I live in Michigan, right along the shore of Lake Michigan. We are quite accustomed to winters when streets, sidewalks, and every possible open space become filled with inches, or feet, of snow. After every snowy winter storm we do what we can to live and work around this pristine annoyance: we shovel, push, and throw it into massive piles. We shovel it as far out of our way as possible then get on with life and the rest of our to do list. 

Eventually, the storms subside and give us room to breathe. The sun comes out a bit to help melt, or at least compress, some of what was left behind. We do what we can to cut the big piles back more and return to our daily lives while we wait for warmer weather to eventually cut us some slack. We wait for warmer days to handle the small piles in a few sunny days with temps over freezing

However, the large piles still loom well into the Spring. 

Until the machinery comes out, loaders and dump trucks, to scoop up the piles and take them off to a remote area of town. They can melt at their own pace without continuing to be a visual danger to drivers or threaten to flood our neighborhoods along with all the other snow slowly disappearing into the ground. 

Today I realized, as I watched the scoop and dump ballet play out near a behemoth cul-de-sac pile this week,  I couldn’t help but think about how we apply a lot of our snow dealing theory to our problems and to do lists in life. We push things to the side, let small problems disappear on their own, and create messy behemoths we must deal with at a later date. Ever catch yourself doing this exact thing? I do (all the freaking time…).

When problems fall into our lives, we handle what we can and group together what we cannot in that moment – we have to keep going on in life after all. When things slow down, we can start working on our problem piles to make them less intrusive to our daily life. And finally, one day when things are finally sunny, we can scoop what is left and deal with them properly. I know we do not have literal piles but our to do lists can feel just as daunting.

We don’t have to deal with everything or fix everything all at once. We don’t need to deal with everything in real time. But if we don’t deal with it eventually, the piles become unmanageable. It’s ok to handle what we have to, then what we can, before finally dealing with the bigger stuff when we have the time and mindset to do so; but we need to be careful not to put it off for too long. 

We don’t have an army of loaders and dump trucks to bail us out. 

Putting off hard conversations and real self-assessment is easier and more comfortable that willingly wading through awkward, messy, hurtful situations. I get that. But unlike the snow, the problems won’t melt away on their own. We have to take thing apart bit-by-bit on our own or risk being buried alive. 

We have to push aside the fear and believe we can do the hard things. 

The voice in your head telling you that you can’t are lying. The one telling you to push them off and ignore them are wrong. The one convincing you that you don’t have the tools, time, patience, or energy is just fear trying to hold you back from the life you deserve (and let’s be honest – the one you want). 

Nothing gets better and growth can’t happen without doing big things. They might be scary or feel overwhelming at first but that’s how you know it’s important. I don’t care if you’re trying to move a 10 foot tall snow hill or apologize to someone after saying some hurtful things – it’s hard and needs to be done. The sooner you start, the sooner the overwhelming pile starts to disappear. 

How do you handle your pile? One scoop at a time. 

I fix problems for a living and the best advice I can give is: make a plan. Which is easier than it sounds. Grab a piece of paper for this quick crash course:

  • Look at your pile and list everything out
  • Take a deep breath, quit rolling your eyes at me, I know the list is long but stick with me.
  • Prioritize the items into three groups:
    1. Urgent (like you’ll be homeless, hungry, in jail, or dead if you don’t deal with it soon 
    2. Soon (things you need to do soon like oil change, schedule bill pays, or make a dr. appt). 
    3. Upcoming (things needing attention with no firm end dates like dropping of Goodwill donations or cleaning out the crumbs from your floor mats). 

How long will each list be? That all depends on how long you’ve been pushing your pile aside. From here, I do one urgent per day (or more if time permits!) until it’s done, then move onto the soon pile. Eventually, the major pressing things are handled. It’s not as fast as a loader and a dump truck, but lifts a weight just as heavy.

The upcoming pile? Well that ones not so bad. You can sprinkle it in along with other things or just do it when you’re done. OR, you can look at it and see if there is anyone else who can do any of it or help you out. Does your spouse drive past Goodwill on the way to work? They can drop off the bags. Your kids are likely capable of vacuuming their own messes out of your backseat (or at least picking up the wrappers). Get them to work and maybe, JUST maybe…they’ll think twice before messing it up again.

Who am I kidding – they will not. but it’s off your list now, so you’re welcome.

The point is, nothing in life is too much – it just may be too much for one time. Even the most overwhelming and defeating mountains of problems or anxieties can be dealt with. It all comes down to never giving up, never giving into fear, and never doubting yourself. Whether it takes one month or twelve to dig out, making progress is all that counts.

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