Begin before you’re ready.
I’m going to credit Steven Pressfield, author of War of Art, with this golden nugget. I couldn’t tell you when or where I heard or read this advice for the first time. I only know that my soul finally heard it from Pressfield two days ago. In his book Do the Work he lays this out as the crucial first step: Start before you’re ready.
Is your mind blown yet? No? That’s because I haven’t really explained it. Here goes. BEGIN BEFORE YOU ARE READY. Before you’re ready, go ahead and start. Start before you have all the answers.
The perfectionist in me, my greatest saboteur, begs to disagree. I need to be prepared. I need to know what my end game is. I need to think through all the steps in between … and THEN I can begin. Actually, I should probably have all of the necessary equipment and the proper wardrobe, not to mention the budget for anything unexpected. And it wouldn’t hurt to know if I’ll lose sleep, disappoint anyone, miss a TV show or get my feelings hurt … and THEN I can begin.
But that’s all a lie. And the crazy thing is that I know better!
I know that I learn by doing. It isn’t a comfortable route, but it’s the quickest. Make a mistake, solve it, move forward. In my former career I’d throw myself into the deep end on projects that I had no idea how to accomplish. And we’re talking about high stakes projects with massive audiences. I knew I’d figure it out. I’d hit all the possible and impossible obstacles but I’d discover a way over, under or around. I’d find the right people to help. I’d make choices with confidence – confidence that if it was the wrong decision we’d learn and recover. I was successful. Don’t get me wrong, this way of working had flaws; I was under intense pressure and I didn’t have a healthy way to manage the stress. But I was pushing my corner of the universe forward with my own will.
An old friend from my theater days recently reminded me of advice I gave him 25 years ago. He’s a chronic worrier and apparently I told him there were plenty of things I worried that I couldn’t do … until I was actually doing them. For example, my character would need to have an emotional breakdown in the second act and I’d worry “there is no way that I’ll be able to cry on demand.” Then I’d be on stage in the middle of the scene, one thing had lead to another, I’d feel it, and BAM I’d cry.
The only way to know if you can do something difficult is to do it. Your ego isn’t going to make it easy for you to begin and risk failure so don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for anything.
“If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready,” says James Clear after meeting billionaire Richard Branson, whose strategy for success is to start something before he’s ready. “You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough.”
“Good things happen when we start before we’re ready,” advises Pressfield. “Not only do we open ourselves to the blessings of happy serendipity, but we steal a march on the forces of procrastination, perfectionism, over-preparation, fear and self-doubt.”
So the next time you find yourself feeling that you’re not ready, proceed at full speed. You’ll hit a wall, fall on your ass, and be in over your head more than once. But just imagine how great it’s gonna feel to get those lessons behind you.