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Wasted time? Wasted efforts?

By Michelle Lehnardt

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.



About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

17 thoughts on “Wasted time? Wasted efforts?”

  1. Don't give up on the book! I would buy it and read it and I know many others who would too. Your words on parenting have strengthened me and my family over the years. I don't always comment, but know that seeing you enjoy your kids and talk about how you resolve problems helps me.

    And I know you didn't write this post fishing for compliments–that wasn't the point– but I am going to give them anyway. Your perspective is valuable and important; keep going till you find the right publishing fit.

  2. I can't even count the number of "burned pots of soup" in my life. I can totally relate, but I believe that the process of making and creating is never, ever wasted. I know that something inside of us changes every time we engage in a new pursuit or endeavor, even if there isn't a clear, visible result to show early on in the process. I am reminded of the building of the Salt Lake temple. After they had put 7 years of work and toil into it, someone discovered that the foundation was cracked. Brigham Young called for the foundation to be torn out, and they had to start over. I can't even imagine how the people felt! It seems like our journeys on earth often do not take shortest, most efficient route, but I am hopeful that in all the meandering, we continue to be refined and become more Christlike.

    I would absolutely LOVE to read a book written by you!! You have so much wisdom to share. When the time is right and the publisher is right, everything will totally fall into place. I bet there are pieces of your life right now that are falling into place and lining up right now so that you can get this project on its way. All the best

  3. One limitation I realized with me referencing this part of the Salt Lake temple's story: I didn't at all mean that there is a cracked foundation in your journey! I was only thinking of how there are delays and twists and turns in some of our most important creating endeavors

  4. Pursuing my passions has been revealed to me as “self-care”, something I am just starting to really “get” in terms of importance and balance. I have found that women I admire for who they are also happen to be great makers/doers. I think this is because using and developing our talents feeds us in ways that bring more peace within. Of course there are projects that aren’t a good fit for many varied reasons. Choosing what and when is part of the learning curve of life. I am very confident that you, Michelle, are sensitive enough to know when to stop (or hit pause) on something. I am less confident that you have a firm grasp on how impactful your writing is to the world it currently reaches, and how much peace it could bring to a larger circle. Keep writing. Keep sharing. You are doing a good work!

  5. I am struggling with the same question in my life — when is it time to give up? My husband is finally pursuing a career in art, but so far we haven't had any luck and our savings are running out. We felt like we were supposed to give this a shot, but maybe that was all it was — giving it a shot so we could say we tried even though it didn't work. Is it time to put the dreams aside? I pray about it every day and I don't have any answers.

  6. I love this: “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.”

    Post it on your wall in your study and/or the walls of your mother-heart.

  7. Letting go a dream is harder for me than letting go a project. Sometimes it's harder still to separate the two.

    Don't give up on your book, Michelle. Parents now and in future will benefit from what you have to say. (And your wise son is right about the way you say it.)

    At a writers conference in October, agents sitting side by side in a panel expressed opposite views on what they look for and want to see in proposals and projects. They laughed and reminded everyone that it's often a matter of timing and taste. You keep spooning out your words, Michelle, and the right opportunity will bite (in a good way).

  8. This resonates with me more than I can say. There are only so many more years (probably 30 if I'm really lucky) and I have longed for "getting back to" the projects of my before-kids life. Is that even realistic? And is it worth the exhausting efforts on what others may end up perceiving as a "mess of pottage?" I love your son's response. I love the meme that started showing up last year: "Do more of what makes you happy." The trouble with that is, "define 'happy'." Thanks for all the rich thoughts, Michelle!

  9. Back when I was raising small children there was a plethora of advice from a multitude of books/magazines/websites. There were all kinds of academic journals, articles and research on the development of small children and what we as parents should do to nurture them. The parenting problem with infants and toddlers and even school-aged children was often too much information, not too little.
    As I've progressed in raising children, I've found the parenting advice river has dried up. In graduate school a few years ago I tried to write a paper on best practices for raising teenagers and preparing them for adulthood and found virtually nothing. Academic research on teenagers focuses on delinquents–but the vast majority of parents do not have a delinquent child. Magazines and newspapers write article after article about getting into/choosing colleges. The Ensign had one good, very practical article about preparing teens for missions. But overall, there was practically nil on how to raise happy teenagers. I was super disappointed as this was research I was doing in large part to improve my own parenting.
    My point here is that you are writing a book that currently does not exist and is needed. Keep at it!


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