Follow-Through is Boring

Kari Bale
3 min readJun 9, 2021
Hand carefully placing furniture in a dollhouse

(Photo credit: Lavender Belle Miniatures via Instagram)

I love setting up. That sounds weird, I know, but it’s true. In so many aspects of life, for so much of my life, I love and have loved setting up. The follow through? It’s not so much my thing.

Whenever I played with Barbie dolls as a child, I would obsess over exactly how to set them up. What should they wear? Where should the furniture go? Where should each house in the neighborhood be in relation to the others? These were the questions I was interested in. Once I got a perfect set-up, I would play with the dolls for only a few minutes before getting bored. Having the dolls actually engage with the world I’d created wasn’t all that fun for me.

This love I have for setting things up continued in my career as a teacher. My favorite time of year was always summer — this is true of many teachers, I know, but for me it wasn’t because I stopped working. For me, the summer was all about setting up my classes. I had as much time as I wanted to get everything organized exactly how I wanted it. My curriculum was neatly arranged in perfect charts with each day’s lesson outlined and the units color-coded in a master calendar for the year. The dopamine rush I got from looking through my beautifully organized course overviews was amazing. I’m not a runner, but I would guess it’s similar to the “runner’s high.” A setter-upper’s high.

Just like with the dolls, however, the follow-through on the courses wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the set-up. Don’t get me wrong — I loved teaching. I loved the students, I loved sharing my passion for literature and grammar with them, I loved helping them grow as writers and thinkers and sending them off (I hope) a little better than they came in. It’s just that I never sighed with bone-deep contentment after teaching a lesson the way I did after setting it up.

I’ve considered, at times, trying to make a career of this: professional setter-upper. Of course, there are careers that are based on this — I could be a set designer, for example, and do all the set-up for film sets before they actually go in and do the acting. (Aren’t Hollywood actors just grown-up versions of our dolls anyway?) More to the point I could write and sell curriculum units, so that other teachers who love teaching but hate setting up their courses could use my set-up as their own.

Mostly, though, I content myself with continuing to set things up here at my house, especially when I play with my four-year-old son. He wants to play with his Thomas & Friends trains? Great, I am all about setting up an epic track for him, complete with all the town buildings in and around it.

Unfortunately, he actually likes the follow-through, and I’m running out of excuses for why I’m always suddenly busy once the set-up part is over.

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Kari Bale

Kari Bale is a writer, editor, and speaker from San Jose, CA. She is a Stanford alum, former teacher, citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and wife and mother.