One of the many terms of art with which I have become familiar since embarking on the vocation of writing is WIP, short for “work in progress.” Unlike other acronyms that are read as words in and of themselves, e.g., AWOL, WIP reads letter for letter, like DOB or RMV. The hashtag, “#WIP,” appears in Twitter feeds and on Instagram. It’s an announcement of a writer’s progress toward “The End,” regardless of the writing, be it a book, a novella, or a short story. When a writer employs this acronym, she admits to being in the midst of a “work.” The state of being “in progress” is not unlike “practicing,” doing a task over and over with an end in sight, irrespective of just how far away the finish line might be. Like the practice of law, Buddhism, or yoga, a daily engagement or, at the very least, the regular concentration on one true goal is an authentic practice.
But it occurred to me recently that each of us, in our own ways, a WIP. Some move swiftly from one measurable goal to the next. Others, rejecting revolutionary ways, meander and ruminate on “what might be next for me?”
When the answer to that question is obscured from sight or held in the hands of others who seek to control our ability to choose or block our forward progress, we are left wondering. From those confusing times, the desire to race to a hasty resolution is present, even desirable, as “doing nothing” is construed by many, if not most, as a indication of weak character or an inability to think for oneself. In a culture of bootstraps and conclusions, it’s hard not to take action when navigating through our days.
My spouse is a psychotherapist. One of the axioms he reports that he endorses with his clients is this:
“YOU CAN CHOOSE TO DO NOTHING.”
This statement is paradoxical: doing nothing is an act of will and an act of will is, in fact, “doing something.” Linguistics aside, the notion that non-action is one of many options in response to life’s choices is brilliant.
Non-action, however, can finds its roots in laziness, anger, or fear. “I don’t feel like it,” “I hate that,” and “I’m scared” are felt internally and often expressed out loud. But non-action can stem, instead, from a need to reflect on the prudence of waiting a while, as this may ensure that future action is not harmful to others. In those instances, doing nothing is wise.
Self-preservation requires a sophistication in distinguishing when to do and when not to do. Suspended there, our free will comes face to face with scores of unknowable ends. Yet progress itself hinges on movement, on taking action, on getting results. In each work in progress, whether it be cultivating compassion for those who wish us ill or whether it be one word closer to typing “The End,” we are challenged to discovering aspects of ourselves that can increase a sense of authenticity.
Last night, I read the opinion of an author who asserted that being “authentic” is a pursuit of “truth and excellence” in oneself by acting in the vein of honesty and with the goal of full realization. In the past, my regard for authenticity was limited to truth alone. The idea that authenticity can, perhaps even should, include a commitment to achievement is powerful in its newness to me, leaving me to ponder how many times I believed myself to be acting authentically for merely speaking my own perceptions of truth.
I have now the appreciation for how wide and deep it is: it is a work in progress.