Chipping: making just a little bit of progress, every day.
An enormous ice block was delivered to the sculptor, from which was to be made an elaborate design. Specifically, a scale model globe, for which to show at the upcoming world’s fair. Kept in the frosty cooler of her backyard studio, the crystal-clear ice would take its final form over days and weeks.
The bare hands of the sculptor could maintain dexterity in the sub-zero temperatures for a short while, thus the work was done in brief segments. Literally “chipping” off pieces of ice bit-by-bit, the work took shape slowly. Although the approach was haphazard and improvisational, progress was made nevertheless.
Following a long period of work, chipping and chipping away, the sculptor came upon the deadline for the fair. Was the artist’s project complete? Within the vast parameters of infinite detail, a resolute answer was no, although she took equal satisfaction with imperfection as a counterbalance to something flawless. Delivery of the densely frozen ice was made, featured with prime placement for all to see, on the central promenade.
Lookers-on marveled at the work, for its unmatched detail, and intricate nuance. Every angle presented a unique view, with layers changing as the sun’s rays began to convert solid to water, and even steam. Like its path to creation, the opposite process was not immediate, although the melt proceeded with steady a steady Sousa tempo. Soon enough, all that was left was a shimmering pool, soon replaced by invisible vapor.
Of what then, was the true impact of the artist’s work? For the sculptor, her real value was that of process, rather than result. That ongoing schedule of “chipping” was in itself the art, with a final result merely a glorious reflection of time frozen still. The admiration of the masses was acute, yet floated away in with a quickness. Other impacts would be more permanent: tools worn, hands weatherd, experience gained immeasurable.
Any mammoth endeavor can be accomplished with a strategy of “chipping”. In fact, multiple projects can be approached together through this method. Steady small gains are taken, one day at a time, until a result is achieved. This result may be of completion, stalling, failure, or even abandonment, but that end-road is secondary to the process. An eye too keen on the target may miss the route entirely. Of what use is the target anyways, with heights of glory fleeting as they are?
The process is the only thing, as it exists in the present, detached from future or past.
Small, consistent chips of a hammer are sustainable. Large sledgehammer swings are powerful, yet exhausting. Perhaps an initial or final blow can be taken by the sledge; for the interim, chip chip away.
Some examples. These are great for making progress, by doing the bare minimum. Sometimes, we can do more, but we can always do a little bit.
- Studying wine, for 20 minutes per day (rain or shine)
- Cleaning house, one area or pile at a time
- Improving diet, by skipping one dessert per week
- Catch up with thank-you notes, by writing and sending just one