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Start the Thing Now.

As an Enneagram 5 and former grad student, this is kind of anathema for me to say, but . . . doing a thing is different from theorizing about it. And doing the thing is going to be what gets you the result that you want. I recently posted a square on Instagram with the words, "The perfect plan that you have in your head doesn't always match up to the perfect life."

The post was born out of a conversation I'd had with another female business owner a while back, who had described herself as a "perfectionist" and expressed that she'd been struggling lately to put out social media content without overthinking it.

She was (and is!) a few years younger than me, and this conversation brought me back to a very similar struggle of my own during my mid-twenties. I post a lot of content to my coaching page on Instagram, but only very recently have I begun posting more to my personal page. This traces back to an ongoing struggle I've had since my first years after college: I want a cute, aesthetic, picture-perfect Instagram, but I don't feel like I'm well-equipped enough with my photography skills to make that happen.

In graduate school, I lived in the U.K. -- not just anywhere in the U.K., but in Oxford, England, "city of the dreaming spires" and of Harry Potter fame. I woke up every morning to sip tea and look out on a thick, cinematic fog linger on the cobblestone streets outside my flat, making the street lamps in the distance fade away. I walked to classes past Oxford colleges built in the 1800s that looked like castles.

And I can count the number of pictures I posted on Instagram during that time on one hand.

I never felt like my pictures of the city "did it justice," I was too busy with school to learn photography even though I was getting a degree in literally film, I didn't want to carry my (fully equipped) Canon camera around with me, photography "sounded hard," etc. etc. etc.

In short - I wanted to do something but talked myself out of it because I worried that my efforts wouldn't be "good enough," and that putting some effort into the thing I wanted sounded difficult and stressful. But looking back, I wish I had just taken some pictures, however imperfect, to document more of my life there as I remember it. I wish I had more to remember what I was thinking at the time.

I spent the first half of my 20's in school - getting my undergraduate and then my master's degrees, immersed in academia. Academia - especially in the humanities, which was where I was - is a place where contemplation tends to be valued higher than action, and taking 6 years to perfect a dissertation is "how it's done." This methodical approach does build in a certain quality standard into the work academia produces, but it also tends to create a culture of perfectionism within higher education.

I was already a perfectionist when I entered college, but college amplified my already-anxious tendencies x100. I had a 4.0, color-coordinated notebooks, and a belief that I needed to be "sure" of the "right thing to do" before I could take action. The safest thing, I reasoned, when I wasn't sure of what action I wanted to take, was to wait.

My favorite professor in undergrad once quoted Voltaire's famous maxim to me - "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." I didn't understand what he meant at the time, but I do now. What I didn't realize at the time was that life is inherently uncertain, and most of the time, most people are working off of their current best guess. Even the successful ones.

One of the things perfectionism tells us is that we won't be happy if we do "the thing" and it isn't as good as the idea of the thing that we have in our heads, or as everybody else's "thing". Realistically, though, 5 years from now, we'll be more unhappy if we look back and we didn't do "the thing" at all.

5 years from now, you might look around and see people doing what you could be doing who aren't any more innately talented or smarter than you are, but who had the courage to start first.

Don't completely abandon planning if it's an integral part to who you think you are - because obviously, planning has served you well in the past. But do just a little bit more than you think you're ready for. Like, a tiny bit.

It's not that I want you to start before you're ready. It's that I think you could make yourself be ready sooner. And that "ready" might mean less than you think.

Expertise is kind of like compound interest. The earlier you start, the more time and opportunities you have to get good, to try things out, to research, to learn from your mistakes. We're supposed to take (according to research) 10,000 hours to get truly great at something.

As James Clear has said, "We often avoid taking action because we think 'I need to learn more,' but the best way to learn is often by taking action."

So . . . maybe start now? In a small way? Just poke your toe out and take it slow. But definitely start. Your 5-years-from-now-self will thank you for it.


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