You run your railroad.

You run your railroad.

My mom has told me this, regularly, since I began the (never-finished) process of growing up. Apparently it was a phrase her dad said to her a lot, too.

What does it mean?

  • Nobody else should dictate your routes.
  • Nobody else should tell you how to get through the mountains and across the rivers.
  • Nobody else gets to decide whether you burn coal or electricity.

It’s liberating to run your railroad, but it’s a lot of responsibility, too. When you run your railroad, it’s up to you to fix the boiler when it bursts, or calculate the effects on the grid load when you add a new line.

I was looking back at my 2011-into-2012 post; “Easier.” I wrote then about six ways to make things easier. I’m pleased to say that the first five were already working okay when I wrote it, and they kept working throughout the year. But the last, “It’s easier not to beat yourself up,” proved to be the most challenging for me in 2012.

Because there’s something so compelling about identifying all the possible ways you’re messing up, every way you’re falling short, for maximum excoriating value. In other words, it is certainly easier, in the sense of making your life easier, not to beat yourself up — but it’s awfully damned not easy to break the pattern of constantly judging and condemning yourself.

What does this have to do with running your railroad? Well, I’ve been juxtaposing that aphorism with one of my dad’s, which he had taped up on his mirror, and which I now have taped up on mine: The trick is to keep going. If all you do is agonize about what kind of engine to build, or whether to dynamite a pass through the mountains or switchback up, you’ll never get anywhere.

Here is a case in point. I spent a lot of time early in 2012 agonizing about a thing. At the beginning of March I had a relatively large chunk of words, but I kept worrying about it and thinking I should probably trash it and start over for the eighth time rather than attempting to finish. Finally I gave up and asked for help (you can, in fact, work with consultants when you run your railroad); now, while I am not yet done, I have more than twice the amount of words I did then.

So for 2013 I plan to keep telling myself: You run your railroad. The trick is to keep going.