On Getting Out Of Your Own Way
I always seem to do my best writing when I’m not actually writing. I’ll have some disparate ideas flying around my head when suddenly, far from a keyboard, my mind is able to play air traffic controller, landing thoughts in perfect order.
I tap the steering wheel and think, “This is what the theme is…this is how I’ll do that…this is what will happen.”
Except, when I get back home, the skies have fogged up, and all these planes are left circling the airport with no runway in sight.
Why, at times, does the distance between “I got it!” and “Here we go” feel so galactic? Why can’t we just do what we say we want to do?
To tackle this phenomenon of being excited to start but unable to move, we’ll have to leave aviation, and instead, face the most common analogy used to describe some creative endeavor: the mountain climb.
At face value, it’s intuitive enough; endure the uphill grind before exalting at the summit. Just put one foot in front of the other! But still, we can’t. I’ve learned that my leaden-boot immobility is not because I lack the skill, it’s because I don’t know where to start.
It’s like I already know that this mountain isn’t a glorified ramp with one starting point. It’s a three dimensional beast. It has volume; its base, a circumference of infinite places to take a route uphill. Suddenly, setting off is no longer about increasing elevation along a two-dimensional line, it’s about wrestling with choice.
Which way do I go up? How do I know this is the right starting point? What’s the terrain (experience) going to be like?
We can all relate to that; spending countless hours obsessing over how other people “climbed” similar crags, metaphorically plodding around our mountain without taking our first steps up it.
And these are the wasted miles to nowhere.
We spend so much time trying to not mess up then succeed, but that’s not how creations come to life.
I can hear my mountaineering friends telling me, “But, Bassam, mapping out the best route up is good planning.”
Of course. But that’s why I think we have to flip the script. When we use reaching a summit as a metaphor, we presume we know the exact result we’re chasing. We are burdening ourselves with the weight of the one who dreams up recipes but has never baked the cake.
What I mean is: in our creative pursuits, the summit is just an idea, a guess; it represents one possible outcome of our self-expression.
We need to find a way to start more easily. That’s why the better analogy is not about climbing a mountain, it’s about descending one in the fog.
There’s you starting at a point and you have infinite directions to go down. In the beginning, the goal is descent, not an exact destination. Anywhere is better than being high up on the mountain for too long.
Every decision is the right decision.
To hammer down this point in a different way, let’s leave the mountains and head to the North Pole. If your job was to get out of there, which direction would you move?
… (thinking, thinking)
South. How do I know? Because south is in every direction from where you're standing.
In the very beginning of the thing you want to do, put yourself on the mountaintop or the North Pole. There is much less pressure of choosing “correctly” because any progress is correct.
"Doing" is data. It’s a lesson you can then react and adapt to. That’s what we need in the early days of our creations-to-be. It’s a lesson I still have to remind myself of.
Don’t mistake your brain’s dreams with a pathway to get there. In fact, your dream isn’t the mountaintop, it’s the first step of the path you will carve.
Reality will be way cooler than your dream because you're not an explorer following someone’s map, you’re a cartographer creating your own.