What Top Gun Taught Me About Procrastination
It’s always astounding the amount of time I will spend not doing something creative I say I want to do. Upon that carousel of purgatory I often look for a movie analogy to shed light on why I’m bobbing up and down on a plastic horse to nowhere.
Today, it’s an entirely forgettable scene from the original Top Gun that splashed water on my face.
For those (inexplicably) forgetful of the basic plot, let me refresh. After Goose dies (Newsflash: Goose dies), Maverick struggles to regain his confidence. The Brass keep sending him up in training hoping to kickstart the verve fighter pilots surely need careening well past the speed of sound while being shot at by other jets going just as fast.
So that’s the backdrop for this interaction between Maverick and his new co-pilot, Sundown (who, for you movie nerds out there, was also a bad guy in the movie Die Hard), when Maverick can’t seem to get in the game. (Only watch to the 1:00 mark.)
Why am I sharing this? Because this chat is exactly what happens when zest debates fear endlessly in my mind.
Zest: (talking to myself) We can engage anytime, Buddy. Fear: (sheepishly removing itself from an opportunity)
Zest: Hey, where the hell are you going?
Fear: It doesn’t look good.
Zest: What do you mean “It doesn’t look good.” It doesn’t get to look any better than that.
Zest can do all the work it wants, and make clear how amazing something might be, but like multiplying a large string of numbers by 0, it can be snuffed out to nothing with the briefest ‘no."
So we have to interrogate where that feeling is coming from.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Zest wants to act, but fear is uneasy about what might happen after that act. Fear isn’t afraid of creating. It couldn’t care less about creating. Fear is afraid of sharing, and what that might reveal about our lot in life.
So, next time your brain is picketing with a “Creator’s Block!” sign, ask it what it’s afraid of. Typically, at least for me, it’s one of these four:
I don’t know what I’m doing
I don’t know what I actually think about this
It’s going to be rejected
People won’t even notice it
The first two are unnecessary pressures we put on ourselves. They’re intrinsic. We want our competence and ideas to flow easily. When they don’t, we think less of ourselves. This is a problem of managing expectations and ego, not fear.
Creating is easy so long as you don’t prejudge your own work; so long as you know that things will evolve as you go. After all, the verb is create, not copy. It’s devise, not trace.
Again, those first two bullets are between you and you. It’s part of the process everyone goes through when creating something out of nothing.
The last two bullets are extrinsic fears; fears of sharing what you have created. And they’re not just bullets, they’re cannon balls because of their power to destroy the creative process before it has the chance to bloom.
They’re the ‘no’ that can multiply all your hopes by zero.
Don’t let them into the equation too early.
I don’t share every project I finish or article I write, but that’s the point. If I had to share everything my brain came up with, I’d be too scared to do anything!
Don’t let the verb “to share” stop you from the verb “to create.” Fight like hell to sequence them correctly so it’s always self-discovery first; and self-expression if you so then choose.
The creative process is ours to own. It’s our job to realize that it doesn’t get to look any better than that.