Something I see constantly in the self-development sphere is “Just start doing what you want to do.” At first I thought it was novel and while in many cases it is, I found it quite annoying after the first few times I came across it.
The problem with this statement is that it assumes a level of understanding about yourself. It seems to assume that you’ve discovered (or that you innately know) something that’s become a burning passion.
That’s all well and good, but what do you do if like me (and I suspect many of our fellow nerds) you really have no idea what you want to do with your life?
I suspect this question has more to do with lack of experience than anything else. As nerds we tend to hyper-internalize things, thus when we make a mistake we often think we’ve failed and that tends to be linked with ridicule (I’m filling in a lot with my internal processes here). With that type of thinking, it generally means we don’t want to try new things for fear of falling flat on our faces.
The funny thing about that line of thinking is that it tends to create a vary narrow frame of focus for nerds and thus a very narrow comfort zone. While the former can be and often is a huge asset the later is never a good thing.
How did things get like this?
Well, generally things tend to progress like this: from the time you’re born up until you’re around 6 or 7 years old you think you’re good at everything, so you try everything that’s put in front of you. If you fall down, you get back up and keep going at it. Think about watching a baby learn to walk, they fall down and try to get back up and keep going.
Once you hit about 7 years old (oddly enough about the same time kids in the US enter public schools), you start coming to grips with the reality that you’re not necessarily good at everything you do. Then depending on your temperament you may just keep trying or you might give up some things (things which you may have become been good at and enjoyed).
When I was teaching martial arts, I would teach intro lessons to children all the time (kids make up about 75 – 90% of most martial art school populations). During the lesson I would stop and ask the kids how high they think they can kick and have them show me with their hands. The 4, 5, and 6 year olds would stand all the way up on their tip-toes and hold their hands as high as they could, if they didn’t just point at the ceiling. Contrast that with most 7 to about 16 year-olds they respond by holding their hands at about waist height. (once they start getting a little older it starts moving up, but still grossly underestimated)
So the question becomes how can you get some of “little kid” spunk back?
I think the first thing you need to do is understand that everyone is a “white belt” the first time they try something. (White Belt is the beginner rank in many martial arts schools) Thinking back in your life, how many things were you able to do perfectly or even passably the first time you tried it? I personally can’t think of anything off the top of my head.
I want you stop for a moment. Think about something you learned to do in the past, picture yourself doing it. Now I want you to think about what it took to get to the level that you’re at now. See all the attempts you made when you first started, see the mistakes you made along the way.
How painful were those mistakes? Did everyone that saw you do it (if anyone) make fun of you for it?
Chances are probably not, I dare say if it’s something you enjoy people more than likely encouraged you when you working at it
After dealing with the fear of failure, I think the next place to go is allowing yourself to try new things.
The best way I know how to do that is to say yes to things. Yeah it’s a flashback Yesman, but if you think about it, saying no to new things doesn’t leave you the option of being able to experience them. If you can’t experience them then how will you ever know if you like them. The old bit about “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” applies here.
So what can you do right now?
- Brainstorm a list of things you want to try, don’t censor yourself. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, think back to when you were a kid, what did you want to do. Again, don’t censor yourself.
- Once you’ve written the list, narrow it down to 10 items.
- After narrowing the list down, write out the first thing you would need to do to get started with each of them.
- Once that’s been done, mark the tasks that you can do immediately.
- Pick one and get to it!
Congratulations! You’ve just tried something new! But don’t stop there, keep going and see if you see if you like it as much as you thought you would. If you end up not liking it, you still tried something new and you know something you don’t like.
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