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Braving the unknown
You fail at everything you don't try
One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my career is that I fail one hundred percent of the things I don't try. Yes, I know this is cliché, but it's true. Even when I fail nine out of every ten things I try, I'm still moving forward. Unless I'm dancing, of course. Then, no matter how much I try, I look ridiculous and end up standing backward in my date's shoes with my partner lying on her back in barefoot bewilderment, which proves how stupid dancing is anyway.
If you read back a few posts, starting with In the beginning..., you can see I didn't try for a better job for three and a half years while working for minimum wage at the Library of Congress. Instead, I applied myself to learning several computer-related skills, but I didn't use those skills to improve my life, so I stayed in my stagnant job for years longer than I should have.
The same is true of writing. As I shared in my first post, Welcome to Write to the Point, I wrote a lot as a child and won several competitions, but I only applied those skills to improve my life once I started working for Intel in my mid-twenties. So why did I waste the seven years before that?
A lot of people are like me. They have dreams but don't apply action, so their desires remain wishes instead of goals, sometimes indefinitely. People may have different reasons for procrastinating. For me, it's fear. I prefer to watch others and learn from their mistakes, or I'll read about a problem and study it out in my mind until I believe I understand it perfectly. I tend only to take action once I have assessed and eliminated all the risks.
For example, as a teenager, I attended a fair my church was putting on to raise money for youth activities. One of the games involved pushing a giant marshmallow down a course with your nose. I watched dozens of kids, in groups of five or six, crawling behind their marshmallows, nudging them forward with the tops of their noses, in a snail race to the finish line. Unfortunately, some winners were too aggressive, and I could see them dabbing at weeping nose scrapes as they collected their prize candy.
I didn't want to play at first because I didn't want to get scraped up and risk losing. But after watching several rounds, I figured out a strategy to win.
So, I got in line and waited my turn. When my group was up, I got behind my marshmallow, planted my nose against the sticky cylinder, and stuck my bum in the air like every other contestant. I didn't want to give my secret strategy away.
When one of the ladies running the contest shouted, "GO!" I quickly leaped to the side of the marshmallow, snapped my head, and used the side of my nose like a foosball paddle to bat the gooey gob over halfway down the course. Then, I jumped up and ran to the marshmallow, dropped again into the bicycle-rack position, and foosballed my marshmallow across the finish line while everyone else was still only a few feet from the start line. Finally, I collected my peanut butter cups and munched them down while watching the rest of the group inching their marshmallows forward, still unaware that they had already lost.
The problem is that many things in life are too complex to learn by observation and must be experienced and navigated.
And that brings me to today. As mentioned in previous posts, I studied English and writing in college and graduated just before I turned fifty; however, I've never used what I learned to write a full-length novel. I am not confident in plotting a complex tale, developing in-depth protagonists, or creating three-dimensional antagonists. I've written many technical documents, essays, and short stories ranging from five-hundred-word flash fiction to five-thousand-word creative non-fiction pieces; however, I've never written anything longer out of fear of failure and the unknown.
So, I thought an excellent way to illustrate the bumbling process I've used to succeed in my career would be to write a full-length novel in this blog, documenting what I view as my successes and failures along the way and illustrating what I've learned from my experience at the end. I hope that by putting myself out there and showing that any defeats I experience won't kill me, I can encourage others to take leaps of faith in their careers and come out better for doing so.
This experiment could succeed to some degree or utterly fail, but I'll still learn from it and be better equipped for my next attempt. So let's define the project and see where it goes over the next few weeks.
Last night, I had a dream, most of which I've now forgotten. I only remember that Ryan Reynolds assembled a complex tangle of ductwork throughout a large building to blow hot furnace air into a woman's face to make her uncomfortable. I have no idea why I dreamed this or what Ryan Reynolds was punishing the woman for, but it's a weird and curious scene. So I will use this odd dream fragment as the foundation of my attempt at a full-length novel (or at least a plump novella).
Let's see where this goes.
Think about something you'd like to do to advance your career but are afraid to attempt. This hurdle could be presenting in front of your peers, applying for a new job doing something you want to do but need to gain professional experience in, or simply asking your manager for a raise.
Whatever your fear, make a plan and then execute it. Then, feel free to share your successes in the comments.
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