I love the term “hump day” and not for the usual reason (aka: for once it’s not because my mind is in a perpetual gutter).
Hump Day is a reminder that it’s not all about sexy beginnings or happy endings, despite whatever the stories and Medium thinkpieces tell us.
Real success operates on a curve.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re learning a new skill, writing a book, building an app, launching a business, creating a product, researching your customers, painting an artwork, or renovating a house.
Starting is the hardest part. To transform from a body at rest to a body in motion requires a burst of energy.
Then you’ve gotta apply more focus/pressure/work to make progress, because yes, you are going uphill…
Until one day, BOOM! You hit the peak.
And maybe you can’t actually coast downhill the rest of the way, but things get easier. You find that what’s left is stuff that you’ve seen before, done before, planned for… it’s not novel and it’s not a surprise, you’ve got it under control. And you’ve got momentum on your side.
But if you try to skip the middle, the whole thing is an interminable slog.
Speaking of slogs, have you ever written a book? Or known somebody who did? It’s a famously awful experience. A hundred times more people start books than ever finish them. Etiquette dictates that you should never ask an author, “How’s the book going?” cuz, I guess, writing a book is such a huge fucking project — bordering on impossible — that it sucks up your whole life, and it makes you feel horrendously guilty when you’re behind.
A book is just work, like any other work.
Writing a book really isn’t all that hard — after you’ve done all the research, and prep work, after you’ve outlined everything, and gathered your notes, and organized them, and set up a schedule, and milestones, and built the habit to sit down and write every day.
That’s how I was able to write a huge chunk of the first draft for JFS in just 24 hours!
But if you take the “natural” approach, if you just sit down one day and declare, “OK I’M WRITING A BOOK NOW”… it’s freaking impossible.
That’s why so many people struggle to finish things: they don’t start right.
They try to skip straight to the downhill slope.
Or maybe they don’t start at all.
I get a lot of hopes and dreams in my inbox. Lots of people who know what they want, and they’ve got most of the skills they need to build their dream… and yet they haven’t, thus far, been able to bring themselves to start.
My question is always: “What’s stopping you?”
Most of the responses boil down to: I’m not ready.
But what they mean is, I don’t FEEL ready.
To which I am contractually obligated to reply:
What does “ready” feel like?
- Is it perfect confidence?
- A knowing answer to every question?
- A picture perfect vision of your success?
Is that how successful people feel?
Do they feel that way before they try?
What makes you believe that?
This last question isn’t a one where I actually expect an answer. In fact, in the past 7 years of coaching, not a single person has ever answered me with a real-life story of How I Learned Everybody Feels Ready Except Me. The most common reply is, in fact, “Oh.” A realization that they’ve been assuming something this whole time and, now that they actually take that belief out into the light and explicitly take a look at it, it doesn’t make any sense.
I think the Cult of “Ready” is something you’re born into.
In Wishcraft — of the most under-rated self-help books of all time — Barbara Sher asks readers if they were raised in an environment that creates winners…
In your family, when you were growing up:
- Were you treated as though you had a unique kind of genius that was loved and respected?
- Were you told that you could do and be anything you wanted — and that you’d be loved and admired no matter what it was?
- Were you given real help and encouragement in finding out what you wanted to do – and how to do it?
(Barbara defines “winners” as people who are able to figure out what they love, then go for it. It’s not about the outward trappings of success.)
There are more questions (it’s a great book) but I’m gonna fixate on number 3. That’s the missing ingredient for many. Even if you can answer “Yes!” to questions 1 and 2, if you answer “No” to question 3, you will find yourself perpetually stuck.
You can have skills and feel capable as a human being — you can use that to get great jobs or great clients — but if you have no idea how to turn that into action, on your own — if you have no idea how sausage gets made — when you want to make something for yourself, without outside direction, you will forever be looking for something inside to guide you, and yet you will never find it there.
So then you wait for something — the universe? an impulse? a feeling? — to tell you what to do. To give you a sign.
And it never will.
That’s I think what people mean when they say, I’m not (feeling) ready. (Or manifest the unspoken feeling in a cycle of someday-maybes -> false starts -> guilt -> avoidance -> apathy.)
But believe me, because I’ve been there: You may have been born into it, but it’s not destiny. It’s a bad habit, and you can break it.
There are two ways to get over this particular hump.
And actually, they go together.
First, recognize that you look inside yourself due to an incorrect assumption you made as a kid:
“If I’m as good as they are, but they succeed and I don’t, they must have something I don’t have. It must be something inside them that’s different. They must… I dunno… feel different? Confident? Ready?”
You were a kid, so what did you know of the world? Not much. Nobody was there to show you any different, so you proceeded as if your assumption were correct (it’s not). And since nobody can read your thoughts — and because actually, you are good at what you do, which can mask a lot of errors — nobody ever corrected you. And here we are.
The second is: Figure out how to act ready!
People who succeed are just as concerned and unsure as people who don’t ever try, but they behave differently. They plan. They gather. They set deadlines. They act.
You have a body; you can act.
Act as if you’re ready, and do what so-called “ready” people do. Through that action, you will become ready. Not in feeling, but in fact.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the poet William Butler Yeats:
Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.
Do not WAIT, but MAKE.
Those are your two choices in life: Wait, or make. Wait, or make.
Those are the only two options anyone gets in this world. You can either wait, in hopes that some Magical Confidence Prince will ride in on a white steed of surety and lay a smacker of motivation on you… or you can cry “Blow that for a lark!” and roll your own ass out of that shiny coffin, hitch up your skirts, and set those boots to walking.
If you wait to act until you feel ready, you will be waiting forever.
Acting is what makes you ready.
Acting can mean reading a book, asking for help, making a list of 5 simple to-do’s and doing one of them every day; it can mean writing a plan, starting an outline, writing your ideas on notecards, gathering your research, learning to study your audience so you can figure out where their needs and your abilities meet…
Acting can mean figuring out what you need to figure out.
Acting is what will get you up the hill to the glorious peak.
Even if, standing at the base of the Action Mountain, all you can see is up. You can’t see the other side. You can’t feel totally confident of what will await you at The End. You have to take a step of faith, and then another, and another.
And when you take that last step and reach that peak, you’ll see everything.
Your work won’t be over but you will be ready.
How fucking amazing would THAT feel?
Now, I think it’s pretty obvious by now that I’m speaking from experience.
I did not grow up in what Barbara Sher would call an environment that creates winners, and yet here I am.
In 2008, I hit a shitty point where I realized that if I didn’t choose, if I didn’t act, my life would be more of the same (hated) work forever. That my ol’ “hopes and dreams” and “someday I will” was going to become a monument to failure, rather than a potential future. Unless I did something about it.
So I chose to change what I did. I chose to act.
My feelings followed.
And then I looked around and realized: Holy shit, the world is full of people struggling with the same exact shit I was.
That’s why I know you can learn to act. You can change. I did. You can too.
If nobody ever taught you how to take a huge goal and break it down into achievable chunks, you can learn. If nobody demonstrated to you how to look into the wider world for opportunities — much less how to seize them — you can learn.
If you find yourself in an infinite loop of referring to your feelings before you try to achieve, and a lack of achievement ruining your feelings… you can learn to break that cycle with action.
You don’t have to wait to know everything about a journey, or even where to go, if you have a guidebook, a compass, and an experienced traveling companion… and a willingness to change your in-grained habits.
Each step you take can become an opportunity to choose success over failure, a step-by-step process over random flailing, a powerful leverage over a wasted opportunity.
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And if you recognize yourself in the above story but don’t want to build an independent income stream, I hope you will still make the iron hot by striking and find another path for you to take action.
Believe me, it will be worth it.