As promised, here’s a bad piece of good advice:1 Create ideal conditions. Before you even start something, make it fail-proof.
Waiting for ideal conditions can be either blazingly smart or sheepishly stupid, and it shows perfectly how good advice really is a mixed bag.
Let’s take an example… say, writing a book.
You want to write a book, and you give yourself some good advice. Or maybe, you get it from someone else. Often, it’s actually a mix of the two of them, and that’s quite a deadly cocktail, like mixing gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate.
Anyway, the “ideal conditions” argument goes something like this:
- Have you considered that the economy is down?
- I mean: Authors cannot possibly survive in this climate.
- Also, consider piracy.
- Did you know that the Huffington Post doesn’t pay a cent to their authors?
- How would you probably find a publisher?
- You didn’t even study that stuff!
- Nor do you have a million online followers who would buy anything from you.
- The conditions really aren’t so good right now, are they?
Once you manage to ignore all these questions, you think you’re ready to sit down and work. But it doesn’t stop there!
- Wait, wait, wait, wait, waaaiit!
- Are you sure you have the best writing application installed?
- What about that nice ergonomic keyboard you considered buying? Wouldn’t it make the process much easier?
- The dishes are dirty. Won’t you wash them first so you don’t have to worry about them anymore?
- It’s too noisy/silent/cold/warm/late/early.
- And you’re hungry!
- Shouldn’t you get coffee?
- And don’t forget to send that email that Chris is waiting for!
The fun thing is: Many of these objections are somewhat grounded on facts. They somehow describe real problems: The work will be hard, most writers don’t make an easy living, and there could be better times, better conditions, better tools, a better environment to get the work done.
The rationale behind these objections goes something like this: Create ideal conditions before trying and you are more likely to succeed. (Or, at least, you will fail smoother.)
Yet, at the same time, focusing too much on preparation is dangerously deceiving: If you aim for ideal conditions, you might end up stuck forever where you are now. Risk of failure will be 0%, because you don’t even give it a try.
Steven Pressfield has a name for what it is that makes us long for ideal conditions: It’s the Resistance.2 The Resistance is what keeps us from doing our work – and trying to create ideal conditions is often precisely that: It prevents us from actually getting something done, by forcing us to focus on endless preparation.
Consider this: If humanity had always waited for ideal conditions, we wouldn’t be flying around the world or using the Internet or exploring space or whatever. We would be stuck on the trees, scratching our monkey asses, wondering how to find our next banana. (Or, worse, we’d still be stuck in the water, with nothing to scratch at all!)
The truth is that there are no ideal conditions, ever. There will always be some kind of problem: Not enough money, not enough supporters, not enough experience, not enough products for sale, not enough allies, not enough followers on Twitter, not enough ideas, not enough health, not enough resources.
You will get ideal conditions on doomsday, when the hordes of hell tell you to run.
Then, you will run. No matter what.
But who wants to wait for doomsday?3
Doomsday may well be: Never.
But, on a personal level, it may also be:
- When you get really, really sick.
- When you are kicked out of your job after working your ass off for your company during three decades.
- When your boyfriend leaves you or your wife files divorce.
- When you lose all your savings, because of the next economy bubble bursting.
- When you are fed up with it all.
Then, suddenly, conditions appear to be ideal because you feel that you’ve got nothing left to lose anymore. Because there isn’t really any comfortable alternative left. Only then, you feel ready to move.
The objective truth, though, is that overall conditions will likely be worse by then than they are right now!
The only difference is that, then, you will finally have the guts. Now, you don’t.
The Change Mindset
Change is a rather ordinary process. I’ve outlined it here on TFA: Direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. Really simple. Simple enough for a five-year old kid to understand. Certainly simple enough for a grown-up like you.
The real problem, though, is not a lack of understanding of the process. It’s having the guts, and it’s putting the hours in.
For the guts, read Beyond Rules.
For the hours, start working now. Because the thing you really need isn’t a further outline of the process. It’s practicing the change mindset.
Forget about creating ideal conditions! There is actually some evidence that working under ideal conditions will make your work harder, not easier!
Instead, understand that change is possible.
Here’s how I see it:
- It’s perfectly okay if you decide you do not want to change.
- It’s perfectly okay if you decide to change and fail once.
- It’s perfectly okay if you decide to change and fail twice.
- It’s perfectly okay if you decide to change and fail ten thousand times.4
- It’s bullshit if you think you cannot change!
So how about caution?
How about creating ideal conditions?
Caution and conditions matter. Be cautious when it comes to risking your life. But risking your life means things like jumping from skyscrapers without a parachute.5 It doesn’t mean writing a book. It doesn’t mean executing a photography project. It doesn’t mean public speaking. It doesn’t even mean quitting your job.
The capacity to fear is part of human nature. Fear that prevents us from touching a poisonous snake has a clear evolutionary function.
Chronic anxiety has not.
Be prepared to experience the difference between the two, and to assume the consequences: Just because it’s new, it doesn’t mean you have to create ideal conditions before approaching it. Sometimes, jumping right into it might be the better option.
Your Turn: The Conditions You Need
If you want, follow the advice and create conditions as good as you can. But creating good conditions means learning to use your parachute. It doesn’t mean getting every detail right from the start.
Good conditions help on your way; ideal conditions – if they hinder you from taking action – don’t.
Remember what Paul Myers says in Need to Know:6 “Assets risked with a calculated probability of profit are called ‘investments.'”
Said in another way: Don’t freak out about ideal conditions. If there isn’t any risk of failure, there isn’t any chance to win. If you don’t try it, you’ll never know what would have happened.
- Or, vice-versa! [↩]
- Yes, we have all met her before. [↩]
- And, who wants to see it? I skip, thank you! [↩]
- Well, actually, that would be a bit too much. It’s why I stopped trying to learn algebra. I failed about nine thousand times, and I quit. [↩]
- Actually, that’s probably quite a high risk. [↩]
- There’s nothing to sell on the site, but it’s an affiliate link to a free book I highly recommend for people interested in online business. The newsletter is useful and unobstrusive. [↩]
I guess people are too comfortable, and til they are comfortable, it becomes hard to push ones way through to the destiny they are supposed ot be living.
But luckily, the tipping point does come – and if the person has it in them; they will rise to the occation.
The point is that they feel comfortable with a mediocre/suffering life.
thank you for this really awesome post, which kicks me in the ass and puts me into motion.
Right now i´m reading Steven Pressfield´s “the WAR of ART” and it´s fantastic.
You´re a great writer – i like your style.
Thank you, PH and Thomas! :)
Pressfield is great!
I second Thomas: your posts are awesome. Thanks again for inspiring ones.
Thanks Erick, glad you enjoy them!
Brilliant piece, I have to say. Probably even more so becausae it is so absolutely relevant. For me, but also for most people out there.
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