I have had every opportunity in life to be successful. I have an awesome family and circle of friends that support everything I do, my work ethic is fierce and I live in America. However if I step back and look at my life it reeks of mediocrity. Why do I sabotage myself? Why do I give up right before the finish line? Why do I leave so many projects unfinished? Why is being successful so terrifying?
A few years ago I landscaped my yard. It was a huge project to take on by myself but I had a vision and I wanted to see it come to fruition. I single handedly moved 20,000 pounds of dirt, built a 70 foot retaining wall, laid down a huge deck, pavers, artificial grass and built a 120 foot glass fence surrounding it. It took about 6 months and cost a shitload of money in materials. I did nothing during that time but work on my yard for a thousand hours.
It was beautiful; it was an amazing feat but I never finished it. The wood was never stained, the gate was hung in a temporary fashion and the centerpiece was never installed… Why would I work for six months, spend an absurd amount of money, get to the point that it could be finished in one weekend and stop?
Same reason my bathroom remodel is 99% done, my trucks paintjob is done… except the roof and my 44k word novel is still in the second draft. I obviously don’t finish anything. I do the hard work, make the investment, stay focused on the goal for as long as it takes then find an excuse to not finish it.
Ahhh that magical word… excuse.
If it’s not finished; it can’t be judged, criticized, critiqued, accessed, evaluated or appraised. And therefore; neither can I…
“Good job on the deck Shane but…”
Me- “Its not done.”
“Your bathroom looks great but…”
Me- “Its not done.”
“Your first chapter is obsolete and chapters two and three are confusing.”
Me- “Its not done.”
I’m rambling a little bit, but I feel this needed context. There are a million reasons people don’t finish things and there’s a million more why people make excuses. I’d like to bullshit myself and say it’s because I’m a perfectionist or I don’t have time. But honestly, it’s a fear of being judged. The fear of not being good enough and overall the fear of not being validated by others and having to do it myself.
Showing the world this is the best I can do and my best not being good enough. It’s like when your kid brings home a finger painting of a dog that looks nothing like a dog and you tell them it’s the most beautiful dog you ever seen. You hang it on the fridge look in their eyes and tell them they are the best dog drawer ever! I’m not the parent in this metaphor… I’m the kid.
Except the kid walks in the kitchen with his chin up, chest out and presents to the world his masterpiece. The kid is in the state of development where validation by others is healthy and his sense of self is being molded. I am a grown man who should be more than capable of validating himself, developing himself into self-sufficient adult who invites and learns from criticism. Someone who fails forward and doesn’t take himself so seriously. Someone who is mentally mature enough to be vulnerable.
When I wrote “My shame and Stuttering” I was worried that people would read it and think I was feeling sorry for myself or looking for attention. I almost didn’t post it because I knew it wasn’t written well but my attempts to perfect it took away from the actual sincerity of it. It fit perfectly into my list of things that weren’t done so nobody could hurt my feelings. I posted it and it WAS taken in that way. Not as criticism but as sympathy from genuinely caring people. I was right, my fear that the post would be read as a poor me letter was confirmed. I received many messages telling me it’s ok to stutter and to keep my head up. I appreciate these people; to take time out their life to empathize with someone and reach out to them is amazing. I had to remember everyone has their own perspective and that’s the beauty of the arts and they probably didn’t mean to sound sympathetic but I perceived it as such.
Then something happened that I didn’t expect. The thing that comes with putting yourself out there, the thing that comes with apologetically stepping out into the world regardless of the judgement awaiting you. The messages starting coming in… messages from people who stutter, have eating disorders, dyslexia, adhd, learning disabilities, low self-esteem and mental illnesses. Sharing of themselves and putting their true feelings out there. A collective of imperfect people standing with me acknowledging their shame and taking the first step to overcome it. The feeling was indescribable!
That post is not a polished piece of exceptional literature but it’s my best attempt. It’s finished to the best of my abilities and out there for the world to see. It’s done. I have no excuses for the lack of editing, run on sentences or structure. It is also not on my list of unfinished projects that cannot be judged because it’s not done. Judge away! Help me become a better writer! Help me master my craft! Help me help others!
How can we escape mediocrity and be successful if we can’t take criticism or overcome the fear of our masterpiece not being hung on the refrigerator? Maybe it does suck? Who cares… Put it out there, find your niche in the world, get over your ego and understand everyone has their own perspective. Finish it and move on to the next project taking with you the lessons learned. It feels a lot better and fosters much more personal growth to swing and miss than to sit on the bench.
Photo credit – firstname.lastname@example.org