When I pick up a notebook, my mind whirls with all the wonderful things I can write in them.
With each one I buy there is an invisible dedication inscribed on the first page speaking of how it will be the catalyst for the next best-selling novel.
What actually happens is this:
I buy the notebook and carry it around with me. Should inspiration strike, I am ready with my notebook and pen--free to write to my heart’s content without the limitations of setting up a computer.
I carry it around for the better part of two months.
Eventually I put it on a shelf, caressing the spine with a promise that I will soon fill it with words just as soon as my back stops hurting from hauling around its extra weight. It ends there. An empty notebook. Still inspiring...yet empty.
To date I have 200+ notebooks. Only eight of them are filled with words, doodles, and sticky notes cover to cover.
I still get giddy looking at the empty ones, though. Occasionally I pick one up and carry it around again, knowing that today will be the day I begin writing some epic work of literature.
If you consider yourself to be a logical creature, you might be asking "So, why not just start writing?"
Honestly, I’m afraid to spoil those perfect, empty pages. It is so much easier to imagine perfect little pieces of literary heaven on blank pages then sitting down to write said words. In a sick, sad little way the very thing that inspires me also keeps me from getting much writing accomplished.
I’m not afraid of a lot of things (other than spiders and things that go gurgle, creak, or whistle in the dark) but who would have thought leaflets of bound, blank pages could be so frightening?
It all boils down to a certain set of fears. There are common themes that bind the reasons why people who feel drawn to do something either balk or start only to stop. You may experience one of them or all of them. Identifying what's really holding you back is the first step to taking meaningful action.
The Problem: Fearing Failure
You're afraid that what you're going to make will suck.
This deals with doubting your capabilities.
You worry that you don't have what it takes to make it or keep going.
This is all about doubting who you are.
You don't want to take a chance and look like an idiot.
This concerns fearing what other people will say about you.
All of these things point to fear of failure inhibiting your progress. At some level, you're afraid that you're going to fail yourself, fail others, or fail the vision of your dream. On all of these fronts, it's much easier to play it safe and not take a chance. Holding on to a fantasy in your mind's eye is much easier than taking the first steps to get there, and you'll never have to worry about suffering ridicule or making anyone upset.
In order to overcome this, you have to learn the art of not giving a shit. So what if the first draft sucks, your next one will be better. Not everyone is going to like the things you produce, so accept that early on and move with a specific target audience in mind. If you doubt yourself -- whether you question if you're good enough to do this thing or if you know enough to do it well -- know that confidence comes from consistency. Get started, keep doing it, and what once seemed daunting will become easier.
Keep in mind that the best way to fail is to never get started. Give it your best shot and you're guaranteed to get better along the way.
The Problem: Paralysis by Analysis
There are just too many, damn options.
You get overwhelmed and it causes you to shut down.
You're worried that the thing you pick to focus on will be the wrong choice.
What If syndrome is a very real thing that you battle.
You plan things so much that it saps the joy out of getting started.
You work an idea to death before it ever has a chance to sprout.
Paralysis by analysis is overthinking things to the point where you never get started. Often, too many perceived options is the main problem. In a world full of endless possibilities and infinite knowledge available at the click of a search button, making a decision can be difficult. There are articles about the pros of what you want to do, essays about the cons, and forum after forum filled with insights and opinions. There are tutorials, e-courses, e-books, e-mails...so much information that you wonder how you can possibly absorb it all.
And then there's you. Bombarded with so many options and inputs that you shut down entirely because you just don't know where to start. And if you do make a decision to start, what if you choose the wrong thing?
The fix to paralysis by analysis is simple. Stop thinking, and get moving. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do some research and planning -- just to make sure that your idea is sound and that you're actually excited about it -- but staying in the R&D phase indefinitely is signing yourself up for Purgatory. The longer you stay there, the grayer things become.
The Problem: Fearing Success
You're worried about the lifestyle changes being successful would bring.
Success means exiting your comfort zone and stepping into the new and uncharted.
You're afraid people will find out you're a fraud.
You're comparing yourself to others. Stop that.
You know you can do the hard work, but you're afraid to embrace it.
You're resisting the sacrifices you have to make to be better.
Success is scary because it's uncharted territory. We can day dream about it all day, but top-of-the-mountain success is something very few of us understand until we get there. It's a nuanced and peculiar place that doesn't at all resemble our day-to-day lives, and because of that we can grow to resist it. Instead of focusing on big-picture success, break it down into small, bite-sized pieces that aren't so intimidating. You'll get adjusted as you go along.
Imposter syndrome is something that a lot of successful people suffer from. It boils down to asking, "Why me when there are some many others better than me out there?" Know that your path is different from anyone else's and comparing yourself to anyone else is a surefire way to stop any momentum you have going. Instead, take those people who you believe are better than you (and they might be) and learn from them. See how they did it and what you can glean from their process to apply to your own.
Resisting the hard work was a very real thing for me, and I'd constantly find ways to sabotage myself. Netflix binges, going out to party, a bit too much wine. I knew none of these things were getting me any closer to my goal, but I indulged anyway because I wasn't ready to hole myself off and work on making my dreams a reality. The thing you have to find is balance. Develop a schedule and stick to it, but don't forget to schedule in some fun for yourself. You'll have to make some changes and sacrifices, yes, but that doesn't mean you have to become the reclusive genius if that's not what you're called to be.
If you suffer from any of these things, relax. It means you're normal. But if you want to be great at what you do, you have to stare down these fears and get yourself in gear.
So today, whether you're a writer, artist, game developer, or flower arranger, denounce the fear holding you back and get started on that thing you know you're called to do.
As a dear friend of mine told me today, "Every journey starts with a small step." That small step, by no means, has to be perfect.