I was watching a retrospective about Lucille Ball, and her co-star Gale Gordon told a funny story about how Lucy often bore no resemblance to her onscreen characters. Rather than being absent minded and a laugh a minute, she was usually on task. Her famously strong work ethic only became more pronounced following her divorce from Desi Arnaz. He reminisced about cutting up with the cast and crew while they waited for Lucy to finish in the make-up chair. Things would be loose on the set until the door flew open. “And then Madame would hit the floor…,” he smiled and trailed off, shaking his head at the memory.
This story inspired the topic for May, “What’s My Theme?” Like Lucy, my friends will tell you that I love a project. My calendar usually includes many active contract negotiations at work, reorganizing at home, and lots of creative writing. Do your days have the same kind of variety? Projects shouldn’t be vanilla, boring and neutral; they should be alive with your talents and imagination. Clearing out your closet or making dinner is only dull if you approach it that way. However, there can be a shadow side if your project love results in endlessly churning one responsibility after another.
Years ago I worked with a woman who was hyper, hyper productive. I was in constant admiration of how quickly she would return email. She had an uncanny ability to process data, think through options quickly, and propose several solutions. She seemed so inventive. So engaged. It was really remarkable how many plates she could keep spinning. For a while.
I began to see how her initiatives started with a lot of enthusiasm, but few had long-term impact. Her team picked up on the same trend and began to dread the endless stream of requests. Since she could process through hundreds of emails a day, she thought it would be a breeze for everyone else. It never occurred to her that no one really enjoyed working through note after note she lobbed and hammered over the net. Instead of seeing her assignments as meticulous attention to detail, they viewed her as petty and unrelenting. Her insecurity about never having enough accomplishments pushed her to constantly kick-off more and more projects. After a while, people began to avoid working with her.
In the story above, I give Lucille Ball all the credit in the world. There may be people who were disappointed by her behavior after having pre-conceived notions about how fun she would be. But let’s be clear – there’s a time to get to work. Lucy was keenly aware of her responsibilities after she bought Desi Arnaz out of his share of Desilu and became the first woman to lead a studio. Whether you’re negotiating a contract or remodeling a kitchen, all projects have moments which call for diligence and discipline.
This week, you may be walking a fine line between Project Manager and Firestarter. I’m confident you’ll find your own perfect blend of either following through or knowing when to rest and be satisfied with the results at hand. There’s no need to power through life like a 1-speed blender. I’m inspired by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.”