Beginnings are tenuous times.
Getting anything substantial off the ground means making countless tiny decisions first, any one of which might assume vast importance—if you’re successful down the road.
Paralyzed by Fear & Decisions
The danger is twofold. On the one hand, you can become paralyzed by all the decisions you need to make. They can steal the life from your project—whatever the medium and at whatever the scale—before you’ve even begun. “What if I don’t buy the domain name of every single variation of my business’s name and someone squats on one of them? I’ll have to pay out thousands of dollars in ransom one day!” On the other hand, you can rush through the initial decisions in your enthusiasm to get something off the ground, only to realize that you’ve doomed a promising project out of hastiness.
This dilemma is particularly thorny if you’re inexperienced. When you’re just starting out, you have little basis on which to decide which initial decisions are critical and which can be tweaked later on if things work out.
Risk is Inevitable
This is the point in any project when you have to remind yourself of two important things. First, risk is inevitable in creative work, and no amount of preparation can completely protect you. You’ll develop the capacity to make these decisions well only by making lots of them and, yes, failing from time to time. Even failing big. Second, there is a sane middle ground between leaping off a cliff and hoping there’s a net at the bottom and planning the leap for three months before becoming distracted and wandering over to some other chasm.Action - taking a risk - is the beating heart of creative work. Click To Tweet
As the French philosopher Voltaire once wrote, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Do enough research, ask enough questions, but remember that action—taking a risk—is the beating heart of creative work.
Step Into the Unknown
Here are 3 ways to step into the unknown and break through paralysis:
- Make a lot. Give yourself the ability and permission to fail in small ways. Emphasizing volume of output frames creativity as a process. It helps to eliminate stress and anxiety that often get into the way of starting something when you don’t have the “perfect” outcome in mind. It puts you into an iterative mindset that helps you take the risks you need.Remember – Action, not thinking wins the day.
- Practice failure. Show up and embrace adversity, in creativity and in life. There’s no sugar coating it. Failure sucks. It hurts. And it’s unavoidable. Each failure is a stepping-stone to your next success. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula I can give you to avoid failure. However, how you embrace failure is its own skill. The better you are at it, the easier fear of failure will fade to the background.You can practice failure with relatively low stakes. Rejection letters are a great example. Whether you’re submitting a novel for publication, applying for a grant, or emailing someone you’d like to collaborate with, rejection is unavoidable. Instead of laboring over sending over the perfect email to one collaborator, send out a hundred. Start counting the rejections and ignored outreach. Try for 50 rejections or more. Slowly you’ll start to realize rejection isn’t as scary as it once seemed.
- Start small. If you’re stuck at the beginning, afraid to face adversity, take on some scary, but low stakes creative challenges that around just outside your comfort zone. Think small goals, small risks. That way you can’t lose.If you succeed, you’ve achieved something real. Even better, you build momentum. If you fail, you’ve racked up all the useful knowledge and experience of a failure without big consequences.
- BONUS: Work on simultaneous projects. Having a few projects cooking is a great way to let go of perfect and get unstuck. A single failing project has a way of taking over your life. With a couple going at once, you do what you can for each, get stuck, then move on to another, come back and repeat. Of course there is diminishing returns if you take on too many projects and once, but when the stakes are low, it’s worth a try.
The Bottom Line
If you’re ever on the fence, unsure of whether you should keep researching or take a leap, that’s a clear sign that you’ve already noodled too much. Procrastination at it’s finest. Get moving, learn something, and take the lessons with you regardless of the outcome.