A Shift in Perspective

Muddling Through


Sometimes I feel like that is how I live my life; just muddling through until I finally get somewhere. Some people seem to have a clear objective and a straightforward path that they do not veer from until they reach their goals. They move from point A to point B to point C without being deterred, sidelined or distracted. I admire that.

That has not been my experience. Often when I have a destination in mind the path is winding, full of potholes and missing street signs. There are detours and delays. It’s like Google maps has sent me down the wrong street. It takes a while to recover my sense of direction. Sometimes I decide to go with the flow of traffic and see where it takes me.

For example, some home improvement projects that I estimate to be fairly simple turn into something much more complicated. Changing out a screen door can turn into many trips to the hardware store. I measure, I look, I shop, I watch YouTube videos and still the project is a poster child for muddling through until it finally comes together.

Muddling through is an exercise in persistence. Sometimes, as a single woman, juggling a career and homeownership, an extra amount of determination is needed to get the simplest of tasks done. One person cannot be in two or three places at the same time. Striving for self-sufficiency is a lofty goal, as it turns out. Decisions have to be made along the way. What things can I let go of for now? What is necessary? What will I definitely need help with? These are the questions I ask myself as I muddle along. What if I make a mistake? What if my neighbors cross the road to ask me what the heck am I doing?

The writing process is a classic example of muddling through; I am fairly certain that other writers will agree. You begin with an idea, work it through to words on paper. Maybe you use an outline, or perhaps you start right in the middle. Maybe you write purely by inspiration. Rarely does the writing appear in perfect form at the first sitting. Revisions and rewrites are the norm. You muddle along, as disciplined as it is possible to be, until the mission is accomplished and the end is reached.

Just a few moments of reflection easily reveal periods of time where muddling through was the only thing keeping me afloat. Experiencing the loss of a spouse is undoubtedly a time of muddling. There is no way to predict the ebb and flow of those strong emotional tides. All the preparation you can muster will not accurately predict the paths you will tread following the death of a loved one. You muddle along until you feel better, and chart a new course.

Today I will go to work in a new environment, where there is more work and not enough workers. Four of my social worker colleagues have left our staff in recent months. This is a recent phenomenon, part of our pandemic crisis. We have more responsibility and less power, even over our own lives. We are collectively muddling through changing societal norms. Decisions will be made about vaccinations, masks, travel, career choices and changes, and a myriad of other things. It is not clear how we will come through this period in our history.

I recently read a quote by the journalist Anna Quindlen that I identified with. “Life is not so much about beginnings and endings as it is about going on and on and on. It is about muddling through the middle.”

Vicki Biggs is a longtime social worker. She lives in Home.