Amy Poehler writes in her book, Yes, Please, “talking about the thing is not the thing. Doing the thing is the thing.” To this, I would add blogging about the thing, thinking about the thing, or napping before starting the thing. All of these are important, but they are not doing the thing.
Why I am not doing the thing? Three reasons come to mind: no time, no skill, and/or no interest. I have the time. I have the skill.
On my morning walk, I read a quote on my favorite quote filled marquis, “the skill to do comes in doing.” In his book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie argues that taking action, no matter how little, is enough to stave off the anxiety… of (not) doing the thing. I love epic, sweeping projects. I fantasize about a bold finish with a considerable impact. I relish creating the plan for starting the thing.
Enthusiasm is the inertia for starting an epic, sweeping project. Inertia allows me to tap the project along even when my enthusiasm wanes. But if I stop showing up daily, that same inertia will threaten to pin me to the couch and strongly recommend I finish reading a book on geology rather than doing the thing.
Note: Hutton wrote this geology book 400 years ago and it has nothing to do with my research. But I am almost done with it.
Suddenly, the kitchen needs to be cleaned top to bottom. My blog needs to be updated and re-organized. I must catch up with friends I’ve neglected for a semester. Plants need watering. Laundry is piling up! My sweater – when did I knit a row? When did I last walk Bella? My quotidian quagmire.
And there is the procrastination of possibility. Shiny objects tempt me. These shiny objects are new and interesting projects filling my imagination. As a matter of fact, I do have an idea for an energy resources course I could develop and teach next year. Why yes, I would love to write a study guide for the Apocrypha this summer. I cast about for fellow collaborators, but I do not tell them I still have to finish the thing. Now the thing is boring and I want it to go away.
When projects get too big, too cumbersome or too long in nature, it is infinitely easier to start and finish a small project. A project that has little to no impact on what I am supposed to be doing: the thing. For example, I have been meaning to read Anna Karenina for 10 years. Last week I decided it was time to start that novel.
Really, Scyller? TOLSTOY?!
I take great comfort in knowing artists, writers, and researchers all struggle with projects grinding to a stand still. Under these suffocating conditions, creativity gasps for life. The daily discipline of showing up breathes in new energy and propels projects to the finish line. My daily showing up goes on my calendar just like a non-negotiable appointment. I know that putting in a certain number of hours 6 days a week will get me to the end. And the end is in sight.
Enter the finish line. During my master’s program, I wrote “done is better than perfect” on my office white board. The glorious finish is out, and just getting it done is in. Do the thing. Finish the thing.
Greater adventures await.