My last post, How to Not Be a Slave to Your To Do List, was written just as much for me as it was for you. So I’ve taken my own advice. I cleared space on my calendar. I eviscerated my to do list and calendared time to do the stuff I’ve been wanting to do for so long now. I cleared space and scheduled time to work on my next book. And I finally sat down to do it.
I opened a document and typed a few words. And then I stared at the blinking cursor for awhile. I took a deep breath, read what I had just written, then deleted it and typed something else in its place. But I didn’t like that either.
I reviewed some notes I had scribbled down a few days prior to see if I could get any inspiration. It didn’t help. My gaze went from my screen to my keyboard, where my hands were perched, ready and agile. Still nothing.
I saw an email notification in the corner of my screen. Resisting the urge to check my inbox, I closed my Outlook program.
And I sat for several more minutes. Stuck. Maybe this isn’t the best time. Maybe I should go do something else for awhile. At that moment, anything sounded preferable. I could trim my fingernails, reorganize my desk drawers, mow the lawn. Or the neighbor’s lawn.
But no. I am committed to this. It is something I have been wanting to do for a really long time. Why is it so flipping hard?
Have you ever felt that way?
It’s no wonder that we let so many other things get in the way of taking the time to do our real work. Our real work requires us to face our deepest fears and make our way through our toughest resistance – in the presence of our worst critics.
As soon as you make the commitment to do something important – for yourself, for others, for the world – rest assured anything that has ever stopped you before will come back in your face with an exponential force.
I didn’t get a whole lot written in that particular block of time. But I showed up. I didn’t run away. And I have to say that after awhile things did begin to flow. I strung a few paragraphs together and once I let go and gave in to the experience, I was delighted with a couple of really great insights that came spilling onto the page. It went in a direction I hadn’t anticipated and began to take on a life of its own.
Talking with a friend a few days later, I began to realize what it was that got me stuck.
I was fixated on results at the expense of the process. I had become too attached to the end product and what it was going to get me. I had ideas in my mind of what it would – should – look like. And I was judging every little thing I was (and wasn’t doing). If you can envision a small child being led to a table and told to do something, while a rather large, imposing figure stood over her with a club at her head yelling in a booming voice – you have a pretty good idea of the dynamic I had created for myself. My child was rebelling. My critic was becoming more and more agitated. And neither of us really wanted to be there at all.
Perhaps you’ve heard artists or musicians talk about how they could never quit their day job to earn a living doing their craft. “It would just suck all the joy out of it,” they may tell you. The problem isn’t so much that they would be paid for doing what they love as it is that they risk having their focus go from the joy of being in the process to becoming too dependent on the result.
The irony is that when you detach from the result altogether and become immersed in the experience, the results tend to take care of themselves. Superior work is created when you are engaged in what you are doing rather than what it will lead to or where it will get you.
If you have ever played golf or tennis, think about what happens when you allow your attention to go prematurely to the target before you’ve hit the ball. You will have a crappy shot. (You may even miss the ball altogether.) But when you devote yourself to the process – when you are present in your body through every part of your swing, when you follow through and trust that the ball will go right where you intend it to – you have the opposite experience.
The same is true with just about anything. Companies that focus solely on profits often neglect their customers, their employees or both and spend more time worrying about how to increase their market share and their bottom line than on the quality of their product. Conversely, those who make it a priority to listen to their customers and employees and create cultures where people do their best work are often rewarded with a loyal following. Comedians who desperately need a laugh often aren’t all that funny or entertaining, while those who stop worrying about what people think and have a good time on stage end up captivating their audiences and leaving them wanting more. Artists who sacrifice their passion to pander to the crowd risk producing shallow, uninspiring work, while those who pour their hearts into what they do engage the hearts of others.
When all your attention and energy goes toward the end result, you vacate the process – along with all the energy, passion and unique gifts that go into creating something really special and valuable. Your end product will feel somewhat empty or hollow. And it is very likely that you will too.
The good news is that the wall created by a fixation on results at the expense of the process is self imposed. Which means that you have the ability to dismantle it. In my next post, I’ll share seven tips for breaking through that wall the next time you are stuck.
If you need help overcoming the obstacles that keep you from doing your best work, check out my new video program, On the Road to Real or pick up a copy of my book The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be,available at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. If you are interested in working one on one with me, visit https://dianebolden.com/coaching.html to learn more or contact me to schedule a complimentary coaching call.
Stay tuned – next week’s post is Seven Tips for Getting Out of Your Own Way and Doing Your Best Work.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Every day when I pull into my garage, my headlights illuminate a box of solar garden lanterns my father bought for me for Christmas a few years ago. Every time I see them I am reminded that I need to set them up. But something stops me. I don’t know what it is, really. Maybe I feel like I don’t have the time to do it. Part of me is unsure exactly where to put them. But I have to admit that I also worry it will be too complicated. That I won’t be able to figure it out quickly. That I’ll get bogged down with it. And so these beautiful lights are still sitting in the box in our garage.
A couple of shelves over from the solar lights are bags of palm tree supplements and fertilizers. I bought them a few months ago with the good intention of trying to give our trees an extra leg up in the scorching summer heat. Every weekend, I see on my list of weekend projects, “fertilize palm trees”. But the bags are still sitting on the shelf. They are heavy and stinky. And it’s hot outside. Admittedly it is not at the top of my list of priorities. But really, why have I let them sit for so long? When I’m totally honest with myself, I realize it’s because I’m anxious about whether or not I’ll figure out the right ratios and the right way to spread the stuff around the dirt – whether I’ll have to dig or sprinkle, and then I just figure there’s something more pressing that needs to get done.
Silly, stupid stuff, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The other day it hit me that these things I let sit in the garage may be indicative of a larger, more significant pattern in my life. One that is keeping me stuck and jamming up my creative energy. You see, I haven’t written in a very long time. I love to write. It frees me. It feeds me. And yet I haven’t allowed myself to do it. Why?
I got hung up in my head. Silly decisions that I kept putting off. Little complications that I allowed to fester and grow. What to write about? Should I do an article or a video? Where should I post it, now that I have a couple of different websites and a column that I contribute to? When should I write? What if I can’t get it all done in the time I have? What if I start and then I can’t finish? I go around and around in my head until I become incredibly irritated with myself.
And then I go find something else to do. Something safe. Something clean and easy to check the box on. And I have a few seconds of a very fleeting and artificial sense of accomplishment that slowly fades into a nagging, unsettling feeling. Over the last few weeks, I’ve developed an irritating muscle cramp that has become so painful I am having trouble moving in certain ways. Whether it is related or not, it is the perfect physical equivalent to what is going on in my mind.
And this morning it hit me. The dynamic that keeps me from tackling the boxes and bags in the garage is the same dynamic that has blocked my writing. I’m in fear. And I’m doubting myself. I’m worrying about all the things that could go wrong. That could make things hard. And I’m creating all kinds of distractions and complications to keep myself from doing what I really need to do most. And it is becoming painful.
The last box that I let sit for months was a printer we got over the summer for my kids to use for their school projects. I could tell you it sat in the box because they didn’t really need it until school started. But the truth is, it stayed in the box because I didn’t want to deal with it. In my mind it was a complicated endeavor that would have me confused and take hours of time. After school started again, I realized I had to muscle up and get the darn thing plugged in.
I know some of you are probably laughing right now. Really? How hard can it be to set up a printer? When I finally tore open the box and started following the directions I was laughing at myself too. It really wasn’t that hard. Until we flipped the switch and got an error message that the carriage was jammed before we ever even put paper in it. I spent the next forty minutes talking to technical support and then finally boxing up the printer to send back to the manufacturer (I had waited too long to be able to just bring it back to the store.)
My fear was validated in the same way that it was validated the last time I tried to assemble a piece of furniture only to find that when I thought I was almost done I had to completely disassemble everything and put it back together again following instructions written in really bad English and accompanied by pictures that didn’t look anything like the parts I had.
This morning I realized it’s not that my fear isn’t justified.
It’s just that I can’t let it stop me.
I almost let this fear keep me from coaching my daughter’s volleyball team. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. But I hesitated because my daughter has never actually played volleyball and I have never coached any sport at all. What if I couldn’t remember how the game goes, what the positions are, how the players rotate? What if I let the girls (or their parents) down? What if it becomes apparent that I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing?
I didn’t see it as a lucky thing at the time, but it turned out that the only way my daughter and her friends could be on the same team was if I became their coach. So I did. Reluctantly at first – and somewhat begrudgingly. Then I realized that despite my reservations, it’s really a lot of fun. And I don’t have to have all the answers. Others are happy to help me fill in the gaps, tell me what I don’t know, give me ideas, and offer support. And the look on the girls’ faces when they do something they couldn’t do before is priceless. Thank God I didn’t let my silly doubts and fears keep me from this amazing experience.
Funny how little things like solar lanterns and palm tree fertilizer can provoke such powerful insights. The irony that I am a coach who helps others get out of their fear and into their zones isn’t lost on me. But I get it. I understand why it’s so hard. And I also know why it is so very important. That’s why I wanted to share with you my own inner struggles – because we all have them. The only thing that really matters is what we do about it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some palm trees to fertilize.
Photo credit: David Castillo Domenici, Free Digital Photos