I’m on a mission this summer to do a lot of different things and one of those things is to read a new book each week. So far, I’ve read books by Bob Goff, Rachel Hollis, Mark Miller, and Gary Keller. The thing is, each one of these books is inspiring and encouraging and makes me want to do stuff, which I’m sure is the point of reading them, and I’m sure the authors would be happy to know their books are doing what they intended for them to do, but along with feeling inspired and encouraged, I’m feeling a little, as Ms. Kim would say, “whelmed.”
Ms. Kim is the wonderful woman who owns the Lexington General Store and so graciously puts up with my crazy ideas and lack of knowing how much the candy I’m selling costs. She has taught me many things, ranging from what is means for a greeting card to feel flocked to how credit card companies operate.
On busy days with incoming shipments and new orders needing to be placed, she will say she’s feeling whelmed. I’d never heard anyone say that before and I thought this was strange because typically a person feels overwhelmed or underwhelmed. What does it mean to only be whelmed?
According to my hand dandy dictionary app, whelm is a verb that means to engulf, submerge, or bury. That’s kind of basically what overwhelmed means too, so why didn’t Ms. Kim just say overwhelmed? In an effort to explain the varying degrees of whelm to myself, I created a scale of whelmyness (and the word whelmyness).
I imagine being overwhelmed to be like trying to eat a cookie the size of a hot air balloon. You don’t even know where to start because you can’t quite get your mouth around the cookie to take the first bite. So you’re left staring at this hot air balloon sized cookie and feeling a little frustrated because it looks so tasty but you can’t even get started.
To be underwhelmed is quite the opposite. I equate it with going to a party because the host promised a large cookie tray filled with the Ghirardelli chocolate chip cookies you get at Jimmy John’s. Those are quite possibly the best. You show up to the party and head straight to the dessert table only to see a half-empty package of Chips Ahoy! Now that would be underwhelming. But hey, a cookie is a cookie and to make up for the one delicious Ghirardelli cookie you missed out on, you eat five Chips Ahoy!
Now, I think whelmed is feeling somewhere in the middle. It’s like going to a bakery and instead of just one glass case filled with cookies, each wall of this bakery is lined with shelves and each shelf holds an array of cookies to choose from. You don’t know where to start. As you wait in line, you study the cookies and prepare for what you’re going to tell the cashier. It’s finally you’re turn and you still haven’t made up your mind, so in a panic, you blurt out, “I’ll take one chocolate chip cookie to go please.”
Out of all of those cookies you pick the most basic cookie that you could have gotten anywhere else and now you’re feeling a little whelmed. You’re overwhelmed by the amount of choices you had and underwhelmed because of the choice you made.
Is there a point to this story of wheelmyness? I like to think so, and that point is this:
I’m reading all of these books and getting excited about all of these things and all I want is to do all of them. But because it is impossible to do everything at once, I end up doing nothing. I’m overwhelmed by my many awesome ideas, but underwhelmed by my inability to accomplish them.
Gary Keller tells me I need to focus on one thing. Rachel Hollis tells me I ought to believe in myself and not apologize for chasing down my one thing. And Bob Goff tells me my one thing should be loving people like Jesus did.
That doesn’t sound so complicated when I put it in a little paragraph like that, but I also don’t think Jesus had as many cool ideas as I do.
So what do I do? How do I get out of this whelmyness?
Part of me thinks I need to just stop reading these books for a bit and start focusing on this online microeconomics class I’m currently failing. But despite feeling a little confused and whelmed, I am certain of one thing: microeconomics is dumb, so I really don't want it to be my one thing. It’ll just have to be a side thing for now.
I want my one thing to be loving people like Jesus, but that requires being around people, and being around people will distract me from the other things I want to do, like writing a book. Jesus’ one thing was saving us from our sins and allowing us the option for eternity in Heaven. He easily could’ve been born, worked as a carpenter, then gone to the cross. But that’s not what He did. He got involved with the people first. He showed them who He was and who God was and how much we really are loved. He made an impact on the people while He was still alive so that when He did die the impact was even greater.
I’m not really looking to sacrifice my life for people, but I do want to have an impact on their lives. In my mind, writing a book in pursuit of my one thing will have that impact. But if I’m not involved with people daily, I miss out on other opportunities to show them God’s love. Even if the book I write is about how much God loves us, if I don’t go out and actually demonstrate that, my words will mean tremendously less.
Gary Keller wrote a book but he also spends time with people building the biggest real estate company in the world. Rachel Hollis wrote a book but she also hosts conferences and all sorts of other things to inspire women. Bob Goff wrote a book, but also lives the most interesting life of anyone I know and he shows love to everyone—even the guy who accidentally called him from jail.
The point is, our whelmyness is pointless if we’re not focused on loving like Jesus and being involved with the people we’re surrounded by. I have all these big ideas for helping people and showing them God’s love, but those ideas mean nothing if I don’t actually go out and love the people I want to help when I’m given the opportunity.