I have a confession to make. I don’t want to be a loser.
Soy un perdedor. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me. - Beck
I don’t like failing. But failure is a part of life. It’s not something I enjoy but I am coming around to accepting it. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of uncertainty. I’m afraid of doubt. Fear is the main root of why I procrastinate a lot on big projects. Sometimes, I’ll get assigned to a project that I have no knowledge of. It feels like a project that is outside my comfort zone. It’s a new project that demands skills that I don’t have. I’m gonna be found out as a failure because I have no clue what I’m doing. Yet, I was assigned to this big project because other people have the utmost confidence in me. They think I can pull a rabbit out of a hat…
My fear of failure has been a great psychological barrier for most of my life. I don’t want let other people down. I don’t want to look like I’m a failure If I don’t get it right the first time. But I think I can accept it. We fail all the time in life - big and small. I might not be able to take my kids to Disneyland this weekend. I might have yelled at someone in frustration but it wasn’t their fault. I might turn in disastrous results because I don’t know what I’m doing. I usually think that I only had one shot to get it right. If I’m gonna do it, I’d better do it right the first time.
Why do I procrastinate on big projects? So far, I’ve identified two issues that greatly affect me.
1. Fear of failure
I’m always scared of not being able to complete a big project because I suck at it. I keep trying to tell myself that I don’t want end up a loser or a failure. But s\•\•t happens and I fall down flat on my face sometimes. This was drummed into my head by my Asian parents…
Anything less than an ‘A’ grade is considered an Asian ‘F’!
I fail all the time. Sometimes I procrastinate because I don’t want to start a big project that terrifies me. I’m afraid that my results aren’t good enough and I look like the village idiot.
2. Fear of the unknown
I don’t want to look like the guy with egg on his face. I might be assigned a project that is way beyond my skills. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll be discovered as a fraud because I had no idea how my loud mouth got me into a new project. I had no qualifications beyond “I’m willing to give it a try.” But I freeze when I look at my computer. Yeah, I’m gonna look for something easier to do. I just don’t feel like it today. I’m constantly looking for excuses not to start on that scary project because I don’t know what I’m doing!
Overcoming my fears and stop procrastinating
The scope of a big project might be so big that it is intimidating. I don’t know how the Great Wall of China or the Giza pyramids were built. But someone did it.
How do you an elephant? One bite at a time.
Break up large projects into small sub-projects. Then break those sub-projects into next actions. Breaking down a huge project into small bits and pieces gives me the sense that I can actually do something. It is no longer the scary monster that I imagined it would be!
Release and re-iterate
I believe in second chances. The first time to work on a project is the scariest. I’m learning on the job. I find new obstacles that weren’t there during the planning stages. A job might take longer the first time because I am unfamiliar with any possible issues that might come up while working. It’s hard to bake a cake right the first time if I’m an absolute beginner at cooking.
I release a product (a blog post, an advertising campaign, a book, a software program) on a small scale and get feedback. In the beginning, I used to take criticism personally. Man, that dagger sure hurt. But I’ve learned to take such pains as constructive criticism. The first release will never be perfect. I get feedback to see what I can work on. I go back to the garage and fix what I can. Then i re-release it back out to the audience to see if I can fine-tune the direction of the project.
Embracing the unknown and discover something new
I don’t have to be scared of failure or of losing. Whenever I release a product out to market, I’m always looking for ways to improve it. I accept that it’s not perfect and there’s room for growth. My first release will never please everyone. But if it can show promise to a small part of my audience, I’m happy. I can build on that.
I see stinging reviews in technology all the time. Apple’s first MacBook Air was woefully underpowered. But Apple kept churning away and it become a best selling product. The first generation iPad was an interesting release but had many limitations. Many years later, the iPad Pro has become the first device where I can see it actually replacing my computer for most of my daily computer-related tasks.
It is interesting to see a big project grow and evolve over time. It can take me in new directions that I never dreamed of when I first started out. My first release will suck but I get a chance to try something new. I build up my big project piece by piece and work my way up. Now I scratch my head and wonder “what was I so scared of?” I should’ve started this a long time ago…