I took a wrong turn in the library last weekend – and consequently, ended up in an unfamiliar aisle. In so doing, my eye was caught by the name of an author (Seth Godin) whose work I had read a little online and was interested in. And that’s how I wound up grabbing a book (Poke the Box) I’d had no previous intention of grabbing.
Well, yesterday I read this book (in its entirety. It’s fairly short).
And that’s when I realized that that wrong turn in the library was one of those little serendipitous events that happen in life sometimes – and make a real difference.
Poke the Box, I see rather clearly at this moment, is a book I needed to read – because I’ve been mulling some things lately, mulling some steps I want to take.
And I should clarify that by “lately,” I mean for about ten months (probably more.)
And yes, that is a long time to mull. It hasn’t really been very pleasant.
Happily, Poke the Box is something of an antidote to all that mulling.
The issue has been that there are things I want to do, places (work/career/life wise) I want to get to – and I just don’t feel as prepared as I think I ought to feel for jumping into them. I’m actively skill-building – but it feels like my destination gets farther away every day rather than closer. It’s so disheartening! I think I’m not doing things the right way; I think there’s a reason I feel disheartened, that I should listen to that. But I don’t know what to do differently. I want to do, I want to move forward…but I just don’t feel good enough/prepared enough/savvy enough yet. And so my life has become about balking – and I don’t actually move at all.
And the result, of course, besides not advancing my goals, is that I’ve ended up wasting a great deal of energy dealing with how frustrated I feel and how anxiety-riddled I am, and just generally in battling how down I so often am anymore. It’s not good!
The central problem, I realize (even before the clarity brought in by reading Poke the Box), is that I’m not getting anywhere. I need movement. I’ve been stagnating.
But…how can I go forward? That’s the question I’ve been circling back and back around to for months and months. How can I go forward when I’m not good enough?
In Poke the Box, Godin suggests:
“Look for the fear. That’s almost always the source of your doubt.”
When I first read that, I didn’t think the word “fear” applied to me and my situation. I mean, I’m not afraid of anything; that isn’t my problem.
At least, that was my first thought.
After I finished the book, I went back to the beginning and flipped through it again, re-reading parts. And I came upon this “fear” part again. The rest of the book had rung true for me in enough ways that on this second perusal, I was more open to giving the idea some hard thought – to just sort of go with him for a little while.
And so I thought about fear. I ended up thinking about it all of last night and through today.
And what I came up with?
On my good days, I feel like my son here. But I haven’t had many good days in the last year. And, strangely, it’s because I think I’m not that far off from being able to actually, realistically, give many of my ideas a real go.
It’s again like my daughter above: before she actually came to the ocean she wasn’t at all worried about sharks or waves or anything else. The idea of those challenges was exciting to her, if she thought about challenges with any seriousness at all. But then, standing right there at the edge, when she only needed to take a step or two to touch the water, she totally balked.
That’s me. Way more often than not in the past year, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
What’s got me intimidated? What are my “sharks”?
I’m afraid to misstep, for one thing; that’s a big part of it. And I’m also afraid to compare poorly against the people I admire – in my own eyes, particularly.
And, perhaps most of all, I feel inadequate (I see it now) to give myself the go-ahead to create the work I want. And without that go-ahead, I’m afraid to start.
It’s not as if I went to school for the things I want to do, after all. The degrees I owe thousands of student loan dollars for at this moment didn’t lead directly to anything I actually want to do with my life.
No…in those areas, I’m self-taught – so hence totally responsible for my own achievements. I don’t have the legitimizing degrees to prop me up. I also don’t have investors beating down my door, ready to fund my ideas. I don’t have a contract with a publishing house or an art gallery. I don’t have any of those stamps of legitimacy, those markers of validation.
All I have is this feeling inside that my ideas are worth something, that I have something to contribute.
And it’s usually sometime around realizing that that the second-guessing kicks in – followed closely after by the balking. And then it’s back to planning and skill-building as the frustration swells. And then the anxiety rolls in.
And so it goes.
The good news, for what it’s worth, is that I’m apparently not alone in my own particular brand of angst – because on the very next page, Godin notes:
“The relentless brainwashing of our fading industrial economy has created an expensive misunderstanding. Creative people or those with something to say believe that they have to wait to be chosen….’Pick me, pick me’ acknowledges the power of the system and passes the responsibility to someone else to initiate. Even better, ‘pick me, pick me’ moves the blame from you to them. If you don’t get picked, it’s their fault not yours. If you do get picked, well, they said you were good, right?”
I need to take Seth Godin’s advice to heart:
“Reject the tyranny of picked. Pick yourself.”
It’s funny to me that I didn’t realize (or, at best, completely underestimated) how strongly this feeling of needing validation was limiting me. If you’d asked me, before I read Poke the Box and did this soul-searching, if validation was important to me, I would likely have admitted that sure, it’s nice to have – but I would have totally resisted the idea that it was essential in some way to my pursuing my ambitions.
It’s a little startling to realize how little I’ve been living to this – to realize how strongly I feel, on some level, that I haven’t earned the right to say what I want to say and do what I want to do.
But here’s the thing: I honestly don’t believe anybody needs to earn the right to engage in creative activity or to take an idea and run with it by starting their own business. I do respect education and the mastery that often (not always) comes along with some form of external validation – but those things are not the be-all, end-all indicators of worthiness. How can they be, when there are so many, many entrepreneurs and photographers and writers whose work awes me, who are completely self-taught?
It’s not that I’m advocating jumping in to something unprepared. I think that kind of attitude, that kind of carelessness devalues your ideas. It devalues you, I think.
I think you should prepare – prepare deeply and fully. But – and this is essential – not to the point that you can’t handle the prospect of failing.
I haven’t done a very good job at that last bit.
I think somehow in the last year I lost my perspective. I became like my poor, scared little three-year-old in that picture above, standing on the beach, worrying about the what-ifs, balking…when what I’ve needed to do is face down the waves (and potential sharks!) like her brother.
And expansion, even if it comes with a faceful of saltwater, is so much better than stagnation!!
What’s the point of life, of anything, if it’s not expanding and growing you?
My daughter is my inspiration in this.
There’s oftentimes just as much, if not more, to be lost by inaction than in acting and having that action turn out to be a failure.
If I don’t achieve all the big, ambitious things I dream of achieving, I don’t want it to be because I stayed on the sidelines, endlessly planning and perfecting. I want to know I went all in and gave it – gave everything – my absolute best effort.
Failure – the crushing kind, at least – is pretty much impossible if this is your perspective. What you have instead is the kind of failure that teaches you. Interesting failure. Challenging failure. Expansion-inducing-failure. The kind of failure that is actually a step forward.
That’s not a bad kind of failure at all.
And maybe you might even have success. Who knows?
You definitely won’t though if you never start.
I’m so glad I stumbled upon Poke the Box, to remind me of this.
(I need to find more Seth Godin books now!)