I was reading Seth Godin’s The Practice: Shipping Creative Work this weekend. It’s a short, powerful little book about showing up every day and just trusting yourself to do the work, regardless of and unworried about the outcome. The whole thing is a great read, but Godin really had me writing in the margins when he wrote “we can’t always do much about how we feel…[b]ut we can always control our actions. Your work is too important to be left to how you feel today.”
Because I always say the same thing about running…
You’ve got the order all wrong.
After all, if you lie in bed waiting to be in the mood to run, you’re not going to go running very often—because you’ve got the order mixed up. The good feeling comes after. The energy, the focus, the motivation to do more—they aren’t the reason you start a run. They’re a byproduct of doing the running. Of committing to do something and then actually showing up and doing it over and over and over again, even when your mostly rational mind is doing a very good job of asking why you ever wanted to do this stupid running thing in the first place while it comes up with a dozen better ways to spend your pre-sunrise hours.
Godin can link his advice to art while I say the same thing about running because it’s all really just a part of life. He says that creativity is an act, not a feeling. Well, being a runner, or a writer, or a photographer, or, heck, even an entrepreneur is, too. You know what you are when you’re in the middle of your first short, slow, ugly run? You’re a damned runner.
Whatever you were made for, whatever matters to you—it’s too important to be at the mercy of how your ego wants to spend the day. After all, there’s no legacy in intent. No gravestone reads, “here lies Chelsea. She was smart enough to really make a difference but she was just so damned tired all of the time.”
Of course it’s hard.
Basic physics tells us that if something isn’t moving it’s not going to start moving unless it’s hit with some force. And the same goes for an object in motion—it’s just going to keep trucking along at the same pace and in the same direction unless something knocks it off course. Your mind wants what it’s used to, even if what it’s used to isn’t so great. Unless you act with some real force against your comfortable old routine, nothing will change.
You don’t have to know where it’s leading—there’s no “final destination” in all of this, so what would that mean anyway? You just have to point yourself in what feels like the right general direction and start moving. Don’t worry, you can correct course along the way. And you will, so don’t bother with overthinking too many steps ahead now.
You are never not ready to start.
You are enough. Today, right now. Enough. You are not going to be more, or more ready, in a week or 6 months or 10 years. Just show up and start doing as the version of you that you are today.
And don’t judge your total beginner’s ineptitude, either. Being a beginner is awesome. One day on this path you’re going to look back wistfully at the time when everything was new, when your learning felt exponential, when you didn’t know enough to know what was impossible. Just have fun exploring. If this is the space that you create for yourself to learn and grow, failure doesn’t even mean anything anymore. It’s all just a cycle of doing and learning. You DNF’ed a race? Your first business didn’t take off how you’d hoped? You bombed at the open mic? Congratulations!! You’re challenging yourself enough to fail sometimes. Tell me what you learned and move on.
There’s even power in the act itself.
The other cool thing about showing up and taking action is that the act itself is powerful. It’s not just that you’re building toward expertise or a finish line or any other specific outcome.
- There’s power in keeping promises to yourself. And there’s destruction in breaking them. If a friend told you over and over again that she was going to do something for you, but then when the time came she never showed up, how much faith would you have in her? How different would that be if she showed up every time she told you she would? Spoiler alert: You’re the friend. Keep your promises to yourself.
- Not to mention that your actions shape your identity, especially as they become habits. Like they say, dress for the job you want. That might be, in part, as a signal to the people around you. But it’s also a message to yourself that you’re worthy and the sort of person who does these sorts of things. Act like the version of you that you want to be. And if it ever feels like you’re just faking it, remember: A runner is someone who runs. A writer is someone who writes. A speaker is someone who speaks. So what exactly do you think you’re faking?
- And also? Discipline is a muscle. Start in one area of your life and see how it grows. It’s hard to run a marathon and leave the experience without a better sense of self control in the rest of your life.
Brace yourself: You’re going to suck.
All that talk about committing to the process is going to get really important once you ease out of the “absolute beginner” phase. That phase when everything is shiny and new and you’re amazed that you can do anything at all. The more you learn, the more your good eye is going to start to criticize your beginner’s work as it compares to everything that you’re seeing and learning. Remember that early joy of being a beginner who had no idea how much there was to learn and how much you didn’t know? Your inner critic is going to come swinging for her more and more the more armed she is with outside knowledge. This part can be so tough mentally. You are developing your eye for what you think is “good” and your own skill set hasn’t anywhere near caught up yet. Push through this. There’s a light on the other side. But first…
You’re still going to think you suck.
But this time, you’ll be wrong. This time, it’ll be something called imposter syndrome—that voice in the back of your head whispering that you’re a fraud, that you don’t belong, and that soon, everyone will find out you’re not as capable or talented as they think. It’s common, especially among people who are really pushing their boundaries and venturing into new or challenging territory. Ironically, and somewhat tragically given how effective a silencer it can be, it often hits the most dedicated and skilled among us the hardest—precisely because both their high standards and their acute awareness of just how much they don’t know can amplify their self-doubt.
The truth about imposter syndrome, though, is that it’s a sign that you’re pushing past your comfort zone. It’s not a signal of inadequacy at all, but evidence that you’re still seeking to learn and working to improve. So if you’re feeling it, good on you. Embrace what it means and keep moving forward.
If it persists, and it will, it can help to share these feelings with people you trust in your space. They’ll probably feel better hearing you talk about it, so you’ll be helping them out, too. Celebrate your achievements along the way, no matter how small. And when in doubt, make your mantra “how can I add value” instead of “how can I achieve perfection”.
Because it will always just be one foot in front of the other.
Over time, the empowering thing about being a beginner will become the humbling thing about being a master. No matter what, it’s always just one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
Most able bodied adults with two legs or the equivalent can take a step. Repeat that 6,000 times and you’ve covered a 5K. Do that a little more than 4 times and you’ve finished a half marathon. Then do that twice and you’ve finished your full marathon. It’s all the same base movement that we’ve done millions of times, but 99% of the population will never cross the finish line of a full.
I’m not writing this to tell you that you should run a full marathon. I’m writing it to tell you that if you want to, you can. You just need to show up and practice those same steps over and over again until the finish line is just an inevitable byproduct. As it turns out, most things in life are like this. You can probably get really got at almost anything—it’s just a matter of deciding what consistent work you’re willing to do.
Find something that makes you daydream about the process as much as the finish line and you’ve got yourself your life’s work.
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