We all have things we’d like to do, but never quite begin.

In the last few months I’ve had a lot of firsts:

  • First design and testing of a game
  • First creation of a digital product, The Future Does Not Exist
  • First set up of a podcast from scratch (FuturePod was well established by the time I joined the team)
  • First successful home made pasta.

As I’ve thrown myself into new situations, developing new skills and making myself uncomfortable in new ways, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we get started, and what gets in the way.

We start by starting

We begin before we are fully ready.

In fact, I’m fairly convinced that we are never truly ready until we have begun. There is much we can only learn by doing, and we need the doing to get the learning.

Not knowing what one is doing is no prohibition on doing it.
We all grope ahead.
— Anne Carson

Last week we recorded the first episodes of a new podcast we are prototyping. Were we ready? Heck no!

We had a vague sense of format, vibe, and what each episode would be about. With a minimum of planning, we hit record, started talking, and looked at where it took us.

We could have spent hours hemming and hawing over what the format, purpose, audience should be. After much navel gazing and hand wringing, we would have a high bar set for what we wanted it to be by the time we began recording.

Instead, we locked ourselves in the booth for an hour, hit record and freestyled 2 episodes.

The process of doing revealed so much – we quickly picked up what was working so we could dial it up further, got clearer on the purpose and how that connects with our audience, and built our confidence in what we were doing.

A lot of us want to know we can do something competently before we are willing to try. We can get stuck trying to be an expert before we are willing to get our hands dirty.

Dig in.

Hidden commitments

But what if what’s holding you back isn’t the desire to be an expert before you get started? What if it’s something else?

There are times when we have a firm commitment to change something, but despite our best intentions we don’t make any progress. In fact, if we look at our behaviours it seems we are actively working against that goal.

This is often a sign of a hidden competing commitment.

Hidden commitments aren’t always obvious or visible to us (though they might be to those who know us well!). They get in the way when our new commitment is in opposition to our hidden commitment.

If you struggle to get started, take a look at your behaviour. What are you doing (or not doing) that is keeping you from starting?

Get curious about these behaviours. What might be behind them? This is your hidden commitment. These behaviours are usually there to protect you from something. What are they protecting you from?

Finally, look at the connections between these 2 commitments. What’s the big assumption you’ve made? Are you concerned that if you make progress on your new commitment, you’ll make yourself vulnerable through the hidden commitment?

Immunity to Change is one of my all time favourite processes for bringing understanding and compassion to the places we get stuck, particularly when we get stuck getting started.

Tempting failure

There’s a story my mum likes to tell about picking me up from my first ballet class.

The ballet teacher had the gall to tell me I wasn’t skipping properly, and I was not having it. Instead of taking pointers on my skipping technique, I plonked myself down in the middle of the room in protest.

The teacher responded by rerouting the remaining tiny ballerinas to skip in orbit around me. I was far from impressed.

Some of us have no problem getting started, but expect too much of ourselves and give up at the first sign of things not going smoothly.

This one’s my kryptonite.

Last month I went away to the country with a houseful of friends to unwind. Instead, I ended up mending my relationship with home made pasta.

Because we are people of a certain age, a friend brought their pasta machine along.

Maybe 10 years ago, I decided I’d like to make my own pasta. True to character I did the minimum of preparation required to get started – I grabbed a pasta machine, looked up a video, and made sure I had ingredients.

What I was pushing out of my pasta machine looked nothing like the video. It was clumpy, uneven, and did not resemble a smooth sheet of lasagne.

So I quit, and never attempted it again. I thought my pasta making days were behind me.

Flash forward to a rainy afternoon in Warburton.

Under the watchful eye of our resident pasta expert, I mended my relationship with a pasta machine.

Anytime it got stuck in the machine, or I got frustrated:

It’s just dough.

Again and again, we came back to this gentle reminder.

Tore in half? Fold it back together. It’s just dough.

Too fat to pass through? Roll it a bit more with the pin. It’s just dough.

Getting a little dry? Add a drop or two of water. It’s just dough.

This patient persistence worked. What started out as a disfigured smear of dough became delightful nests of fettucine.

When we are patient, compassionate, and persistent, we can better tolerate failures.

Failure gets a bad wrap.

We learn by stretching, and stretching risks failure. To delay failure is to delay mastery.

If you want to make progress, don’t avoid failure. Tempt it.