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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


How I define that mysterious thing that is a PROJECT.

Okay. I have come to the following realization:

While we have been talking quite a bit about projects, I have not actually explained what I mean by “project”.

Projects? Adventure, missions, episodes, whatever your projectizing metaphor happens to be.

So let’s talk about what I’m trying to say when I’m talking about projects.

Because this is important.

And also because I’m pretty sure the definition that I’m working with is much broader than people suspect.

Thank you, commenter mice and people who come to Rally (Rally!) and members of my Kitchen Table program for helping me understand that I need to define my terms!

Projects are about exploration and discovery.

Any time you ask a question:

“What can I do to make this phone call less painful or stressful?”

That’s a project.

Any time you express a thought that is a desire or a gwish:

“I’d like to learn more about my relationship with my body, and what would need to happen for me to be able to treat myself with more kindness.”

That’s a project.

Any time you wonder about some aspect of how you are in the world:

“I wonder what would happen if I had designated time in my week for something creative and messy…”

That’s a project.

There are no RULES about projects.

Except discovering what your internal rules are.

Or what external rules you have internalized. cough, GTD.

There are lots of systems and methodologies out there for working on projects. They all work — for the person who came up with them. And maybe for some other people.

But not for everyone. Because of the People Vary principle.

The important thing about projects is NOT the rules that various expert-ey biggified people have invented. (Like: “If it doesn’t have a due date, it’s not a project” or “You should never work on more than X things” or whatever.)

The important thing about projects is that you get to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, in any given situation.

Of course, if a particular rule happens to help you and it feels supportive and it’s nonviolent, go for it! Use it and enjoy. Just pay attention to the fact that you are consciously choosing to take it on.

And if a particular rule stresses you out and does not help you feel supported and cared for, give yourself permission to drop it.

It’s your kingdom. Do things in a way that works for you. And maybe take some notes about that for the Book of You.

Projects are never about the thing. They’re about your relationship with the thing.

Maybe you want to sleep better. That’s a project.

And everything you do to explore and learn what will help you get more sleep or higher quality sleep or happier sleep is a part of that project.

But the real project is not about the sleep itself.

The real project is your relationship with sleep, your relationship with discovering what you need, your relationship with yourself.

If you’ve been on Rally (Rally!), you’ve already experienced this.

Because part of the magic of Rally is really that what you do there is so much more than making giant progress on your projects.

What happens is this: you learn how to approach projects:

How to make the process of interacting with them fun, adventurous, playful, creative.

How to work on your stuff while working on the thing you want, while also resting in a hammock and eating pretzel sticks.

How to use fractal flowers and the video game and all sorts of other things to your advantage. And then you can do that with any project.

Examples of this broader definition of “project”.

Here are some of the more traditional projects people have worked on and played with at Rallies.

  • Starting something (a book proposal, grant proposal, ebook, product, outline, table of contents, marketing plan, business plan, website plan, art installation, a business or a non profit organization or a new career).
  • Finishing something (see above).

But here are some other equally legitimate projects people have worked on and played with at Rallies.

  • What am I like when I’m on vacation?
  • What would it be like to not be stressed out about time all the time?
  • What do I want to do if/when I grow up and is that even the right question?
  • What do I know about my relationship with money?
  • What am I going to do with this grief and pain about X?
  • How can I invent rituals and/or games to make my straight job more bearable and more supportive of my destuckification practice?
  • What needs to happen for my relationship to work?
  • How would I go about building an underground lair?

See what I mean?

And many, many people come to Rally having no idea what their project is or if they even have one. It always works, either way.

Projects: not just for work.

They aren’t about a job or a business, though they can be.

They aren’t about getting a certain thing done by a certain date, though they can be.

They aren’t about making something to sell, though they can be.

Projects are about you getting to know how you function. They’re about a certain aspect or piece of the ongoing process of you working on your stuff.

They’re about playing and finding out. They exist to help you. And they want to tell you things. And they want to be put to bed at night, but that’s another story for another day.

Play with me. And with projects. And comment zen for today.

This is, of course, my personal definition of projects. Which you do not have to use unless you happen to want to!

If you would like to invent fun projects with me, that is welcome.

I am also setting up an impromptu daycare center here in the comments section in case you would like to deposit some project-monsters and old rules about how things supposedly have to be.

Leave them in a comment and we’ll be happy to entertain them for you while you sneak off to proxy something or play with something.

As always, we all have our stuff. We make room for other people to have their stuff. And as part of that, we don’t tell each other what to do, how to feel or how to be.

Lots of love!

32 Responses to How I define that mysterious thing that is a PROJECT.

  1. Nathalie Lussier
    Twitter: NathLussier

    Ooh Havi! I love this. I especially like that projects aren’t just for work. I tend to get really caught up in my work projects and forget that planning to go to the beach one day on the week-end could be a project.

    Is it weird that I also consider grocery / farmer’s market shopping planning a project? I just never saw it that way, but I think it definitely applies!
    Nathalie Lussier recently posted… How to Write Faster using Speech Technology

  2. Max Daniels
    Twitter: maxdaniels

    Oh, my goodness! I felt my whole upper body profoundly let go reading this. Especially the part about other people’s rules. Because of course, People Vary!

    Ooooh. Thank you!
    Max Daniels recently posted… Impromptu digital sabbatical

  3. Max Daniels
    Twitter: maxdaniels

    Oh, and let me just drop off The Everything Needs to be in the Same Format and in the Same Place Together Monster. He would love it if you have a little corner and a clipboard and maybe some goldfish crackers. Thanks!
    Max Daniels recently posted… Impromptu digital sabbatical

  4. Kylie
    Twitter: kyliewriteshere

    Ever since I realized that — holy moly! — I’m coming to Rally, I’ve been wondering in the background of my brain what on Earth I’m going to Rally ON. Now I’m feeling much more calm. So glad that projectizing doesn’t have to mean adding some new thing to my plate. It can mean digesting what’s already on my plate (or some other metaphor that’s less gross-sounding).
    Kylie recently posted… a terrifying commitment to doing less

  5. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @Nathalie – hey sweetie! I also consider grocery planning to be a project… :)

    @Max – yay! And absolutely, we have clipboards aplenty.

    And a bucket of goldfish crackers.

    Ooh! Maybe your monster would like to take on an Organizing Project for us. We have this giant room full of colored balls of all shapes and sizes. Would he like to make sure they’re all arranged properly? That sounds like fun! Oh boy!

  6. Kaleena
    Twitter: Kaleena

    “How can I invent rituals and/or games to make my straight job more bearable and more supportive of my destuckification practice?”

    OhmyholyJeebus. That’s where I’m at right now. I have this job. Food delivery. It makes some money. That’s the only reason I’m doing it. I find that I become my worst when I’m there. The reason is that there is a PATTERN. Since I need the money stuffs, I have to alter my perspective, since I no longer wish for this pattern in my life. Using some magic tricks, I shall now see this as an opportunity to:

    -Have material for my writing. I have to engage with people of all walks of life, from rich men to drug dealers. This is useful.

    -Chance to listen to informative radio, or I get to SING and have concerts in my car!!

    -Metaphor Mouse! (Which I’m always nervous about using because I worry I’ll break the damn thing or something) This isn’t my JOB. This is an evening time adventure that I must embark on, in order so that I may fund my REAL work.

    Hm. I could be on to something here.

    Ooh, ooh! If you’re having an impromptu daycare, would you be so kind as to take care of the this chubby cheeked “You Need To Be Working On Short Stories So You Can Possibly Have A Chance At Making Money And/Or A Name For Yourself” Iguana? I need to do an epic amount of dance practice for a show this weekend and that Iguana is just on my back! Careful. It means well, but it bites. I’ll be back to pick it up this evening. Thanks!

  7. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    Oh, thank you so much for this! I’m dropping off my little monster, who has red and orange tangled fur and her own container of wasabi peas (she brought enough to share, if anyone wants some). She says, “Projects are difficult and serious things! You can’t just play around with them, or they’ll never get done!”
    Kathleen Avins recently posted… Friday Fragments…Five? Yeah, I think that’s right.

  8. VickiB says:

    I love having projects. If I tell someone I’m working on a project, or a Thing, they tend to leave me alone so I can get on with it. Sometimes they’re afraid I’ll tell them ALL about it…

    But I’ve got a monster-sized iguana that masquerades as Caring and Compassionate Self and is drivng me crazy. It lets me come up with projects but it keeps me from working on them because I *need to nap* or *take some time for myself* or… even though it would be much more caring for ME if I got things done. (Not referencing GTD. Just chores and things.)

    I’d like to drop that one off, maybe put it in foster care for a while, and also the one who says I Shouldn’t Have To Do This.

    Using things I’ve learned from you, Havi, I had to go to the grocery store and the drug store last night and I didn’t want to go. So I left the Self Who Doesn’t Want To Go Out at home with a book and took the Self Who Likes To Spend Money to the stores. Wearing a turban and rose-colored sunglasses.

    That worked well, and the next thing is to figure out how to deal with the fact that I don’t like carrying in the groceries and putting them away. Maybe a secret-agent thing? Hiding the secret papers? I don’t know but I’m going to think about that.

  9. VickiB says:

    That bit about using things I’ve learned from Havi doesn’t read right. What I meant was that I had to go out and I didn’t want to so I used things I’ve learned and left part of me home etc.

    I hate it when my writing sounds incoherent to me.

  10. R says:

    Well this explains my “You Can’t go to Rally Because you Don’t do ANYTHING CREATIVE” monster… He thought I had to have a creative project to work on… like that elusive book my monsters all yell I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH to write.

  11. seagirl says:

    I’m dropping off my “Stop Saying ‘Love’ In the Newsletter to the Lawyer Networking Group” Monster. She thinks 4 times is too many, thinks I charge too much for the meeting and wants me to serve chips & pretzels instead of Whole Foods yumminess. She’s worried people (lawyers!) will think we are weird and not, in fact, love us.

    So, I’m sending her here to read about Right People and to projectize a nice red velvet rope for us.

  12. chacha1 says:

    My Excessively Ordered Monster needs to take a time-out in the Playground. He is very methodical and thinks I have to have every single step of a project lined up before I can essay the first step. He is gray with tight curly fur and an overbite and a yellow belly, and he likes pickles.
    chacha1 recently posted… link of the week: casual kitchen

  13. Linda
    Twitter: lindiop

    Just dropping off my You Can’t Have a Project because you are NOT Creative monster. I think he might like to play with R’s monster.If not, he’ll just build a messy nest and eat worms. He’s not very pretty, lots of scraggy black feathers, chicken feet and a huge black beak. He’s not saying much at the moment as I did a proxy thing this afternoon & now I have this pretty wall display. No, it’s not a plan for August, not at all ;-)
    Linda recently posted… Where I’m From….

  14. fairbetty
    Twitter: fairbetty

    Wow… well, I’ll be dropping off a couple monsters… they don’t play nicely, though… the “You’re not a real writer, you’re just a girl with a notebook full of nonsense that no one will ever read” monster (careful, he bites)… and the “If it doesn’t come out perfect the first time it’s never going to be any good” monster… actually, if you could find them both new homes, I’d really appreciate it… but I’m not sure exactly how this daycare center works :)

    You know, I’ve been lurking for a while, and I keep telling myself that there’s no reason for me to come to a Rally because… well those monsters up there help convince me of that a lot… but… maybe I might just consider doing it sometime… not yet, but… maybe it really could be helpful… hmmm…
    fairbetty recently posted… Ode to Havi, and the freedom to be…

  15. fairbetty
    Twitter: fairbetty

    Yeah, R… I think our monsters might know each other…
    fairbetty recently posted… Ode to Havi, and the freedom to be…

  16. Dawn says:

    Projects are never about the thing. They’re about your relationship with the thing.

    Got it!

    I have so many monster-thoughts to drop off at daycare. Esp the one(s) that had me in tears last night feeling like life is too overwhelming and I’m too sensitive and I’ll never be enough or do enough. That I can’t keep up. And I’m ashamed I can’t, and how come I can’t control my OCD and anxiety?

    So that clutch of nasty, thorny monster-thoughts…Into the Pot! at daycare. Wait, are they the same place?

    Thanks, Havi, for always seeming to get at the heart of the matter. You contribute immensely to my self care.
    Dawn recently posted… Giving Myself the Silent Treatment

  17. Fantástica says:

    Dropping off my own leviathan, you can look up a picture and be scared. This particular monster can bully all other monsters, so I hope it’s not too much of a hassle to leave him here for a few hours.

    This leviathan roars: YOU MUST GET A REAL JOB TO JUSTIFY THE LAST THREE YEARS OF YOUR LIFE and then he splashes around so hard that I feel capsized every few days.

    Ah.. the grocery project… I will tackle that one, it could even act as Proxy and knock two birds with one stone.

  18. Dawn says:

    @fairbetty…like your blog! Wouldn’t it be fun if all of us who feel like we don’t have a “legitimate” reason to come to a Rally STORMED a Rally?
    Dawn recently posted… Giving Myself the Silent Treatment

  19. Shanna Mann
    Twitter: shannamann

    SO AWESOME to meet everybody’s monsters. They sound cute, but like a real handful.

    I have this wee little monster, she cowers in the corner a lot. Her name is Nobody Likes Me. If you guys could make her feel at home, that would be appreciated. She’s sweet, and she just wants attention, but she’s SO needy, and I just don’t have time for her right now.
    Shanna Mann recently posted… The Needs Of The Many

  20. seagirl says:

    Picking up my monster (the DON’T SAY LOVE monster). I just flew through 4 hours of crazy projectizing and it’s all safe for the DSLMonster to come out. We are going to Staples to buy some giant post it notes for some rhyming and scheming.

  21. andrea
    Twitter: gocreativedream

    Oh my gosh! It feels like something totally opened up in me as I read your definition.

    Thank you Havi.
    andrea recently posted… Moving: Happy. Overwhelmed. Stressed. Excited.

  22. R says:

    @fairbetty They must be cousins!
    @Linda Oh, my monster definitely agrees that I am NOT creative. :)

    @dawn That is the bestest idea ever!! Then I wouldn’t have to listen to “But EVERYONE has an awesome project and you DON’T!” Monster.

  23. Miss P.
    Twitter: chemieemma

    Maybe other people’s monsters are like other people’s children, cute because you can give them back as soon as they make trouble. Anyway I would like to drop of my critic for a few hours. She wears a bowler hat, a mustache and hot pink winkle pickers. She’s flamboyant and sarcastic and can be quite loud. This week she kept me from doing morning and evening rituals because she thinks they are a waste of time and I should do more important things like REAL projects and work and stop things like talking to monsters, because they aren’t even real.
    Miss P. recently posted… Problem Solving the Helpful Way

  24. Johanka says:

    Speaking of defining your terms, Havi, how about entry and exit? As I understand it, the Hello Day ritual is an example of the former. I can’t imagine what the putting your projects to bed at night would be like. (Especially since there are so many of them and my monsters are like: “You crazy? Spreading yourself too thin like that??? Where are the monies?” and “This is a vacation? At least stop reading the damn Havi’s blog!” :-))

  25. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for actually making this sound fun.
    I have had in my head the “time management” system type official definition of a project (something complex with lots and lots of step that you have to get done) which immediately makes me tense and grumpy.
    As I was reading your post I suddenly remembered being in grade 5 when we had “project book” at school where we got to explore and research stuff that interested us, and then draw it and write about it, and how much I loved doing that.
    So thanks.
    Project concept officially redeemed for one person today.

  26. olga
    Twitter: olgabennett

    Oh my, everybody’s comments nearly brought tears to my eyes, not sure what’s going on with me today…

    Dawn – can I give you a big hug? That one visits me every day, I was just arguing with him a few minutes ago.

  27. Claire P
    Twitter: making_space

    Monster Day Care!! Can their teacher please organise a school play?

    Here is (are?) my two-headed-vulture monster/s Judgement and Condemnation. They are veeeeery tall (think fancy words like ‘vertiginous’) and dressed in black legal robes and wigs and can be very shame-inducing but I’ve been working with them over the last six months and they’ve been shrinking down to room size mostly.

    Also my Lawyer who is a frazzled woman (or possibly a rabbit) in a rumpled suit and is made entirely of panic. She needs a quiet place where NOTHING UNEXPECTED WILL HAPPEN.

    Her assistant is up for adoption. He is smooth and smarmy and smug and thinks I deserve everything I get (and more) and I suspect has been feeding the Judges the “truth” and bribing the Grumble Thrumm jury to find against me and I’m yet to figure out what he is trying to protect me from if anything. I really get the feeling that he just doesn’t like me and is only on my case because of his own court-ordered community service ‘pro-bono’ work and resents having to do it and is therefore out to sabotage me. I don’t like him at all. (So the feeling’s mutual I guess).

    Also-Everything-Needs-To-Be-Perfect-First is one of my normal project companions that lets me have ideas but not follow through. And Oh-My-God-So-Many-Awesome-Things-To-Do-In-The-World who goes out seeking new possible projects but only brings back Overwhelm. And Ooooooold!-You’re-getting-oooooooldd!-Your-life-is-passing-you-by…-Better-get-on-with-it!!! who is really good at commenting obviously and unhelpfully about how long things take and everyone else could do them faster.

    Six. Three of them Project specific. That should fill up the room for a while!

    PS: I am soliciting advice here: ideas for how the hell my lawyer’s assistant could be trying to ‘help’ me…


  28. Margie
    Twitter: MargieMark

    I’m dropping off my own Everything-Needs-To-Be-Perfect-First monster. He’s very neat, but also very controlling and a little mean. He keeps me from finishing my projects. I need to leaving him at day care so I can complete some stuff!

    Maybe he’ll play with Claire’s Everything-Needs-To-Be-Perfect-First monster. Or maybe they’ll just fight over the definition of “perfect”.

  29. Linda
    Twitter: lindiop

    Just picking up my “You Can’t Have a Project because you are NOT Creative” monster. I did my OOD and my slightly future self says I need to have a meeting with him and my ‘money squirrel’ so that I can move forward with my OOD (I have a “money squirrel”?)
    Linda recently posted… Small Stone

  30. Mary Jane
    Twitter: Mararose10

    ‘It’s not the Thing, but your relationship with the Thing’. That is sooo huge and very helpful.

    I am dropping off my Haunted House project for daycare. And the “You’re being irresponsible for taking your time to decide” rules, too. I am not sure those rules are mine. But I have taken them on, and they are not helpful.

    I have a “Everything Needs to Perfect” Monster, too. Behind him hide the Monsters of “You Are Not Enough”, “You Are Unworthy”, and “Catasrophe is Imminent”. Perhaps they will find other monsters to play with. A Monster’s Ball.

    I could really use a break from them….

    I love your expanded definition of a project :-).
    Mary Jane recently posted… Generosity–U2 and the Blind Fan

  31. Do Mi Stauber
    Twitter: dmstauber

    I would like to drop off the fog. It’s hard to drop it off anywhere, because that means gathering it into a basket, which means looking at it. Anyway, here it is. Thank you for making the place!!
    Do Mi Stauber recently posted… The Deadlines Get a New Name

  32. Katie Hart
    Twitter: yogiconomist

    After reading everyone’s lovely comments on this post, my “Don’t Tell Anyone What Your Monsters Are” Monster is yelling the loudest. I’ll be dropping him off for the weekend.
    Katie Hart recently posted… Learning Objectives in the Principles Courses

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