There is something you have been working on, isn’t there?
Something big. Something exciting. Something you have always dreamed of.
It’s that perpetual “work in progress” that you tell only your close friends and loved ones about. The novel that is in “final edits.” That website that you are going to start … tomorrow. That email you are going to send your boss explaining why you are quitting your job to be a full-time freelancer (the mouse is hovering over the send button as we speak).
Whatever it is, the question I have for you is the same: What is stopping you?
If you are anything like me, what happens next is that you put in a lot of work, get super close, and then, when you are almost there, you hit a roadblock. And then another and another.
“What color should the logo be?”
“I can’t find an agent.”
“It could use another round of edits.”
“I’m not sure what font to use.”
We spend years working on these grand dreams. We put blood, sweat and tears into getting them to 85, 90, even 95 percent. Then, the next thing we know we are at the library with four books on the science of fonts.
Look, I’m not talking about first drafts here. The hang-ups that keep you from ever getting started is a different column altogether.
I’m talking about when you are so close to the finish line you can taste it. I have news for you: What is holding you up isn’t fonts — it’s fear.
Now, go grab a piece of paper and pen.
On the left-hand side of the page, draw a box and label it, “The Thing I Want to Do.” On the right-hand side, draw another box, and label it, “Actually Doing It.” In the middle of the page, between “The Thing I Want to Do” and “Actually Doing It,” make a list of everything that is standing in your way. Draw a big box around that list and label it “Roadblocks.”
Next, grab a Sharpie, and put a big fat line through “Roadblocks.” Above it, in all caps, write “Places to Hide.”
Our own work, when we are judging it ourselves, is never finished or good enough. I have a secret for you: It’s not because we are perfectionists. It’s because we are scared. Scared nobody will like it, scared it won’t work out, scared to be embarrassed.
So, what we typically do is we pick a roadblock, and we hide behind it. Isn’t that funny? Just as we did when we were children and there were monsters in our closets, we hide from our fears.
I want us to be really clear that being scared is not the actual problem. Being scared is human, normal and totally O.K. The problem is when our fears prevent us from making the quantum leap between what we want to do and actually doing it.
Once we understand why we are perpetually stuck at 90 percent, we can make major strides toward 100 percent. It’s no longer about this or that specific roadblock. Now it’s about, “How do I work with fear?”
That is a much better question than, “What font should I use?” and it’s one that is much more interesting.
So how do you work with fear? Do you have specific things you do when you have something you really want to do but are hiding because you’re scared? Mantras you repeat, stories you tell yourself, music?
Next week I will share some ideas of my own. Stay tuned.
Carl Richards, a certified financial planner, is the author of “The Behavior Gap” and “The One-Page Financial Plan.” His sketches and essays appear weekly.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.