Overestimating and underestimating your ability to do anything and everything

I saw The Youngster last night at a screening of our mutual friend's film. Lots of great things happened, like seeing Tony Shalhoub sitting two rows away and Kojak parking and a gigantic platter of shrimp at the after-party, but really, the best thing about the evening was it was full of milestone howdys.

That's my new name for in-your-face reminders that if you combine your own effort with enough time, stuff happens. Big stuff. Good stuff. Stuff that is delightfully surprising in its bigness and goodness.

Take, for starters, the fact that The Youngster and I were there together at all, laughing and joking and having a good time as excellent friends. Someday, I will tell the sad, sad tale of our tumultuous time together and the explosive way in which it...well, exploded. (Hell, he's a writer; he'll probably tell it, too. Or maybe we'll tell it together.) For now, know that six years ago, I doubt either one of us believed in our heart of hearts we would, even could be friends at all, much less friends of the excellent variety: fast friends, the ones you have walked through the fire with, and thus would run into a burning building for.

Then there's acting.

Oh, my god, is there acting.

You have no idea of how badly I wanted to be an actor. Or maybe you do. After all, I've described how late I came to the game, how I wept when I was dumped from the place I was sure would be my everlasting theatrical home and for how long I've grappled with the fame thing. In a business where it's death to take anything personally, I took pretty much everything personally. A continual oozing wound was the Jan Brady-esque relationship I had with my own theater company: someone else was always getting the good part in the school play, and it wasn't until I discovered my metaphorical knack for scenery painting (in this case, graphic design) that I gained any respect, self- or otherwise, at all.

Last night, my former artistic director lobbed a request at me: did I know of any actors who would fit a certain set of specs, a set of specs which, except for an illustrious résumé that would dazzle the producers, pretty much made for a good police sketch of yours truly. And really, all I could think of was how fun is this? I get to flip through my mental Rolodex of fab actresses and solve this really interesting puzzle.

Eight years ago? I would have frozen in place while my heart dropped to my bowels, spent the car ride home weeping and railing (at The Youngster, probably, who did his fair share of talking me down off the ledge during our three years together), then carefully added the slight to the large and musty heap of umbrage I kept locked in the closet.

There were more milestones: me, the hapless introvert, being social and enjoying it, probably a four-year conscious effort. Me, ambulatory with health and heft (six years); then me, with a slight reduction in heft and bump in endurance (three months of walking daily). Me, happily ensconced in an amazing primary relationship with an equally amazing man (we'll call that 20-odd years of lessons on and off the field, with a considerable assist from my therapist for a good 4-year stretch).

It all comes down to this: you can sit there and bemoan your lousy fate, which I freely admit I've spent great swaths of time doing, and the hand I was dealt wasn't half-bad, or you can change what you can. Most of the big change, like it or not, happens incrementally, over a long time. As Chris Gillebeau says in his delightful ebook* on effecting meaningful personal change, "we tend to overestimate what we can complete in a single day, and underestimate what we can complete over longer periods of time."

Or, as the rejoinder to someone who rebuts encouragement to earn that degree, learn that instrument, master that sport with a "Do you know how old I'll be by the time I can practice/play/take my picture on the top of Mt. Everest" goes, The same age you will if you don't.

For the love of all that's holy, start a project. Today. Pick one thing you really want (the end you want) and start plotting the route to get there. If you are like me, like most people, if the quote stands true, you will set unreasonable goals for yourself. You will try to cram too much living into the hours, days, even weeks. You will, like me, like most people, overestimate your shit like crazy. 'Sokay. It evens out over time. (I'm hoping that one's ability to guesstimate, time-wise, also improves over time, but whatever.)

There will always be stuff left over on the to-do list. What matters more, I see now, is that we actually did something. Went after something. Something, hopefully, that we really wanted, that was really important to us.

I am sure I will never get everything I want.

Then again, I am positive I am underestimating my ability to chase it.

xxx c

*Download A Brief Guide to World Domination, and behold how eBooks should be produced. Well, for starters, and horizontally-oriented, as Seth points out.