Jan 26, 2023

Why Waiting to Act Is a Recipe for Failure and a 20 Minute Exercise to Overcome Your Fear

Why Waiting to Act Is a Recipe for Failure and a 20 Minute Exercise to Overcome Your Fear

Why Waiting to Act Is a Recipe for Failure and a 20 Minute Exercise to Overcome Your Fear

Nathan King

My company didn't have any expertise developing software systems, and neither did I, but it needed one, so I started building it. It was one of those moments early in a career where a situation reveals a young person's natural inclination for something. In my case, system design.

Others saw my interest. They responded favorably when I volunteered to take on a part of the design. I gathered information. I made extensive notes about how it would work. Identified the problems we were solving and specific solutions to those problems.

Next, I made a significant mistake and threw away the opportunity.

I kept all of my work to myself. It was never ready to show to anyone. No deadline had been assigned to me. I believed I had time to get it right.

But my ideas never felt quite fully baked. There was always something more to do. One more question to research and answer. One more vexing design tradeoff to sleep on for one more night.

Eventually, as nothing continued to happen, a more senior person was assigned the project of building a system, using outside help. That individual had as much technology experience as me, but a more established track record with leadership, and importantly, a willingness to act and share progress.

An email came, "what fields do you want in our new system?" Instantly, I knew my influence on the project would be diminished. It was someone else's now. I had only a narrow role.

The system soon went live. It had my fields. But building a technology product is far more than fields. It is the sequence of actions presented to the user, a data model that enables reporting, a usability that encourages people to act.

I had labored over those categories. Privately. The team that produced the application had not. The system was colossal failure. It perpetuated inefficient use of spreadsheets and errors. After 2 years of struggling, it was discarded and replaced with a newer system.

I saw my own failure in the system's failure. I could have contributed meaningfully. My ideas could have led to better growth, better quality that made customers happier, and increased employee satisfaction. But I had sat on my ideas for far too long.

It became evident that the system the company built was at least as flawed as my private design. Most likely more so. But by waiting for my ideas to become fully perfect, my inaction allowed for something else to happen. The company didn't need perfection, it needed a system.

I had been unwilling to contribute, so they took the next best thing: something someone, anyone really, was willing to contribute.

This lack of willingness can be attributed to 2 things:

  1. Preparing to act is more comfortable than taking action

  2. A lie: the choice is hard, and more information will make it easier.

The root of all of this is fear.

My sense that the idea needed more time to think and to plan was only persuasive avoidance of trying to put something into the world.

The path to joy is creation, not consumption

What made the avoidance so persuasive was that I wasn't watching tv or reading magazines - actions of consumption - intead of creating something useful to my company and customers. It was up to me to put my gifting in the world. I chose not to do it. It made me more frustrated, and prevented others from benefiting from what I had to offer.

I was deceived by my own fear that it wasn't a good time to act.

But action is essential.

I think of the words of Lulu lemon’s founder Chip Wilson when asked what message he would put on a billboard. His response:

Do it now. Do it right F---ing now.

That speaks to the wisdom of the successful entrepreneur: action is the most valuable habit. However, if you're avoiding taking action out of fear, such an imperative is demoralizing. It causes you to give up.

To overcome the fear: recognize it, and put your mind in a giving mindset. How can I give to others?

When you're stuck from your own fear, here is a 20 minute process to reframe into a giving mindset:

A Small Exercise to Adopt a Giving Mindset

  1. Find a quiet spot, a piece of paper. Set a timer for 10 minutes. What are the things you want to do? What concepts, projects, or possibilities are glowing in your mind? List them.

  2. Pick one of them. Who benefits from it? How do they benefit? How will their lives be better?

  3. What is the next step you can take? Something you can do today that moves it forward. Avoid actions like: *Set up a meeting to discuss topic X with people Y. Research topic A, B, C*

    You want to reframe this towards an outcome. For a meeting, make it to resolve a decision. For a research topic, what question must you answer and how can you answer it in the shortest time possible?

  4. Once you've identified the action, listen to yourself. Consider the action you are taking and what you fear. Set your timer for 10 minutes again and do this simple exercise. Your fear will become clearer, and less powerful.

  5. Resolve to tell someone what you intend to do in the next 12 hours. Call or text a friend: "hey, there's something I want to do that is important to me. Will you hold me accountable to do it? I just need to ask me if Ive done [your action] by [date]. Can you call me or send me a text?"




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