Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If Not Now...

How many times have you said it?
One of these days, I'm going to..., or
If I can ever get done with..., or
You know, when I get to..., or
If I just had a little more money, I'd...

There are so many things that we want to do in life that we never get around to doing. In fact, one of the things that they often teach in time management courses is that there's a non-linear (read exponential) relationship between your level of creativity and the number of things that you want to do that you don't have time to do. If you're at all creative, by the time you're ten, you've probably enumerated more things to do than you could do in five lifetimes.

Nonetheless, over time, you start to notice the keepers, the want-to-do's that show up over and over and over. Here are some that I run into surprisingly frequently. One of these days I'm going to...
...explore Europe.
...start my own business.
...get my PhD.
...move to the east coast (or west coast).
...move to the country (or to the city).
...get married and have children.
...get the children out of the house.
...get the children out of the house and get divorced.
...take up painting, sculpting, playing the piano.
...run a marathon.
...break five hours, four hours, three hours.
...get a motorcycle.
...write a book.
...learn to fly.
And even more surprisingly (or perhaps less so), most of the people whom I've heard say these things don't ever do them. Some talk about them for years and years and years. One could argue that they really don't want to do them, but I would suggest that they simply don't know how.

Waiting for Figure It Out
One thing that you learn in starting a new business in a competitive field is this: if you wait to figure everything out before launching, you'll be too late. You'll miss the window of opportunity. You'll blow your competitive advantage.

This maxim applies to going for what you want. If you wait to have everything figured out, then you'll never do anything new. There are some things that you simply can't figure out until you've actually done them. The figuring is in the doing.

If you're someone who's been successful in the traditional sense of go to school, get a good job, make money, then it's highly unlikely that you've spent much time doing anything significant that you haven't reasonably planned and figured out. The idea of jumping into something big without having a clue as to how you're actually going to do it may sound stupid or crazy. It may scare you. But nonetheless, it may be the reason that you have a long list of unfulfilled want-tos.

Perhaps this is the reason that the people you see most often trying new things are the ones who don't seem successful in the traditional sense. They act before they think. They have no idea what they're getting into. They sometimes (often-times?) fail to achieve what they intended. But they try. They go for it. And sometimes, they succeed.

In the end, if you take one person with a 10% success rate who tries a lot and another with a 100% success rate who never tries at all, who's going to accomplish more of what they want?

Blaming Others
Believe it or not, even among people who subscribe to some of the concepts we put forth here, there are many who don't try things because they're concerned of what others will think. In some cases, their concerns are traditional: I don't want to look goofy or stupid or inept.

In other cases, their concerns about what others think are more subtle:

  • The children really need me to available to them between 7 and 10 at night, every night.
  • Even though it's a two hour drive, my wife insists that I shop for organic brussel sprouts at co-op in Park Slope.
  • We've been getting the whole family together for Sunday dinner for years now, I couldn't just not go.

Oftentimes, the person who's opinion we fear most is our own. We carry forward beliefs about our skills and abilities that we acquired as children and haven't updated since.

The most commonly employed blame-others strategy invokes the incantation responsible. I can't do what I want to because I'm responsible for someone else (someone else's happiness). As a responsible person, I can't...
...take a job that has an inferior healthcare plan!
...leave my children with a sitter while I go galavanting about!
...abandon my partner with a frozen dinner just so I can go to art class.
...spend money on Tango lessons when we need to redo the kitchen.
In the end, we tend to use the blame-others strategy because we find ourselves less deserving than they are.

It Wouldn't Work Anyway
If on your way to getting around to it, you successfully navigate the look-before-you-leap and others-are-more-deserving-than-I-am roadblocks, have no fears; there's always the tried and true it-wouldn't-work-anyway roadblock (a.k.a, Why bother?).

The funny thing is that the Why-bother? strategy is most often employed by the people who've tried the least. People who try new things often seem never to notice their failures, let alone forget them. On the other hand, people who employ the Why-bother? gambit tend to support their reasoning by siting the failures of others, not themselves: You know, so-and-so tried thus-and-such and failed miserably. When will he learn?

When speaking with a Why-bother-er who sites the failings of others, I'll typically ask something like: Even if so and so failed, why do you believe that you would fail?

Almost invariably, the Why-bother-er will not answer with a personal experience, but instead, with a greater generalization: You know, people who...

Of course, even if the answer were personal, the next question would be: Even if you did fail when you tried thus and such, why do you believe that trying again would yield the same result?

The perspective that will best serve you in getting around to those wonderful would-do's is that of Thomas Edison after his 10,000 attempt at creating an electric light-bulb didn't work:
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
I can't imagine that there's not at least one thing that you've always wanted to do or have been planning to do or at least have thought about doing repeatedly, but haven't got around to it.

Why not?

Happy Tuesday,

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