There’s a cartoon by Canadian animator Richard Condie called Getting Started. It chronicles the many distractions and obstacles, mostly self-imposed, as a pianist attempts to rehearse some Debussy for an upcoming recital. In addition to run-of-the-mill time-wasters like fussing with the piano bench, there’s a pet mouse in the piano, a phone invitation from a friend, an unsolicited cheese delivery from Palace of Cheese (ordered, I suspect, by the mouse), and a TV-watching interlude that had me laughing so hard that I could barely breathe.
I love that cartoon because I can identify with it. Simple 15-minute tasks can drag on for days or even weeks before tools are assembled and the actual work begun. Bigger tasks all seem to have Gandalf the Grey blocking the path, and the flames of Khazad-Dum lapping at my heels.
Almost certainly this procrastination has something to do with fear, but I’ve never been able to determine what it is I’m afraid of. Fear of doing the work? Fear that I’ll make a mistake and botch the job? Fear of actually finishing it? Fear of never finishing it?
It’s probably not fear of work itself. Over the years I’ve tackled and completed some monumental projects, and as recently as this summer I spent four days demolishing some old plaster walls and hauling the rubble down the staircase and out to a dumpster one bag or bucketful at a time. (My knees still aren’t speaking to me, but that’s another story.)
No, I think this has more to do with ambiguity, not knowing in advance precisely what needs to be done, and how, and when. If any one of those parameters is missing, my mind churns as it weighs one possibility against another and I get stalled, afraid of making the wrong choice. As soon as I know, I act. Simple as that.
To solve this problem once and for all, what’s needed is to face the ambiguity head-on, and learn how to start before all the data is in. Doing the work has a way of teaching what isn’t working, often suggesting a course of action that never even occurred to me while I was still in the ruminating stage. Approaching it with curiosity rather than foreboding might just be the way through.