I burned a big pot of soup the other day.
Not just some brothy concoction, but a double batch of taco soup full of shredded chicken, vegetables, beans, jalapenos, and spices left on my stovetop to scorch and fill my kitchen with smoke. A good $40 worth of wasted food; two hours wasted time.
Since I was hosting a neighborhood party at my house, I took the pot, billowing with smoke, to the side of my house by the garbage cans and left it there. For almost two weeks.
The party still went beautifully (as parties do) and no one missed my soup. But as the days went by, and more serious troubles piled up at my house, the burnt soup became a strange sort of symbol to me– wasted time, wasted efforts, wasted money. And I began asking myself, when do I know something in my life is burnt soup?
We’ve all looked at something on the stove or coming out of the oven and tried to peel off the ruined bits or salvage the portion that isn’t scorched. But there’s that stage where the acrid taste has invaded every molecule and you know it’s time to give up and toss the whole mess (and sometimes the pot too).*
I know when it’s time to toss the pot of soup, but do I recognize when it’s time to abandon a project or a dream?
And there are times to toss the whole pot. We live in this “you can do anything” “follow your dreams” society, but let me tell you, I could never be a swimsuit model or sing on a stage. Thankfully, I have no desire to do either.
I’ve been working on getting a book published. I won’t bore you with too many details (blah, blah, blah) but it’s on raising happy teenagers and I got dumped by two publishers on the same day. Two rejections don’t mean much in the publishing world, but I wondered if my manuscript was a burnt pot of soup? If it was time to give up and work on one of my other projects and interests?
It’s a first-world question– how should I spend my time? Am I wasting my efforts?
I’m one of the lucky ones that doesn’t worry about where our next meal comes from or how to keep a roof over my head. But I do worry– and I think many of us do– about using my talents for good, about choosing the right paths and projects. Every day I pray for guidance, but I rarely feel more than a slight nudge from heaven. Every day my hours are filled with tasks and doing favors, answering questions and offering hugs.
My oldest son called right after the publisher rejections rolled in, and his casual Friday, “How are you mom?” turned into a sobfest.
“Do I even want to write a book?”** I whined, “Should I scrap the whole proposal and start over? How do I turn it into what they want?”
My son responded perfectly– and I’m sharing this for you, so apply it to yourself however it fits your life:
“Write it or don’t. But don’t water it down into what you think someone else wants. What makes you a really great mom is that you’ve never cared what other people think. You’ve always done what you know is right. Don’t throw that away.”
For me, his words are more gratifying than any publisher’s contract. Maybe my path is to just keep doing what I know it right, not to write about it? I just spent the last hour texting three teens who are struggling– maybe that’s a better use of my time than searching for an agent? I still don’t know. I’m still praying every day for guidance; maybe it’s coming one moment at a time.
How do you know when it’s time to give up on a project/dream?
How do you make good/better/best choices in your life?
Do you believe there are no wasted efforts?
* it took lots of soaking, boiling water and baking soda to loosen charred bits and a few good arm workouts with steel wool, but we saved the pot.
**publishing a book doesn’t actually sound all that fun– the criticism, all the self-promotion, putting myself in the spotlight.