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The fear of starting anything in life
Most people have the desire to do great things in life however not everyone acts on this desire. One reason for this is our fear of making something lame. We are held back by the fear of our work not being good enough.
Everyone has a different way of rationalizing this fear. For some of us, we believe we have not yet found the right strategy hence are holding off till we do. For others, we blame it on being perfectionists, meaning we need the idea to be perfect before acting on it.
However you choose to define it, this fear is not irrational. Starting new things can be very daunting. Our inability to tell what the outcome of our work will be and how it will be received in itself is scary. A musician writing a new song can never tell if it will be as good as his last one, and an author working on a new book can never tell when they start if it will be a great book. And even worse, we get to see all the unimpressive parts of our work (the behind-the-scenes). The musician goes through the process of trying to find inspiration and a concept, the author goes through the process of trying to think through characters, storyline, etc. These things at the start do not seem very impressive or exciting.
We also have the tendency to be very pessimistic about our work and ideas in their initial stages. In our minds even before we begin, we believe that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. We play out the scenarios of all that could potentially go wrong.
This doesn’t mean every idea we come up with is a good idea and everything will go right when we try to execute but not being overly critical and pessimistic about our ideas in their initial stages is crucial to being able to overcome the fear we have when we try to work on something new. A lot of the fears or worries you imagine when you start doing something new will never materialize.
“There are more things to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more in imagination than in reality”
Trying new things invariably attracts the attention of other people. By design of nature, not everybody will like what you are doing. So in effect, when you try something new, you attract haters. The thought of haters or critics in itself can discourage us from trying new things and doing great work. The way to usually overcome this fear is to first be convinced of what you are doing. The one thing more powerful than haters and skeptics is yourself. We often judge our work more harshly than anybody else could, so being convinced about what you are doing is key to not being deterred by haters and harsh critics.
Considering the fears that hold us back from doing great work, how do you go ahead and try to do great work?
One way to get over this fear is to actually start. As good as preparation can be for a lot of things, nothing can actually prepare you for doing the actual work. Take writing or starting a business for example. You can do the ancillary things such as learning all the rules of writing or of starting a business but that in no way guarantees that you are going to be successful at it. The only way you can find out is to actually start. The way you get good at writing is not to read a bunch of books about writing or attend several writing workshops. These can help but the only way you get good at writing is to actually write. A lot.
One challenge that arises during the process is what is called the “taste gap”. At the start of our work, we can often tell that it lacks the taste we are looking for. Your work at the start might not be as good as you want it to be. But this is all part of the process. As Iris Glass explains,
“All of us who do creative work we get into it because we have a good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff it’s just not that good. It is trying to be good, it has potential but it is not…….. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you have got to know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.”
Your first work might not be your best work but you will never get to do your best work without doing your first work. Don’t stop. And as much as possible it is important to surround yourself with the right kind of people. In most cases, these are people who are doing something similar; those who are trying to do new things themselves.
The time we spend in fear of starting something is time lost to potentially do great work. The economic model for understanding this is Opportunity Cost. One of the guiding principles of life according to economics is that every decision we make is a tradeoff with another thing. That is, when you choose to do one thing, you have exchanged it with the opportunity to have done something else. If you decide to spend the weekend with friends, it means you have traded away the opportunity to have spent your weekend sleeping or watching a movie. By using the opportunity cost framework to guide our thinking, whenever we let fear hold us back from trying new things, we have traded away an opportunity to do potential great work.
Start before you think you are ready.