In praise of incomplete ideas

Not every idea becomes something real to the outside world, and that's just fine.

An open cardboard box atop a stack of flattened cardboard boxes.

About a year ago a few hundred brand-new, flat-packed shipping boxes, wrapped in plastic, appeared in the backyard of the house directly behind us. They’ve sat there ever since, completely untouched, through sun and rain and everything.

Beyond wondering what they are/were for, I also can’t help but wonder how they feel about having those boxes back there. The most obvious thought is that the initial arrival of those boxes had something to do with an ambition, some big new idea, something that appears to have lost its initial momentum.

There are all kinds of feelings they could be having about those boxes. There’s a real likelihood that there are feelings of disappointment, grief, regret, shame. Those feelings would be completely understandable. It’s okay to feel all of those things; they’re natural and there are good, sound, helpful reasons we experience those feelings.

Many years ago, I was in deep conversation with one of the people closest to me in my life, and we got on the subject of how we always have all these big ideas, grand ideas, and if only we actually had the time/energy/resources to do all of them! And together we agreed that the best way to think about all these incomplete sparks was without shame for their incompleteness. We maybe only actually made one idea in 10 into something real, but ooooh boy, we had some wonderful things to show for those 1 in 10 ideas. If we let the 9 in 10 ideas that don’t become real get us down, what would life be like then? So we enjoy the hell out of the ideas we have that don’t cross the finish line. We have a laugh and revel in them. That’s part of the fuel that lets that 1 in 10 happen.

And so when I see all those unused boxes in the neighbor’s backyard, even a year-plus on, I feel buoyed. They still represent a belief in one’s self, and that’s fantastic. Who cares if they haven’t been used yet, who cares if they never get used? When I see them, I see echoes of hope and creativity and newness and self-belief. I like all that stuff.

If you have your own metaphorical unused shipping boxes in your backyard, and it helps to hear someone say it: I love 'em.

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