Fits and Starts

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time, of course.

But what if the thought of eating an elephant is really abhorrent? What if I don’t want to consume an animal that buries its dead and can communicate with its friends who are miles away?** What if I think that’s pretty much the worst metaphor for finishing a project that I’ve ever heard?

What do you have when you’re done eating an elephant? A whale of a stomachache, that’s for sure. And, well, nothing. The point of finishing is to get something, right? A medal, prestige, a degree, a new painting, an empty closet, peace of mind. It’s the end point that keeps you taking one more bite of that stinking carcass, right?

I used to call myself a passive perfectionist. I had such a strong desire to get it just perfect that I would put off all projects until I was so close to deadline that perfectionism wasn’t a possibility. At that point, I could set aside perfectionism for “just get it the heck done already!” It wasn’t the most efficient way to work, and it pretty much guaranteed that I never turned in a perfect or near-perfect (or even best-effort) term paper. But I graduated! From high school. And college. And graduate school.

Passive perfectionism (i.e. procrastination followed by frenzied efficiency) is a fine strategy for meeting deadlines. But it’s a terrible strategy for self-improvement. With self-improvement there are no meaningful deadlines. Sure, I can impose one on myself, but what happens if I miss it? An internal wagging finger and maybe a little self-loathing. Nothing I can’t handle. I’m not going to lose my job or get an F.

If I follow through at all on personal projects that don’t mean much to anyone else, I do it in fits and starts: I throw a fit, and I start again. Example:

FIT: “Holy crap, it’s been 2 weeks since I’ve written my first blog post, and I haven’t posted anything since! 14 days is like a millennium in Internet time! I must be the worst blogger in the world! No one will read anything I ever write again! I’m lazy! I suck! I’m George Costanza! I’m bad bad bad bad BAD!”

(re)START: Maybe I’ll just hit PUBLISH on this post and see what happens.

How do you follow through? I could seriously use some help on this one.

**They can seriously do this! Read this book if you want proof.