A friend asked me why I decided to start my site on the 20th of December. He thought it odd. He said, “wouldn’t it make more sense to wait until the 1st of the year?” No. Not at all. I’m done waiting. The question, however, piqued my interest.
While I agree the impulse for most people is to wait for some sort of universally recognized “start date,” waiting makes little sense to me. I refuse to believe that beginning anything on some arbitrary date will make any difference in my (or anyone’s) overall success or failure ten years from now. Without a doubt, however, the belief that it matters persists among most people. If it didn’t, no one would make New Year’s Resolutions.
The above aside, I’m curious as to why people, myself included, put off chasing their goals at all. After all, I waited half a lifetime to seriously pursue my own endeavors, and I certainly continue to procrastinate on some things in my life, so there must be some good reasons for it. The least I can do is try to figure out why. Google-fu to the rescue…
After reviewing several of the more legitimate of the 44 million search results returned, it seems there are a few human frailties at fault here. First among them is good old laziness.
Most people like to dream about being the professional writer, or entrepreneur, or <insert dream here>, but almost no one wants to put in the years of hard work it takes to get there. People see the success of others and erroneously assume it happened right away and with the greatest of ease, or they were lucky or had some help to get them there. All of this is bunk, of course. Overnight success in anything takes a minimum of about ten years, even with help. Then, after they see the reality of what it takes to earn the success, their enthusiasm wanes. It’s too much work for most people. They settle for mediocrity now, rather than achieving their dreams later.
I am was the perfect example of this type of procrastinator. With regard to writing, for example, I never visualized myself doing the work as it actually happens. In my fantasy, I saw myself like Hemingway on safari, working on my book by lamplight after a long day on the plains hunting the big cat. Whiling away the evening sipping a scotch, listening to the hyenas prowl through the night, turning sentences over in my mind until, too fatigued to concentrate, I put the work down in favor or a game of backgammon with one of the porters and a light conversation with my wife or manservant. Back home, the royalty checks would keep pouring in as I enjoy my travels and put pen to paper only as the spirit moves me. The reality is I fall, almost lifeless, into the couch after a hectic day of work, jockeying for space against five dogs who want the space heater to themselves. I’ll sip on a cup of tea or, if I’m lucky, a light beer, while listening to Chihuahuas fight over a squeaky toy, and try to keep up with my son in a quick round of Call of Duty, all while trying to get words on screen. To add insult to injury, there’s definitely no manservant around. The reality I experience is the same disconnect that keeps people from doing the work. Who wouldn’t want to be the Hemingway? But the work comes before the safari, not after. Most people are just too lazy to pay their dues.
The second reason people put off starting is fear. Fear is the greatest impediment to human accomplishment in existence and is certainly not limited to the arts or entrepreneurship. Fear stifles everyone. It comes in many forms, but the result is always the same. We refuse to take action because we are afraid.
Will people mock us? Will they resent our success? What if my work isn’t good enough? Will they think we believe we are better than them? Will I lose my money? Will I lose my friends or family? The list of fears is endless. Most are imagined, the fruit of our ego’s exposure to the light of criticism and risk. A few are real. You can, in fact, lose your money. Families and friends can and sometimes do leave due to your actions. Even the real fears, however, are usually exaggerated and unlikely to come to fruition. Consider this: is it likely your friends and family will disown you if you write a short story that bombs? Be realistic!
Fear was, and is, without a doubt, my largest personal obstacle to beginning (and continuing!) writing, speaking, and business. As I write this I worry that it’s not good enough. I wonder what people will think of me. Will they think I’m pompous for having the nerve to write about this topic when I’m so new to the game – an untested voice from the cheap seats? Or will people mock me because this topic has been covered by the likes of Steven Pressfield in his book Turning Pro. What could I possibly have to say about this topic that has not already been written by more accomplished writers? The noise in my head is so loud with all the reasons I should not publish this article that I have literally moved my mouse to the big red X several times while writing it. I’ve resisted, though. I’ve learned that fear is a mental construct, not a real force in my life.
The reality is my article will resonate with some segment of the population that finds it. For the rest, it won’t. I have to be ok with that. What other realistic choice is there? Is it reasonable to believe that every person who reads novels loves Stephen King (and he’s awesome, in case you were wondering)? Of course not. So it’s not far-fetched to expect people to hate what I write, too. That just means that you’re in the same boat as Stephen King! And so am I!
The point is, you will never not know fear. Same with me. It just needs to be ignored – treated with benign neglect and managed into obscurity. Publish anyway. Let the haters hate. Enjoy the rewards given by those who love your work or business. If people detest your work, for the most part, you will not know. If they happen to take an interest in informing you of their opinion, take it with a grain of salt. You and I are not doing this to please everyone.
There are certainly other reasons people put off starting projects, businesses, and everything else. I truly believe, however, that most of those other reasons are really offshoots of fear and laziness. If you do the work you’ll reap the rewards. If you don’t, you won’t. It sounds simple, and it is. But it’s not easy.
In my preparation for starting this site, I did a lot of research into how to go about becoming a professional writer. There are a couple of resources I found absolutely essential – and still do – in the journey. I regularly review their content. I cannot recommend them highly enough, so I’ll include them here. If you are struggling with your own journey, I hope you take some time to read these works. You will not be disappointed. Fair disclosure: if you click on these links and purchase the titles I recommend, I will receive a small commission from Amazon but it adds nothing to the cost of the book for you. I use these books all the time and I hope you will, too. (continued below)
To come full circle, back to my friend’s question about my reason to start on the 20th of December instead of January 1 or some other “meaningful” date, I already answered saying “No, I’m done waiting.” I hope now, after a short discussion on fear and laziness, you can see that the real reason is that my mind has changed with regard to my own writing and business ventures. I still feel fear. I am still incredibly lazy (my wife would probably choose to expand on this aspect of my personality). But my mind has changed. I can’t not start now. That’s why I started this site on the 20th of December. There was no other choice.
If you’re still struggling with getting off the X, the trick for you is to read about how to do it (start with the books above), think about how you will do it (is this what you want to do, do you see yourself doing the work), accept the fear you feel (haters are going to hate no matter what you do), commit to doing it (what other choice is there?), and make it happen. Remember, research has conclusively proven that the number one reason people fail in any endeavor is a failure to do the work.