Project Worth

Project Worth 150 150 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

As far back as you can remember, you have always been driven to create and maintain various ongoing “projects.” It’s a product, partly, of your Type-A personality. To be sure, as your therapist and you have discussed, this drive has helped you succeed in your schooling, in your profession, in your writing.

Just as you have frequently made Words of Affirmation your idol, gauging them to determine your value or lack thereof, you have used your “projects” (the completion of them, or the failure to do so), to determine your value or lack thereof.

There’s a phrase you remember from that important book your therapist asked you to read, a book called Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer. The phrase is “compare and despair.” It’s natural, of course, to compare yourself to others, but especially with body image issues, to compare yourself to others (measuring yourself against them) is detrimental.

So as you completed a project, you wondered how others were doing with their projects–not that you wanted them to fail, no–but Facebook often revealed too much information for your own good. You needed to learn how to handle it better.

You’ve trained for races. Marathons in the past, shorter races more recently. (Even as you wrote the previous sentence you’re probably guilty of thinking, “Look at me and what I accomplished!”) As you completed each required workout, not only did you feel well physically, you often acquired a puffed up sense of self-worth, finding ways to bring up your training routines around others, hoping they would be impressed.

There was Lent in 2015, the season normally a time when you refrain from something or engage in some practice, with the greater purpose of drawing closer to God. So what did you do?

You decided to cut out all the added sugar from your diet. Even the 85% square of chocolate you would grant yourself. It was tough. Did you draw closer to God as a result of this purposeful restraint? Nope. Instead, you told dozens of people about your “project.” You let them know it was tough. (There’s another phony spiritual merit badge for your vest.)

Then there have always been those lists, lists, lists. Great if you can complete everything on them, disaster if you can’t. There’s the rub. All 10 tasks finished? You are a good person, “valuable” in the eyes of God and of others. Some not completed? Often an emotional disaster.

You and your therapist agree it’s a good idea to take a break from the projects, from the obsessive list making. What does that mean, practically (even if you self-consciously write a list as a response)?

No more (often lofty) writing goals.

No more training plans.

No more boring everyone by yakking about your training plans.

No races.

No MyFitnessPal app on your phone.

No reminders on your phone to read a short story each day, to read 10 poems.

No food scale on the counter; instead, it’s in a kitchen cupboard.

More peace.

More restfulness.

Less stress.

More joy.

Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter,, &

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  • Projects — this one in particular — often get the best of me.

    “Did you draw closer to God as a result of this purposeful restraint? Nope. Instead, you told dozens of people about your “project.” You let them know it was tough. (There’s another phony spiritual merit badge for your vest.)”

    It’s so easy to get distracted to this point. Prayers up to all of whom do things in His name, even when selfishness clouds the way.

    Thanks for this, Nate.

    • Nathaniel Lee Hansen January 17, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Thank you, Jason, for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts, and thanks for taking time to comment. 🙂