I don’t know about you, but I can think of several times when I’ve been caught up in the trap of working around a big project instead of sucking it up and attacking it directly. I’ll find all kinds of minor, supporting tasks to work on and focus on them, rather than doing what I know I should be doing. This way, I can trick myself into thinking I’m being productive. It also allows my big project to remain perfect, because it doesn’t exist beyond the idealized version in my mind.
Whenever I feel myself backsliding into this habit, I try to remember a conversation I had once on my first day of work at a certain bookstore with a certain co-worker. Let’s call him ‘Binder Guy’. (You’ll see why in a minute.)
Anyway, here’s the gist of how the conversation went:
[I’m sitting in the lunchroom, eating my meal when Binder Guy enters.]
Me: Hi! I’m Jacqui. I just started here today.
BG: Hey, I’m Binder Guy. Are you a writer? I think I heard someone mention you were.
Me: Yeah. There seem to be a few writers working here.
BG: I’m a writer too! Want to see what I’m working on?
[Binder Guy rummages around in his backpack and pulls out a big-ass binder. He opens it on the table and starts flipping through it.]
BG: These are all my novel notes. I’ve got my plot line, character sketches… [BG flips some more pages.] And here you can see the pictures of all the actors I’ve casted for each role in the movie adaptation. I’ve even picked out the songs for the soundtrack!
Me: Wow, that’s… a lot of work.
BG: Yeah, but I really want it to be perfect.
Me: I get that. So, how far along are you in writing the novel?
BG: Oh, I haven’t started yet. I still have so much to do!
Me: OK… Is this a new project then? How long have you been working on it?
BG: Let’s see… I think it’s been about seven years now. It’s a really major undertaking.
Me: Um, yeah. I guess so. Well, I really should be getting back to work. My break is over.
BG: See you later!
[I go back to work and another one of my co-workers approaches me.]
Co-worker: So, did Binder Guy show you his binder yet?
Me: Yeah! How did you know?
Co-worker: Oh, man, he shows that thing to everyone…
I fell out of touch with Binder Guy. He left for another job shortly after I started. But I often wonder if he ever actually started writing his epic novel masterpiece. Is he still lugging that binder around with him everywhere he goes? If so, has he updated his movie casting? The original actors aren’t going to be around forever…
It’s a little baffling (and frustrating!) when you meet someone who is clearly passionate about something, but they can’t seem to commit to actually doing what it is they’re passionate about. They just dance around the edges of it and play it safe.
I think there’s a little bit of this tendency in all of us. We just need to be aware and keep it in check. Because if you don’t… the next thing you know, you’re the one showing a binder of stuff to everyone you meet to convince yourself how much progress you’ve made. Meanwhile, your real dream goes unfulfilled.
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