Getting things done is intimidating – until you start

October 19, 2010 Posted by bob in Uncategorized

My biggest lesson from U.S. History class in High School didn’t have anything to do with History. It was a lesson that’s stuck with me ever since, and it has affected me in many aspects of my life. Getting things done is really intimidating, until you start.

Within the first month we had our initial assignment, but this was an AP class, not a regular history class. Our task was to write three essays, and we had a week to do it. I went through so many emotions; anger, outrage, frustration, hopelessness. I started to do the work but it was impossibly daunting. There was so much that I didn’t know, so much research to be done. Each question could have been a masters thesis and seemed to require citation of dozens of materials. I remember crying to my dad. He couldn’t do anything for me, though. Ultimately, I got it done, and on time, by just getting started.

My problem, and my major block, was knowing that I didn’t know enough. There was no way I could read all that I needed to to make a cohesive and complete argument. I had to give that up. The trick was to start with a decision already, start writing, then look for supporting facts in my research materials. I didn’t need to find the right answer; I needed to be able to defend my answer. This worked most of the time, because our lectures were usually on the topic of the essays and we had a good idea, but it didn’t always happen that way. Sometimes I would start with a thesis, but in the process discover that it was completely wrong. Since I had already started, and was already in the process, it was easier to go back and modify than it would have been to start over. Eventually I would get to the right answer anyway.

At the beginning of the school year, it took me the whole duration to write the three essays, which were assigned every week, but almost all of that time was just trying to get started. By the end of the year, and for the AP test, I was producing all three essays in under an hour, at roughly 2-3 pages each. Sure, I had gotten better at researching, but I’d also become less intimidated by the assignments.

That’s been a lesson for many things. With skydiving, so much worry and preparation goes into that first jump, but after getting used to going through the motions, it becomes routine, and what seems like an impossible feat to those who haven’t done it yet is just another day for someone else.

The truth is everything is intimidating until you start doing it. Then you learn a lot really fast. Then you become good at it. If we all just accepted that once we started doing something it would be fine, and skipped the intimidation step, life would be a lot easier for everyone.

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