Don't boil the ocean

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(Matthew Wiebe, via and used under Creative Commons zero)

The other day I was engaged in an exuberant conversation with a friend. Our topic was how we preserved our shoes. It might as well have been about how a bill becomes a law, as exciting as that probably sounds.

She took a relatively brief approach, saying things like she isn't hard on shoes but instead her shoes last forever.

I, on the other hand, launched into a seemingly endless explanation about how I'm not that hard on shoes either, and I don't use shoe trees but I do have my especially favorite pairs, so I don't wear them as frequently in order to keep them longer, and I learned from my dad that one of the most important things to have is a good shoe brush, which I do have, and I use it religiously before putting on the shoes for the day which, I think, preserves shoes by buffing out scuffs and dirt but, in reality, there are so many shoes that are made from man-made materials instead of leather so applying shoe polish doesn't do anything to make some shoes look better and all the while –

"Don't boil the ocean."


"Don't boil the ocean."

I stop talking, look at her, and say, "’Get to the point, Nancy,’ right?"

She nods affirmatively. "While it's interesting and I'm following you, just don't boil the ocean.”

Afterwards I talked with a consultant friend about what that means.

"Don't boil the ocean" means not to take on too large of a project scope nor get too carried away with something. For example, if you want to read the Bible, don't try to read the entire thing out loud word-for-word in 45 minutes. Or don't plan to paint every room in your house by yourself on a Saturday afternoon. Or don't schedule yourself to write 300 Christmas cards in one hour. Or don't try to write a 10-page research paper in the last half hour before it's due. Or don't –

Right. Don't boil the ocean.

[Sr. Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio.]