“A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks looks like from far away.”
– Tim Urban, ‘Wait But Why’
A 1-year retrospective
I’ve been a working mom for a full year now. I’m clearing out last year’s archives. Reviewing the past reminded me of the first step we need to move forward while we’re all overwhelmed in a country is bathed in fear, violence, and sadness.
Last week, I wrote about the gap – navigating the divide between our ideals and our reality. The way to keep going, even when our progress is stalled or regressing, is to look and see the details of how far we’ve actually come.
If we’d like to get better, we need to make space for reflection. If we’re not overwhelmed and paralyzed, we’re struggling to move faster – but reflection is not a luxury. It’s necessary. It’s vital.
This is how we build hope
Without accurate memories, without a recognition of our failures and successes, there would be no ambition, no progress, and there would be nothing to fuel us when things are bleak. It’s how we keep good moments with us forever, and how we remember that things won’t always be this hard.
Review > Analyze > Research > Test > Adapt
It’s a simple cycle, and it works for everything. Review > Analyze > Research > Test > Adapt.
I create a recap and take notes on each of my photos right after a session. It takes hours for me to inspect each image, rip my work apart, take note of every mistake. The final recap is long – thousands of words, and it’s full of regrets and exclamation marks and me ranting at myself because dammit, I should have known better!
It’s a painful, squirmy process. But it makes me better at what I do.
No Time for Reflection
Recording, reviewing, and analyzing the tiny, tedious details of our past isn’t an urgent task, so we neglect it.
We think of reflection as a retiree hobby – something we do after our work is complete. There are no opportunities to reflect in the middle of the mess, when we still have time to change course.
Our schools are overwhelmed with STEM-heavy courses, and we aren’t taught to reflect on our history and our art – we’re taught to regurgitate.
Our time at home is fulled with homework, baths, lunch-packing, laundry-sorting, and errands. When do we have a chance to review this stage? We will have more time to cuddle tomorrow, take photos next week, and sleep when we’re dead.
We have vague ideals – bigotry is bad, diabetes is bad, war is bad, global warming is bad, with no action steps to prevent them. We get overwhelmed, paralyzed, and hope the next generation will take care of it.
How can we teach the next generation to move forward if we can’t show them how to recognize what needs to change?
Without time to review, we can’t analyze to see what went wrong. We can’t find out what gaps remain in our knowledge. We can’t create safe situations to practice alternatives.We can’t see who we are trampling.
We are forced to leap blindly.
We leap blindly with our purchases, our policies, our infrastructure, our health-care, and our votes.
We leap – but it is an automated, stumbling sort of movement. We clutch technology designed to break. We grab whatever fuel is cheapest. When those around us fall, we trample them.
We are not bad people. But we have been moving without thinking. We have been unconscious.
Awareness is not action. Awareness is not enough. But it is the first vital step.
Looking back at that old session – I still see that every mistake that made me flinch in the post-review 12 months ago.
I do not make these mistakes anymore.
Reflecting on my sessions makes my next step clear. I’ve upgraded my equipment so excuses are not an option. I’ve mastered new software, researchws new technology, and refined my interviews. It wasn’t easy, and it took a long time, but I do not make these mistakes anymore.
When I review my new work – I still flinch. I will always make mistakes, but they will be new ones, more refined, a privilege of taking risks and exploring new paths. Reviewing those mistakes clears the path ahead and reveals alternatives, it doesn’t obliterate the forest.
Reflecting again, I’ve learned to be proud of my mistakes. I learn to be compassionate.
When I look back at the old recap from that session – I stop feeling itchy with embarrassment, and the exclamation marks lose their potency.
12 months ago, I had just started walking again, after a months of scary illnesses that left me hospitalized, bedridden, and weak. I had slept less than 3 hours the night before, caring for a hyperactive preschooler and a nursing toddler. I juggled a 12-year-old camera in the hot and humid July air, and my autistic brain struggled to reconcile the sounds and light and smells and voices and lingering aches in my joints.
I had a fantastic time. I had my camera.
Reflecting on those circumstances – what I could control and what I couldn’t, what hurdles I had ahead, inspires me to forgive that person from the past. Frustration turns to compassion. It’s a joy to see what she managed to create despite the obstacles. I’m grateful.
This is hope
So this is how I keep moving forward. I see that I’ve gotten better – just a little. I see that even if I didn’t meet the goals I had last year, they have shifted to something I didn’t know was possible before.
This makes me happy. That gives me hope.