Look, I’m a big believer in preparation. “Success happens when opportunity meets preparation,” and all that good stuff. Yep. But there comes a point where preparation gets in the way of actually, you know, doing stuff. And if you never do the stuff, all the preparation and opportunity in the world won’t help you. You have to spend time doing, not thinking about doing, or dreaming about doing, or “getting ready” to be doing.
So what am I talking about when I say, “Preparation?” I’m not necessarily talking about things like practice, training, or education. Those are necessary to learn any skill and become competent at something. (Although even these necessary steps can be abused and become obstacles to doing the actual stuff. I’ve known plenty of people (myself included, unfortunately) who had to take just one more class or write one more “practice novel” before they would commit to actually doing the thing “for real.” Training and education can become an excuse for not committing and getting down to business.)
When I say that you spend too much time preparing, I’m talking about things that look like preparation but are really procrastination masquerading as preparation. They are things you do instead of doing the thing you really want to do, but which allow you to foster the illusion that you are still working toward your goal.
Take the education example above. Yes, you might need education or training in order to pursue whatever dream you’re chasing. But there often comes a point of diminishing returns. Is that one extra class going to teach you so much more that it will really launch you on your path? Or is it something you could learn while you are doing the thing you really want to do? Can you go ahead and write that novel before you take the class on how to sell a novel, for example? Could you do both together? Isn’t that extra class really just a way to put off the scary writing one more month? Probably.
Here are some more examples from my own life. Oh, I’ve become quite the master at preparing rather than doing, and it’s something I constantly work to correct. Most of my issues stem from fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of judgment, you name it. I have so many fears that they often contradict each other. Often the only way for me to get past the fear is to remind myself to do rather than prepare. So here’s some of the damage I inflict on myself with my hobbies/jobs. Perhaps you can relate?
Writing: This is ostensibly my job, and the thing that I spend the biggest amount of time “preparing” for. I’ve taken classes in everything from creative writing, to blogging, to technical writing, to marketing (and more). I spend tons of time reading books and blogs on writing and marketing. Let’s not count the hours spent reading about the struggles and questions of other authors on various forums and blogs. I’ve written more “practice” pieces than I care to count (pieces that are likely publishable but which I judge insufficient due to a variety of crazy reasons/fears). And although I’m getting better, I’ve wasted too many hours hanging out on Twitter and calling it “networking” or “promoting.” Any time fear gets the better of me, I turtle into preparation mode and stop writing.
Reading: I love to read and actually reading books is the goal. But what do I spend a lot of time doing rather than actually reading? Making lists of books I want to read, placing holds at the library, reading reviews, managing the ever-growing TBR pile, participating in forums about reading, and tracking down obscure works by favorite authors (to be read later, of course). None of that is reading, but I tell myself that it’s “necessary” in order to read. (Hint: It isn’t.)
Board Games. I love to play board games, and I enjoy writing reviews about them. But even something so fun gets bogged down in preparation to the point that playing doesn’t even happen. I get lost in shopping for new games, reading reviews, participating in forums about games, blinging out components, and attending gaming conventions. While some of this is necessary to keep up with trends and new releases, I take it too far and forget that playing is the thing I really want to do, followed by reviewing those plays. Games sit on the shelf gathering dust while I tell myself I’m gaming.
Sports. I like to play a variety of sports. But too often, instead of playing, I turtle into preparation. Buying/evaluating equipment, watching videos/TV shows about the sport, reading forums/books dedicated to the sport… Anything but getting my butt off the couch and going out and playing the sport.
Crafting. I like to craft in my spare time, but over-preparation often ruins the fun. Buying newer/better supplies, reading books and forums, hanging out in craft stores and taking classes, doing yet one more practice piece before doing it “for real,” watching tutorials on YouTube, etc. It all adds up to very few crafts produced in a year and a lot of useless stuff occupying my brain.
The really funny thing (sarcasm incoming) is that all this preparation ultimately leads, not to success, but to regret. All the time I waste “preparing” is time I could spend doing something infinitely more fun and rewarding. But I don’t do that. I choose the path of procrastination and it always, always ends up in regret. Regret that I didn’t write that book before I saw someone else’s interpretation of the same idea on the shelf. Regret that I didn’t take that beautiful day and go hiking, or play those games with friends. And regret that I didn’t take full advantage of my time on this planet.
What it comes down to is this: Beyond a base amount of preparation necessary to achieve competence in a skill, the rest is stuff you can usually learn through experience, or at least as you go along. Often you don’t even know what you might yet need to learn until you do the thing and discover the blind spot. Then you learn what you need to know and move forward. Waiting until you’re fully prepared and know everything you can possibly know is a recipe for never getting the thing done at all. (Reminder: No one ever knows everything, anyway, and they’re lying if they tell you they do. Even the best in the world at their craft still have things to learn. It’s just that they choose to do the work regardless.)
(Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke)