As I write this, it’s after midnight on Tuesday, less than ten hours before this post is supposed to go up. I briefly considered not taking the time to finish this, and instead just posting a “sorry, try again next week” message—but only briefly. Because I don’t do that anymore. I don’t fail just to see what the consequences will be.
It took me a long time to realize that I was doing this. Any time I got into a new project or started a new job, I would always blow a deadline early on, or oversleep and show up late for work, or otherwise fail to meet expectations. I would never do it consciously, but looking back, I’m pretty sure there was subconscious intent. It wasn’t just random happenstance that caused me to underperform in such a predictable manner.
I suppose part of me thought this was a valid, even scientific thing to do: how will you know the consequences for failure in a particular situation, whether professional or personal, unless you test the waters a little? And isn’t it better to miss a small deadline than to completely screw up a bigger project later?
Perhaps it was also an immature defense mechanism, a way of telling people not to depend on me because I might let them down. But whatever caused me to behave that way, it was pretty stupid. And I don’t do that any more.
I’m proud of the fact that while I was doing 512 Words or Fewer, I did not miss a single one of the 256 consecutive weeks of posting flash fiction every Friday. True, sometimes it wouldn’t be until Friday afternoon, and sometimes I would schedule posts ahead of time—when I knew I would be traveling or otherwise engaged on Thursday—but even that required planning and dedication. I made a promise, and I kept it.
But even more than the promise, the 512s were something that mattered to me. And I guess that’s the real lesson here. I’ve always been willing to slack off when it came to things I didn’t feel very passionate about, but when it’s something that really matters to me—The Game, NaNoWriMo, family and friends—I don’t make excuses for not getting things done. I figure out how to finish the job.
That’s a whole lotta words, but maybe Ryan Gosling can say it more succinctly.
The other part of this is that I’ve learned how to budget my time better and how to say no. There’s a lot of really cool stuff in the world I could do, but there are only so many hours in the day. If I don’t think I can do something—and do it at least competently, if not perfectly—I won’t commit to it. That’s not to say I won’t still overreach now and then, letting my enthusiasm overrule my analysis. But I do it a lot less than I used to.
It’s easy to fail. It’s easy to say you’ll do something, and then do nothing. But in the long run, doing stuff is better, and reliability is a hugely underrated talent. Marshmallows!