“Besides, no one’s interested in something you didn’t do.”
– The Tragically Hip, Wheat Kings
Frequently throughout my life – like every five years – I’ve contemplated going back to school. I’ve seriously researched four MFA Creative Writing programs in response to the urge to “be a real writer”. I upgraded my math once, thinking I needed to get into an MBA program to “advance my career”. Most recently, I looked into years’ worth of education and certification that I “should” get before I “could” launch Phrase Strategy.
While I used to spend more energy entertaining those ideas than actually Doing The Thing, I’ve learned to recognize this thinking for what it is: my lizard brain telling me that I’m “not enough” to do the thing that I want to do. It works like this: my frightened little brain stem yells, “I’m not ready!” My ego kicks in with many solutions, all the things I need to do to become ready. And years later, I’m no further ahead, but very, very busy.
Don’t we all do this?
Complain for years about being unhappy in our job and tell our friends all the reasons we can’t do anything about it. Get counseling, research other careers, take courses in another field, waiting to “be ready” to make the change.
Fantasize about the life we could have without our partner, imagine the person we could be if we were free, but stay in a miserable relationship because we “aren’t ready” to face ourselves alone.
Talk for years about buying the house or taking the vacation or having kids then fill life with all the things we believe need to happen before we can “be ready” to do it.
Earn all the requisites to move up to the next level, or are offered the opportunity we’ve dreamed of , and decline because we feel like an impostor; we’re “not ready” for it.
We’re given gifts and we give them back. We resist our deepest intuitions, avoid opportunities, drown success by focusing on failure. The push-pull of desire and fear eats hours, consumes energy, blocks new experiences.
Being uncomfortable is not the same thing as being unready. I’m learning how to get ready for something by moving toward it.
Get ready for it
Mind Mapping helps to break overwhelming ideas or projects into smaller chunks and to visualize and manage all the chaos swirling around in your mind.
Here’s a great MindMap explainer with visual examples. I’ve adapted it below to work on things that are difficult to move forward with.
- In the centre of a page, make a circle and write down the idea, dream, change, or goal that you’re trying to get ready for. Example central idea: New Career
- Draw a “branch” from the central idea out to one corner of the page and write a word that represents a primary question, fear, concern, or “need to do” that you have related to the idea.
- Repeat Step 2 until you’ve unloaded all the major thoughts that are cluttering your mind. Example branches: Skills Development, Networking, New Resume, Financial Planning, New Location. Be sure to leave space around each of the branches and words – your map should look kind of like a spider in the beginning.
- Next focus on each “leg” of the spider, drawing more branches and keywords to capture all the other thoughts, questions, ideas, and “to-dos” you can think of related to each main branch. Example branch with sub-branches: Skills Development – new skills I will need – transferrable skills I have – courses I need to take – do I really need any new skills? – how to describe the skills I have in this new context – other people I can talk to who have skills I admire…
- Continue this process until you’ve emptied your mind.
- Look at your mind map and make adjustments. For example, you might decide to group or cluster things differently once you’re able to visualize all the themes. Are some of the things you’ve written down not, in fact, important when you consider them? If so, that may be a branch to delete or de-prioritize. You may redraw the map a few times. You may add to it over time.
- Next, look at your mind map and take note of the things that are most interesting to you – there are probably a few that you can get started on right away. Are there areas that you’ll need outside help with? Note those on the map and make a branch about “People to Talk To”.
I enjoyed this article by James Clear: Successful People Start Before They’re Ready