seemed to go unnoticed.

I don’t, however, remember seeing my parents drink wine.

My dad was a gin and soda kinda guy, and would sometimes switch it up with vodka. My mom, she drank rum and tonics. Not your standard mixology, but that’s what they liked. I remember her telling me once that they’d started drinking spirits once they could finally afford it. Leaving beer behind and stepping up to the more expensive, hard stuff was a self-reward. “We’ve made it,” or something like that.

The wine remained a mystery. I can only guess that they brought out a bottle or two for dinner parties, and would give and receive bottles as gifts. Somehow the collection neither dwindled nor grew.

In the house they retired to in Mexico, where they would live out the rest of their days, they had a couple of beautiful iron wine racks custom built to fit arched spaces beneath the tiled countertop in the kitchen. They could have held 40 bottles between the two, and the day that I faced the daunting task of liquidating their estate, there were maybe 20-25 bottles.

Some of the bottles were fairly recent. The oldest went as far back as the late 50’s. Of the newer bottles, I drank a few and gave a few away. Of the older bottles, I opened a couple to discover they had turned to vinegar, and took some home with me with mixed results: a couple of the bottles dating as far back as the 60’s and 70’s were just sublime. The others had gone so sour that they weren’t fit for salad dressing.

I couldn’t help but wonder, what was the point in holding on to a 1958 Cabernet that must have travelled with them from our third story flat in San Francisco, to the oceanside home in Pacifica where they moved my senior year in high school, to that little villa in Ajijic.

What were they waiting for?

Have you waited too long?

I don’t wear many of the conference t-shirts I’ve received over the years, but I do have one favorite. It’s heathered black with white screen printing of a skull and crossbones, where the skull is made to look like a light bulb. The slogan says, “Ship your idea.”

This easily resonates with people in the tech industry as a mantra for success. It says, don’t wait, just get it out the door, and then iterate, iterate, iterate. Why? Why not wait until it “feels done”? Why not wait until it’s “just right”? Why not wait until it’s perfect?

I wore the t-shirt during a yoga retreat not too long ago, where my fellow yogis were from all walks of life. They were midwives, massage therapists, artists, retirees, apiarists, construction workers, teachers. Oh, and they were all French.

Once I got past the linguistics of the word “ship” (“you mean, like a boat?”), and dug into the concept of a feedback loop, I saw lots of light bulbs go off.

The midwife was having trouble managing her time and one of her employees. At first she talked (and talked and talked) about it out of a need to blow off steam. Any advice we gave seemed to bounce right off her. After a while of this, we gently pointed out that she could either continue to suffer from her situation, or she could make a change.

“Ship it,” I came to realize through this experience of explaining a t-shirt, is good advice for anyone doing anything. Iteration isn’t limited to technology, but speaks to a universal need to study our actions and outcomes, analyze results, and most importantly, get feedback from other people. “Ship it” becomes, “get it out there”, no matter what it is. Because if we keep it to ourselves, no matter what the idea, we are only seeing it from our own very biased point of view.

Maybe, “bounce it off a wall,” is an even better iteration on the slogan, because while shipping it is the first big step, seeing what comes back and being prepared to catch it, integrate it, and throw it back out again, completes the loop.

There’s another industry mantra out there that says, “If you wait until it’s ready [until you’ve run yourself into the ground, until the opportunity is gone, until the right time, until you’re good enough], then you’ve waited too long.” Because it might never feel done, because it’ll likely never be just right, because there’s no such thing as perfect.

Where do I start?

“I don’t have time for this anymore.”
“It’s that you’re no longer interested.”
“It’s never a question of want. It’s always a question of time and priorities.”
“No, because if you really want something, you figure out a way to do it.”

Do you agree with this last statement? Is it about desire? If you don’t do something, is it because you don’t want it badly enough?

I believe this attitude plagues many of us, setting a dizzyingly high bar that can only be achieved with 80 hour work weeks and a perpetual case of FOMO.

“You must not want it bad enough.”

How does that make you feel? It makes me feel pretty shitty. It comes strikingly close to that time when someone once told me that I didn’t know what I wanted.

As I wrote then, sometimes what we think we want isn’t what we want at all. But let’s please not define that as a default for all of our choices. Let please not try and convince one another that a choice we left behind was because we didn’t care. Some of these choices we make are banal, but others are difficult.

I believe that we absolutely can do everything we want in life. We just can’t do it all at the same time. We have to choose. We can do one thing, and then we can do another thing. And I in no way judge people who work 80 work weeks and keep that kind of a pace. I know that’s just not what I want. So we each determine our rhythm – our velocity – and then we still have to choose.

What do I do now? What do I do next?

This is what I meant when I said that it’s not a question of want but a question of time and priority. I want these two things, but I can only do one now. Which do I want more? Which makes the most sense to me now? There are whole volumes dedicated to decision making. I will not pretend to have those answers. In fact, I might even say that what we choose isn’t that important, as long as we make a choice.

We may not have the answer today, not in the middle of strong emotion, not in the heat of debate, maybe not immediately through our fear or until we have all the facts. We can do it all. One day at a time. One decision at a time. Trying to choose everything at once is not a choice. Trying to do it all at once stretches us thin, leaves us scattered, doesn’t allow us to be fully engaged in where we are, who we are with and in what we are doing.

We start with a choice, and we see where it leads us, which will inevitably be to the next decision we need to make.

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Maybe my parents weren’t waiting for anything. It’s quite possible that their 40 year-old bottles of Pinot Noir were nothing more than décor, conversation pieces never meant to be opened and that they thought nothing of it. They were nothing like a Miles in the movie Sideways, waiting for a perfect moment to crack a special bottle, and they were not a poor Jack torn between two opposing ideas of the perfect life. They made their choices, they tested their theories and they settled on a quiet life south of the border. He liked gin and soda. She like rum and tonic. They both liked their drinks on the rocks.

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It’s been 6 months since the last edition of Making Connections went out, and I’m pretty stoked to find my way back. Some big life changes forced me to prioritize, because I couldn’t do it all at once. It wasn’t a question of what I wanted, but what I could do. And this is the neat part about prioritizing and decision making: it doesn’t have to be final. Just because you need to set something aside today, doesn’t mean you can’t make room for it down the road. heart

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This text is originally from my newsletter, Making Connections, and may have been modified for publication here.

Jenny Beaumont

Jenny Beaumont is a multicultural, multidisciplinary maker and writer of things. She works as a Sr. Project Manager at Human Made, organizes WordCamp Europe & WordCamp Paris, speaks at conferences in France and abroad, and contributes to a number of blogs.

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