“Writing is a dreadful labor, yet not so dreadful as Idleness.” Thomas Carlyle
I think about this quote a lot when I sit down to write. Or rather sometimes when I don’t. It’s because I struggle with what might be called writers block but is really just a special form of anxiety. I find it especially difficult when putting myself out there. That may sound surprising coming from someone who runs a podcast and has regularly spoken in front of large groups of hundreds and at times thousands of people.
This post is also part of my podcast: Cut Your Learning Curve. You can listen to the episode here:
The tricky part is that the anxiety never really goes away. When I get up in front of a group of people I still feel those butterflies. I still get anxious. I still worry about what people will think of me. But I’ve learned to turn that buzz of warm fuzziness in my belly into something I crave. I get so elated after speaking in front of people.
When I was putting together my podcast, at first I went through major bouts of anxiety. I spoke with Gregg my podcast coach and I told him that I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I worried about keeping up. I worried about having to get up and put stuff out there every week. This same sort of anxiety is why it took me two years to finish my first book project even when I had editors and a team helping me along. What I’ve found is that no matter how far along I get I never fully buck these anxious moments.
Sometimes this is called imposter syndrome. It’s this nagging feeling that you aren’t good enough, that despite all that you’ve done and everything that people see in you, you fail to see that in yourself. You’re still the same old schmuck you’ve always been. When you’ve been looking through you’re own eyes your whole life it’s easy to understand how you don’t see everything else that people are seeing. You wait for that nice internal feeling of accomplishment but no matter what you’ve done, it just doesn’t *feel* right. It wasn’t what you expected. You’re still basically you.
I’ve met successful authors, I’ve met wealthy entrepreneurs, I’ve met people who appear in magazines. They still doubt themselves in the same way.
The funny thing about this is that this feeling can happen to anyone. I’ve met successful authors, I’ve met wealthy entrepreneurs, I’ve met people who appear in magazines. They still doubt themselves in the same way.
When I was working at Apple, I volunteered for workshops. I used to have to give presentations about iMovie and other software with a tiny little microphone in front of a store with hundreds of people. I used to fear public speaking and I would get anxious every single time. Sometimes I’d feel like throwing up. But I knew that by the end of it, I would feel better having done it. I chose to get up there and do it anyway.
The Gap: Working through Imposter Syndrome by Going Pro
What causes us to freeze up when we don’t want to try something new?
Ira Glass calls this the “gap.” Basically when you are creative you have what Glass calls an incredible sense of taste. You know what’s good and you also know that you aren’t. You try something out and it sucks. It can take years according to Glass to move from this period of repeated sucking to get to the level where your execution matches or at least resembles your taste.
Most people, Glass admits, give up. It’s easy to give into that anxiety and fear of failure. There’s always that inner critic who just “knows” that you’re not going to be as good as you think. But the only way to get there is through work. You have to pick it up and keep doing it, again and again until you get good. You’ll never get good unless you keep at it. You must show up and do the work.
In his book War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about how the actor Henry Fonda even at 75 would still throw up before each performance. The lesson here is that fear doesn’t go away. To Pressfield the difference between the amateur and the pro is that the amateur waits for the fear to disappear and in doing so never finishes the work. A pro acts despite the fear. “The amateur believes,” says Pressfield, “he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”
If you’re stuck, I suggest looking through this book War of Art and watching the video with Ira Glass.