In Which Everything Takes a Long Time But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Worth Doing

Here’s something I’ve learned about myself in the last 6-8 years of living: I get real antsy when something takes a long time to accomplish.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if my college career is any indication, I probably would’ve started building Rome two days before it was due, and done 90% of the work the night before they opened the city gates.

Seriously, my collegiate and professional life to this point has followed a very predictable cycle:

1. Get assigned to a project with a due date two weeks out.

2. Sleep on it for the first week and three days.

3. Start getting anxiety about it four days before it’s due.

4. Get a stomach ache from anxiety three days before it’s due.

5. Two days out, google something and call it “research,” or draw margins on a page and say “I started!” Feel the stomach ache begin to fade away.

6. The night before, do 90% of the work. This night is filled with self-loathing and, ironically, more stomach aches.

7. The morning of, do the last 10%. Hand it off and revel in the freedom of being out of the woods and fully impressed with myself for finishing something that looks pretty good in so short an amount of time.

8. Get assigned to another project with a due date two weeks out. Tell myself, “I’ve got time, I only need about 6 hours from start to finish,” and let the cycle begin again.

Fortunately, I’m beginning to learn something after all this time. Sometimes, to do a thing well (or even do it at all), it has to take a while.

For a long time, I loathed the idea of trying to pay off my student loans. It’s like taking one step up a ladder and falling back two steps every time—the concept (more accurately, the reality) of interest piling up on my unpaid loans, the lack of funds in my bank account to maintain a consistent payment schedule, and the cold, hard facts of working a minimum wage job at the time made me feel like making payments on my loans was futile. I would often daydream to myself, “maybe one day I’ll get like, a large sum of money for something, and I’ll be able to pay off all my loans in one fell swoop!” What a familiar feeling, to accomplish such a large goal in so short a time, to be out of the woods, and to be fully impressed with myself with doing something in less time than what was expected.

I did some math a few days ago, and with mine and my husband’s current payment schedule (in conjunction with using the debt snowball method—v. helpful), we can allegedly have all our debt paid off in approximately six years.

That feels like a long time. But unless I find $60,000 sitting under a tree somewhere, it’s going to have to take a long time.

All told, this desire to skip over anything requiring consistency and temporary discomfort is a common theme in my life. And I think when it’s boiled down, the core of this weird personality quirk is ultimately a fear of failure. It’s a scary thing to think that you could put an awful lot of time and effort and work and blood and sweat and tears into something only to watch it fail. I imagine it hurts a lot less to put in only a little time on the front end—then, if it fails, at least you didn’t waste a lot of time on it, right?

I’m learning that that’s no way to live. There are some things that you just can’t accomplish overnight that are still absolutely worth doing. To allow fear to disguise itself as procrastination and perfectionism is to let fear run my life and make my decisions for me. I can’t write a children’s book overnight. I can’t illustrate 25 spreads in three days (trust me, I’ve tried). But to let a fear of failure stop me from digging in and doing the hours of work, from picking up the task of drawing or painting a little bit every day, and from ultimately releasing something worthwhile and good into the world would be the biggest failure of all. If I do it, it has a chance to succeed. If I don’t do it, it never will. Even if it takes months to finish this book, whatever happens on the other side of the work will be good because doing the work was good. Whether the book is a success or not, I will have sat myself down in front of the work and overcome it, and that alone will be a success worth celebrating.

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