Procrastination has been a steady presence in my life. Having spent much of my time studying and working in a field that I suspected wasn’t the right line of work for me, I mistakenly assumed that my procrastination extended only to these things I didn’t really care for. “Let me find the time to do things I am passionate about and I’ll be ok,” I remember saying to myself.
Today I have a different problem. I have created a life for myself that allows me space and time to envision and act on all kinds of possibilities. I have ideas, plans and projects I am excited to bits about. I even have the flexibility to be able to move them ahead. I remember being endlessly annoyed by a former co-worker who was full of ideas and constantly dreaming up new products we could sell. I am now that person — filled with dreams and the possibilities that they hold. Except, I don’t seem to move ahead with any of them (or at least, move at a pace I want them to). To a point that the dreams start to wither away and shatter like fallen leaves. After a while it becomes impossible to walk around my “boulevard of broken/stalled dreams.” There have been times when I am in bed, wishing I could stop this constant programming in my brain that seems hell-bent on feeding me idea after idea after idea. It hurts that I am this stuck.
I’ve known for a while that there’s an underlying fear that is driving my tendency to be in this constant state of avoidance. I’ve known that the gentle voice that tells me that I am tired and deserve to watch TV instead of create something meaningful is fear. That all-knowing, “been there done that” voice that sizes up the task at hand and tells me that it’s too big and not achievable? – That’s fear too. I’ve known that the scornful, hateful voice that tells me not to bother because I don’t have a voice is also fear. I’ve seen the side of my fear that Elizabeth Gilbert describes as a “mall cop who thinks he is a Navy SEAL,” ready to bully me into submission with a totally unsubstantiated anxiety and panic when I seem like I don’t want to listen.
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert,
Naming each and every one of these fears has made a profound impact in moving ahead. It’s been like a game of hide and seek. Finding each one of these hiding fears, masquerading around my life in different costumes has made it possible to make tiny baby steps towards beginning or resuming many projects that have been languishing in neglect.
This winter it had been almost a year since I had written a single word. (if you don’t count posts on social media, emails and Whatsapp messages to my friends) Well meaning friends like R (who has been gently nudging me to write by leaving comments on my older posts, replying to my inane questions such as “what is the best time to write”) and E (who bought me a journal and pens for my birthday) have been trying hard to get me to start and slowly I’ve been moving towards this goal by naming and uncovering each of the aforementioned fears.
But sometimes the fears are right in front of you. So poorly camouflaged and standing in plain sight. You know it’s there, but you choose to ignore it or de-value its impact on your life. For me, one such fear is the fear of missing out. Like a lot of people, I had a good laugh when I read about FOMO, a handy acronym that seemed to neatly capture my woes. Once the memes were no longer new and shiny, I went back to my life, dismissing what probably was a huge discovery. I never once realized that reckoning with this fear could be an important step in moving ahead.
One winter evening, after an obligatory walk in a bout of pleasant weather (Chicagoans consider a duty to not let any good weather go to waste – we will step out even if it’s moderately warm), I sat down to watch some YouTube videos. I happened to watch this interview of Ned Hallowell by Marie Forleo and suddenly I felt like the FOMO I dismissed came into full view as the reason for my blocked creativity.
Ned Hallowell (who is a renowned expert on ADHD and author of Driven to Distraction, a seminal book on ADHD), in this video, talks about the reasons smart people under perform. He makes some great points but there was an analogy at the end that he made in passing that was the last obstacle that was left to be cleared so I could write for the first time in months. He says, while discussing his last point: “cultivate lilies and get rid of the leeches” that people who have too many lilies need to be careful too because “too many worthwhile projects crowd each other out and none of them flourish.”
I realized this today – I’ve been crowding my passions like weeds not lilies. No wonder I’ve been struggling! Somewhere along the way, I owned my tendency to dabble and added so much to my plate of “things I want to do” that I forgot that these were different from the mundane chores that have a tendency to get done anyway. It’s been exciting to finally have the space to do these things so I fiercely hold onto these aspirations because these are lilies dammit. Never mind that I don’t have the oxygen, water and warmth to raise all of them.
I am reminded of this quote from Present over Perfect that deeply resonated with me. Like the author, I too have a lust for life that at times is insatiable.
The very thing that makes you you, that makes you great, that makes you different from everyone else is also the thing that, unchecked, will ruin you. For me, it’s lust for life. It’s energy, curiosity, hunger.
– Shauna Niequist (Present over Perfect)
I’ve heard of many, many, many valid reasons that make a terrific case for saying no, prioritizing and keeping your plate light and manageable. But none as powerful as the visual of crowded lilies, fighting for survival and slowly decaying.
Photo Credit: brenebrown.com