"Fear, Perfectionism, Procrastination - Please Get Lost"
I HATE HATE HATE having to admit this, but ever since I began my A-levels I've said both to myself and others that as SOON as I finish my exams, I'll immediately start testing all the business ideas that have been bubbling in my mind all (ahem) year long.
In July, when my final exam was over, crunch time arrived.
And what did I do? (see cat meme below)
This couch-loving laziness was disguised as:
1. "Oh I'm too busy to get started, I'm going on holiday"
2. "I'm relaxing after 15 years of education LEAVE ME ALONE"
3. and "I'm busy doing an intensive spring clean of my room".
Inside I hated it and just felt guilty about having to put this goal off day after day, which became month after month (welcome also to the reason why I haven't blogged for like 6 MONTHS).
I'm finally at a point where I'm emotionally drained of feeling like this and CAN. NOT. TAKE. IT. ANY. MORE. MUST. DO. SOMETHING. PRODUCTIVE. AND. EXCITING. WITH. LIFE. NOW.
That's when I came across an interview with the author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, where she discussed what she did to make sure that fear didn't stop her from writing novels.
This opened my eyes to something which I'd known all along, deep down.
I'm holding back on testing my business ideas because I'm afraid.
I loved her talk on how to stop falling into this trap and made some notes from the video that you'll hopefully find useful too:
Does this self-talk sound familiar?
What stops us from doing what's calling to us? FEAR.
We're afraid we don't have the talent, don't have the right, that our idea has already been done better. We're afraid that we'll be rejected, insulted, criticised, or worse, ignored.
How does Elizabeth deal with these doubts?
She argues that, sure, everything's been done before, but it hasn't been done by YOU.
It's OK to borrow from each other (everyone does, even people who are praised as 'originals' like Shakespeare who remixed many ancient stories in his work). After all, everything's a remix.
Let fear be your friend, not your enemy.
Fear is a necessary companion, so don't desire to become a fearless person.
Respect and appreciate your fear because it keeps you alive (eg. the fearful voice in our head says 'get out of the ocean the waves are too big' or 'this street isn't safe to walk down').
But fear doesn't know the difference between a genuinely dangerous situation and one that simply makes us nervous. Fear hates uncertainty, it thinks you'll die from it.
How did Elizabeth stop her fear holding her back when writing?
She 'talked' to the fear inside her, saying:
"thanks so much for how much you care about me and how much you don't want anything bad to happen to me, but your services aren't needed here because i'm just writing a poem, no ones gonna die. You can come with me but i'm doing this thing. You can't have control."
Yes, there is some pain involved in doing what you dream of. Are you willing to endure it?
As Elizabeth says, your going to get a 'shit sandwich' whatever you do, so the question is not what do you love, it's what do you love so much that you're willing to eat a 'shit sandwich' for it.
For example, Elizabeth had to eat the 'shit sandwich' of taking on odd jobs like cooking, becoming a bar tender, and selling at a flea market to financially support herself whilst writing. She had to endure rejection letter after rejection letter from publishers for 7 years before she finally got published.
But throughout all the pain she kept asking herself, "do you still wanna do it?", her response? "yeah, I do. This is still better than the pain of not writing".
She says if you're not willing to eat the 'shit sandwich' involved in making your dreams happen, then you shouldn't do it.
Stop being a perfectionist, or you'll never get started on your dreams and finish the work.
- Her mantra for defeating perfectionism is:
"I don't want it to be perfect, I want it to be finished".
- She recommends developing the habit of getting SOMETHING out there, even if it's not perfect or the best.
- How does she deal with the nagging thought that her writing isn't great?
She says "it's not my problem if my work isn't good. It's not my fault. It's my job to just be a writer, not a GOOD writer, that's my only promise to the universe. And my other commitment is that I don't want to go to the grave with 50 pages of an unfinished novel in my drawer. There's enough of that in the world already."
- Her other technique was to imagine talking to her future critics and dealing with their criticisms, because she knew her first novel wasn't very good.
She said out loud to her future critics "if you don't like it, go write your own fucking book, but you know what, YOU WON'T, and guess what, I did and therefore I won, because mine's finished and yours doesn't even exist and here you are criticising mine"
- Another mantra of hers is that:
"Done is better than good. The world is already full of a bunch of really good NOT DONE stuff. So if you finish something, you're already ahead of everyone else".
- She also believes that the key to making progress on your goals is not discipline, because then you'll always beat yourself up when you slip up.
Instead forgiveness is key, forgiving yourself for disappointing yourself, being gentle with yourself and remembering that "OK, i'm not Hemingway, i'm just gonna do what I can" and then carrying on.
- She also believes in developing the ability to switch off her attachment to her work, to avoid taking criticism and disappointment about her work personally:
She has the ability to believe that "creativity must be the most important thing in the world to me" whilst she's working on the novel (eg. "this sentence must be the most beautiful sentence in the world").
At the same time she believes that the novel shouldn't matter to her at all when a few moments later she comes back to the work, realises that 'beautiful' sentence doesn't actually work, and just says "ah screw it" and dismisses it so that it doesn't ruin her day.
Or when a project finishes she forgets about the importance of her novel. This allows her to be OK with people attacking and misunderstanding it, because she realises that there's a difference between her and this piece of work, so any criticism of the work is NOT a criticism of her.
- She also doesn't believe that her creation must involve suffering to make it perfect. Instead the writing process should be fun and playful. A process that looks like this: "let's just put [this imperfect thing] out there and see what happens", not "I can NOT release this until it's perfect".
You can watch the full video here where Elizabeth discusses other useful things (e.g. how to get over the fear of public speaking) which I didn't include in these notes:
For a more in-depth discussion on the topic of not letting fear hold you back, you can read Elizabeth's newly released book called Big Magic.
I bought my copy from Amazon (ps. that's not an affiliate link) a few weeks ago because it had the cheapest prices (£8).
PS. Here's who deserves a bear hug today:
- Alex Ikonn for the journal image
- Marie Forleo and Elizabeth Gilbert for the enlightening video