Seeing What You Have Accomplished

Right before each Rosh Hashana, I make a list that has two parts. The first one is a list of everything I wanted to accomplish that I have accomplished this past year. It includes small things and large. Small things like tuning the piano, regasketing the stove doors, expanding goat fence, rearranging the pantry and making 10 more jars of pickles than last year. Big things like qualifying as foster parents, Simon learning to chant Torah, Isaiah learning to read fluently, expanding our business, getting up our sign, having our largest crop of baby goats, our first experiments with beef cattle, making better willow hay, starting the woodland native plant beds, bringing in our first kids school groups to see the farm work, finally repairing the old cistern and expanding the perennial plantings.

The second part is a list of things we have accomplished over the past 10 years - I keep this as a running list, so I don't have to do it over again. It includes building the addition onto the house for Eric's grandparents, paying down the mortgage, putting in a new well line, adding children, putting in the forest garden, adding the woodstoves, reinsulation, renovation, and all of our agricultural projects from our first garden to our first CSA, from our very first chickens to our first cattle.

I do this because like many people, I have a tendency to look at my world and see mostly what is undone, not what is done. Looking back over the year, it would be easy to see my to-do list and see the year as full of things left undone. I didn't get the shallow well pump on the cistern. I didn't get in most of the woodland plant beds I wanted to. I didn't get any salsa canned, or fall raspberry jam. I didn't put up as many herbs as I intended. I didn't get up a greenhouse. I didn't get Asher reading fluently. I didn't get Eli fully toilet trained. I didn't get a foster placement. I didn't keep the house clean. I didn't plant many fruit trees.....

The glass half-empty is, I think, an inevitable result of a constant list of "to do" items in any life, particularly one that is simultaneously living in the present and preparing for an anticipated future with less. It is also a lot less fun than living a half-full life.

Thus, I try and remind myself both daily and yearly of what I have done - and I think it is a fairly impressive list. In a decade my husband and I went from being graduate students to farmers, have managed to raise successfully quite a number of animals for milk, eggs and meat, supplying food to a wide variety of friends, family and customers. We ran a market garden for 5 years, and are in the process of shifting the business towards started plants and new projects. We supply about 60% of our family's food (and it could be more if we didn't enjoy other local sources). We built an addition to our home and cared for Eric's grandparents for the last years of their lives, shared our home with a wonderful housemate and now are looking to another new arrangement. We have done major renovations on the house, filled it with kids, books and bookshelves ;-), expanded our gardens and diversified our plantings, built several strong communities, shared our resources with others, done some good deeds, built a barn, I've written books and put out a bazillion blog posts, given a few hundred talks and helped rebuild an organization. my husband has taught variations on our environmental predicament to close to 10,000 undergraduates, our kids are bright, healthy, strong and learning, and are working on expanding our family.

Looked at this way, my failures look writ small - we are not perfect, we have not done all we wanted to, but it has been enough. I depend on my view of what is undone to push me forward every morning - I need to be able to see the half-empty glass each day. But I also need regular refreshment from the half-full glass, the sight of my accomplishments, placed in the perspective of what I can do, to remind me that what seems to take forever really happens in the blink of an eye.

It is easy to get frustrated when you haven't got the time or the money or the energy to accomplish something this day, this week, this year. It is easy to feel that the time scale on your ambitions is far too short, and that you'll never get it all done. And that last is true - you never get it all done - you can only do enough, and move on, but days full of enough rush forward like the wind, and the glass fills up, drop by drop.


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Thanks so much for posting this, as I needed a bit of redirection this week. It is incredibly easy to let all the things I haven't done ruin my sense of accomplishment in the tasks I do complete.

By Cassandra (not verified) on 05 Oct 2011 #permalink


I like the line in "Evan Almighty", when Evan tells G*d that his plans don't include building an ark -- and the response is "Your plans!" and a big laugh.

Doing what we are set to do is a privilege and a joy, as Carroll O'Connor had it in "Return to Me", "I am blessed with work."

It might just be that it is the working at it, the trying, that defines (a sustainable) success.

Blessed be.

Thank you once again for this wisdom, Sharon.

I have one sort of random question, though: What is "Willow Hay?"

Oh, I so needed this post right now, Sharon. I also keep a list of accomplishments and goals, and review/renew them at the New Year. Last year was a good year, a big year, full of thing achieved. This year, not so much. It's been a year of funks, delays, frustrations, necessary repairs that go undone, and just a major case of the blahs. But even so, some things did get done, are getting done. And because of last year's list I know that this year isn't forever. Next year will probably be better.


You have no idea how much I love this post. You put into words what I could not articulate - thank you for doing this for us!

By Jayne Anne (not verified) on 05 Oct 2011 #permalink


On the Producer / Consumer continuum you are pretty far away from being a consumer. How are you going to help out the economy if you don't quit doing things your self and start buying stuff!

Sharon - you are SO right, and wise to remember this! I have the same feelings of "not done yet!" and often have to remind myself that what I *have* done is pretty good - even impressive on some days, LOL - and that it does not serve me or anyone else to fret over the undone any further than such fretting impels me forward into action. Action = good. Wallowing = bad. Yes, I simplify. I'm ok with that :)

Dearest Sharon,

You are not giving yourself enough credit. You are forgetting the many, many people whose lives you have changed for the better, my family's included. I wouldn't be attempting any of the crazy things I do-- ; )-- without your inspiration.

By Stacy Canterbury (not verified) on 05 Oct 2011 #permalink

I really liked this post too.

I also take time each year - in my case around the time of the secular New Year - to review the past year in light of the goals I'd set for the year and also to consider and write down goals for the following year. My former employer had a similar exercise, but in its case tied our salary increase for the next year to accomplishment of our goals for the proceeding year. Our performance ended up reduced to an X on a line; the farther to the right your X was, the more your raise was. That X made this perhaps the part of my employment that I hated the most; it was as if the X reflected my worth as a person, in its eyes at least. It still amazes me that this company could make something that is so valuable, something I so much enjoy because it gives me an overview of what I did accomplish and what I'd like to focus on, into something I dreaded.

Thank you for this post. I also tend to focus more on the not done as opposed to the done. My new year is coming up at the end of this month, and you have inspired me to make similar lists.