© 2012 David's Harp and Pen
DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want to hear from any self-help gurus or life coaches who claim I am trying in any way to justify or condone procrastination. Believe me, if there were any way to make procrastination useful or profit from it, I would have found it by now.
I just posted a blog entitled Good Enough. I am always surprised at the way certain things that I write strike a cord with readers. From the comments I received, I realized that the feeling of not good enough is something that we all grapple with in some form or fashion. I discovered that I serve my readership best when I am honest and vulnerable about my struggles. Therefore, I wanted to follow up with how that not good enough mindset feeds a terrible habit that we all have: procrastination.
The reality is that we all procrastinate, and we tend to think that we procrastinate out of laziness or lack of desire to do something. While that is sometimes true for me, that’s not always the reason I procrastinate. I love writing and cooking and opening my home to others in hospitality, but I put off all those activities frequently. I also like having a clean and orderly place to live, but I put off the cleaning and the organizing. It’s not because I don’t want to do any of those things. It’s because I let fear of doing those things wrong, particularly of not getting them right the first time, scare me from trying and ever getting started.
In the last year, I lost five friends and loved ones. Whenever I lose someone close to me, I spend some time reflecting on the brevity of life and anything in my life, whether it be a thought pattern, attitude, or habit that may be hindering me from living life to the fullest. In recent days, that hindrance has been procrastination, fueled by “not good enough.” This week, I took a lot of time in prayer to pinpoint the root of it, because it had come to the point where not only was I putting off many things until later, I was putting some things off until never.
Part of it comes from where and how I was raised. I grew up in New Jersey, just outside of New York City, one of the meanest places on Earth. Because everything is so expensive, crowded, and fast-paced, people living there tend to be impatient, opinionated, blunt, and emotional. I have witnessed some epic temper tantrums in my day, and as I look back some of things modeled to me as a kid by adults around me, I see a very dangerous underlying message. Mainly, that the stakes for every little thing we do is super high, and so perceived failure of any degree is unacceptable, inexcusable, and irredeemable. Because I was an introverted and overly sensitive kid, I became very scared of trying anything, because the punishment for failure always seemed so much greater than the punishment for not trying. After being on the receiving end of some verbal tongue lashings from teachers, coaches, worship pastors, and youth pastors, I decided, subconsciously, that trying anything wasn’t worth it unless I could guarantee success on the outset.
Another part of it comes from the message that one must be fully prepared before embarking on such-and-such. For example, writing. I love to write, but something that scares me off from getting started is the message that I have to do all these other extremely time-consuming things in order to be in a place to be able to write. Some of the writers’ websites I subscribe to have lengthy lists of what a writer should do on a daily basis to write well. These lists include journaling, attending writers groups, reading famous authors to emulate what they did well, taking writing courses, reading so many blogs a day to know what’s popular in reading and literature, attend Yoga classes, buy all organic food and cook everything from scratch so as to provide my body with proper nourishment to stimulate my brain to be more conducive to the creative process, etc. None of these things are bad, but when put together in a list and labeled as all the things I must do to be a successful writer, I start to feel overwhelmed, if for no other reason then to do all that stuff requires at least 50 hours a day, and I’m finding it hard enough to find time to simply write.
So, the aforementioned are why I’ve been a wuss and put off so many necessary, worthwhile, and enjoyable things. I don’t want to continue this way. Something had to change. Sometimes, it just takes the right words from the right person to get started down the right path.
A fellow writer told me about a sports writing contest. Whenever a writing contest or job offer comes up, I usually ask Jedi(tor) (or one or two of my other writer friends) what they think. I’m sorry to admit that I often talk myself out of these contests and opportunities for fear of failure. Any who, this was Jedi(tor)’s reply: “My apologies for being blunt, but you asked what I think: part of stopping being a chicken and getting your stuff out there may possibly mean not asking my permission to do something you want to do. I say if you want to do it, do it. I'll edit it, offer advice, and you can submit it. Win or lose, I suggest you do what you can to learn from the experience, and go from there.”
Of course, he was right, especially the last part. First of all, if we are believers and living for God, even our mistakes and failed first efforts are redeemable. Second, most of what we consider to be failures only seem like failures at the time. Even if we didn’t accomplish what we intended from the task, there is usually great knowledge to be gleaned from the experience.
After Jedi(tor) said what he said, I remembered the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14. Peter ventured out of the boat towards Jesus, but upon feeling the wind, he started to sink and had to have Jesus rescue him. I remembered all the messages I had heard from the time I was little about getting things right the first time, messages that I let make me afraid to get started. Most sermons that I hear about this story focus on the fact that Peter became frightened, took his eyes off Jesus, and almost drowned. I don’t hear anyone say that Peter was the only disciple brave enough to even step out of the boat, or attempt to walk on water, especially in the midst of the violent storm raging at the time. The big emphasis I have continually heard was he tried and he failed. Then Jesus started speaking to me, and he said, “Sharon, Peter didn’t fail. The others failed for never getting out of the boat. If you’re stepping out of the boat in pursuit of me, you will always succeed, even in the midst of storms and distractions. Even though Peter began to sink, he learned an important lesson about keeping his eyes on me, a lesson that has inspired millions of believers since. Kind of like you inspire others when you blog about your struggles. Don’t keep procrastinating to get out of the boat. Write, and have company over, and start living. Besides, if I kept Peter from drowning when he temporarily lost focus in pursuit of me, what makes you think I won’t save you from sinking, too?”
So there it is. There are my marching orders. I will write, even if in the beginning some of the finished products are, to use the proper literary term, stinky. I will invite more friends over, even if Bruno is in the throes of his annual Shed-a-thon and I have to serve my guests something out of a can. I have spent too much time putting everything off until tomorrow because I felt afraid and unprepared. Tomorrow is today. There is fun to be had. There are people to encourage. There are million-dollar-grossing New York Times bestseller list novels to be written, and so I must get started, if for no other reason then so I can finally pay my wise and invaluable editor what he is actually worth and get Bruno to the groomer.