What to do when facing the dread of an onerous task?
A worry often comes with it. Maybe we’re worried that we can’t do it. Maybe we fear that any attempt would reveal an ineptitude. Maybe we cling to an idea that it must be “perfect” before it even lands on the page.
So the phrase,
comes from ourselves or a well-meaning other.
Either way, we are feeling overwhelmed or unable and hope to lighten our anxiety, to find a crack in the concrete for action to take root.
Sometimes the “do your best” spell works. We are able to engage, sitting at the-thing-of-dread and cranking away until its done, often at the eleventh hour.
The trouble is that even in those rare occasions that “do your best” does work, the pressure remains, its presence often reflected in the work—whether mistakes in the wording, or a headache lurking in the music.
And if you make it through, you might ask, “Did I really try my best?” That same fear of trying-revealing-ineptitude could even be worsened, having strained what mental muscles remain.
What even is your “best”?
Even if you fully devote your time and attention to a task from conception until completion, we could argue that this would not be the “best”. After all, there’s a lot gained from the moments of pausing between sessions. Setting things aside in a rhythmic relax and resume aerates a mind’s fertility allowing for those “aha!” moments that we all stumble into from time to time.
Rather than seek a “best”, consider seeking iteration. A lovely turn of phrase is Hemingway’s:
The quote's beauty is that the word “shit” can mean either useless or, more importantly, fertilizer.
Iteration allows us to begin. Regardless of quality, whatever we put to paper is a start, a state of existence in stark contrast to nothing at all. Working a moment at a time, returning refreshed with some regularity, we can now build and re-build.
Often, we can discover something new. Whatever is created over time, formed in a saltatory motion from one node of a session to the next, is richer in nature than had we pushed ourselves in some strained motion.
At some point, it is enough. We are done. It is much easier to decide to turn in work when it exists at all than when it is still a blank page, regardless of any mythical “best” or “perfection”.
PS - I would like to improve my newsletter signup page with links to favorite letters. Could you let me know of any newsletters I've written that you've found particularly enjoyable or useful? You can find my newsletter feed here.
PPS - Responses to last week's, The Dog, were just awesome and heartfelt. Some of you even sent some adorable pictures. Owning a dog has been quite the adjustment, but the smiles keep growing.