Start…stop. Start…stop: Why can’t I finish a project? or The Dilemma of the Visionary
Visionaries aren’t just “people with lots of ideas.” Rather, a visionary’s brain has an astounding ability to make sense of seemingly millions of complex associations at lightning speed, working and reworking the puzzle of an uncountable number of infinitesimal factors, and seeing possibilities and obstacles that many couldn’t have conceptualized given a year’s time to reflect, research and plan. On one hand, it’s fun be a visionary! On the other, there arrives a moment when all of the speedy imagining must slow down: the connections have to converge in order for the brain and mind to focus on the attainment of a singular integrated goal. And for many visionaries and other types of global thinkers, this is the really, really hard part of life.
Many visionaries have incredible potential, but haven’t yet mastered the art of realization and often blame themselves harshly for it. Coaching clients self-deprecatingly tell me about their “lack of will,” their “lack of self-discipline,” and their “laziness,” sure that if they could just “get over themselves” or “get their act together,” they’d accomplish all their dreams, and maybe more. “After all, the potential is there.”
Happily for them (since this vicious circle leads nowhere, or worse, leads to mental exhaustion), I am in fundamental disaccord with their theory. I believe my disaccord stems from an essential difference in how I define “potential”:
I believe there is actual potential and theoretical potential.
Actual potential only exists under certain highly complex conditions:
one has the tools
knows how to properly use them
has access to the adequate physical, social and moral support that gives birth to and nurtures concrete action over the long term.
Without any one of these essential ingredients, we move into the realm of theoretical potential – what could be if things had been different.
Theoretical potential doesn’t get one far in terms of concrete action, nor, I might add, in terms of nurturing mental health and a strong sense of purpose or self-respect. Many visionaries the world over are beating themselves up daily, even hourly, for their inability to “get over themselves” and one-handedly make the theoretical real – that is, change the past, change society, change myriad factors over which they have had no direct control, in order to realize their dreams.
So, I present my case.
I believe we must decide – if we want to see our projects to completion – to stop blaming ourselves for the missing elements that we would have needed to realize our theoretical potential, but didn’t get. Maybe we didn’t have our parents’ support to pursue a certain career path, maybe we weren’t surrounded by people who understood our minds well enough to guide and nurture us as we needed, maybe we had other anxieties or psychological blocks that kept us from wholeheartedly pursuing a dream that felt crucially important to us.
It’s not our fault.
One of the core tasks of coaching (in my own practice) is the realization of this essential truth – there is no reason to blame ourselves for the support we didn’t receive. This essential truth is the key to the liberation of our energy, a change which allows us to use our minds in ways that help us take action, not that reprimand us for action not taken (by us or others).
The core action that then follows is:
1) to sort out the theoretical from the actual potentials;
2) to once-and- for-all forgive ourselves for the things we could not control (regarding our theoretical potential);
3) to decide what actual potential we care about most now;
4) and then (in what feels like a masterwork each time) to focus our energies, associations, visions and talents to construct, from the ground up, the structure we need – this time with all of the essential ingredients – to realize our objective(s).
And this time, when we discover that an essential element is still missing (which is often the case), we no longer need to panic or abandon the project as we did in the past; now we recognize the lack as a simple and helpful message about what concrete action we can presently take. That step is to identify where the missing element can be found, and inform ourselves about how we can go about obtaining it. From there, we work step by step, allowing our vision to guide – but no longer torture – us!
We go from “promising failure” to “respectable human, admirably progressing” in the matter of hours. What a wonderful turn of events!
Here’s to your next project!
(P.S. This is, of course, generalizable to any plan – business, life, romantic, physical, and so on.)