My wife has a brilliant response to the question, “What would your ideal career be?”
Her answer: ex-president.
That’s my wife’s ingenious way of explaining that, yes, she’d love to lend the name recognition and public trust she’d enjoy as a former president to helping people and doing important work… but that she’s also got zero interest in the exhausting work of actually running for president, let alone being one.
The movie Good Will Hunting came out just after I graduated from college, and I remember a friend complaining to me, “Sure wish I wrote that thing!”
Every one of us wishes we had already done something great. Far fewer of us are willing to first take on the work and risk of actually doing it.
You hear variations of this sentiment all the time:
“Why didn’t I think of Facebook?”
“If I were Bill Gates, I’d just retire and enjoy my billions.”
“I’ve got an idea for a business/book/movie script/change in career. I’ll start as soon as things settle down.”
All reveal the same underlying hesitance or unwillingness — either due to fear of failure, fear of success, or just plain laziness — to start the hard work of creating or trying something new. Something that’s going to take a long time and a lot of frustration to pay off. Something that might not pay off at all. And besides, Netflix just made some new movies available for streaming, so why start that tricky, all-consuming project anyway?
1. Taking on a big project is rewarding almost immediately.
You know this feeling, I’m sure of it. At some time in your life, likely many times, you’ve tackled an enormous project, something that filled you with pride. You’ve learned a complex skill. You’ve gotten into great shape. You’ve written or painted something you were proud of. Got that memory in your head? Now ask yourself…
Did the joy, happiness, contentment, and pride from that experience come to you only after you were completely finished? Of course not. I’d bet my wife’s ex-president money that you thoroughly enjoyed yourself throughout the process.
When you’re taking on something all consuming (running for political office, learning a new language, writing a book), every day of that experience is an adventure. New ideas pop into your head so frequently you need a journal by your side 24/7. And frankly, sometimes it feels great just knowing you’re doing something more demanding of yourself than watching TV.
Starting a difficult, long-term new challenge can be a lot less daunting when you understand that you don’t need to wait until the very end to reap its rewards — those rewards start flowing right away.
2. When you’re engaged in a big project, you’re guaranteed some thrilling surprises.
I took an introductory screenwriting course in college. (This was not an example, I’ll admit, of taking on a challenging project like the ones I’m describing here. I heard the class was an easy few credits, that’s all.)
The professor said something I found shocking and inspiring. As a screenwriter crafts a film script, the movie’s theme almost never emerges until near the end of the writing process, and it’s almost always a surprise to the screenwriter.
Sign me up!
Yes, taking on that big project is going to be work. You’re going to get frustrated and feel at times like quitting. But you’ll also find all sorts of wonderful surprises along the way — surprises you’ll never get to enjoy until you actually start.
3. Unless you start, you’ll never finish.
If that sounds obvious, then consider the friends or family members who have been telling you for years about their “plans” to start their venture or creative project, but still haven’t. Don’t they realize this obvious law of reality that nothing can be completed until after it’s been started?
If you’re not persuaded by the first two reasons to get moving today — that you’ll begin experiencing rewards almost immediately, and that you’ll enjoy all sorts of wonderful, unanticipated moments during your journey — then consider this one. Starting is the only way to give yourself even the slightest chance you’ll ever finish.
Or, as my wife brilliantly sums it up, you can’t start your novel with a second draft.