A friend of mine recently started a dating challenge, and you can take a look on her Instagram page - the link is at the end of this post. One of her (many) reasons for embarking on this challenge was to lower the stakes when she met guys so that she could get comfortable being herself in those situations. You can read about her other reasons on her page. I loved the idea and it also got me to thinking about how I had lowered the stakes in my own life over the past two years, and as a result finished a few projects that I would not have had the courage to even begin several years ago. I am a recovering perfectionist. It doesn’t mean that everything I did was perfect (by any stretch of the imagination) but what it meant in practice was that I didn’t want to embark on a project until I had it perfectly planned out in my head, and I could be assured of the perfect result. Except, that’s crazy isn’t it? Much of the time we don’t have as much control over the outcome as we think!
An example I will use is my book - which is now in the final stages with my editor! I have always wanted to write a book - since I was a child! Over the years the desire waxed and waned (although it never went away) but there was one thing standing in my way from starting it - I didn’t think I had good enough ideas. And as the years went by, I realized that I put more and more pressure on myself to come up with that perfect idea that would be the perfect book. And if I didn’t have it was there any point in starting and writing something mediocre? I put it off for so long, that it became this giant undertaking in my head until I had just about convinced myself it would never happen. Then I decided to start the blog. Looking back on it, this was my way of lowering the stakes. I didn’t need to have a fantastic idea that I would write three to four hundred pages on, I just needed to riff on a topic for a few paragraphs.
In the past, that would have seemed like a cop-out to me. Why write a blog when what I really wanted was to see my name as an author on the front of my book? But the truth is - sometimes when the stakes are lowered, I am willing to take so many more risks, and I am willing to release the “mediocre” version. For some reason, I was ok with imperfection when I was working on something that wasn’t “the thing”. And the lesson I learned from that was - sometimes clarity, competence - even excellence comes through doing, through practice, through being mediocre at something and working on it consistently over time. Through writing my blog, I gained the clarity and confidence to write the first draft of my book, I gained the courage to work with my editor and finally I feel comfortable releasing it out into the world. I always imagined writing a fictional novel. Through completing one book, I feel confident in my ability to complete a book, and that has encouraged me to try a hand at the fiction book I always wanted to write. Sometimes we need to lower the stakes and do the thing that isn’t “the thing” in order to gain our confidence.
I have seen this played out in other instances. Sometimes it seems like getting older made me afraid to fail, to look stupid, to produce something that might be judged substandard, and when those fears are attached to something that is super important to me, the stakes seem so much higher that I talk myself out of it before I even start. When it is something that is less important, I put less judgement onto it and more curiousity. I treat it as an experiment, and if one thing doesn’t work, I try another. I am far more creative, and I am not less afraid to fail at something that doesn’t feel like it matters so much. If it doesn’t meet the timeline, I am less disappointed, and I learn so many valuable lessons along the way that equip me to work on “the thing”. This entire process on the whole lessened my tendency to be a perfectionist when I realized that it is only through tackling what is lovingly called “The Shitty first draft” that I gained the confidence and skill required to do something better and better. And I faced the truth that the imperfect finished book (or other thing) that is out there in the world is times better than the perfect thing trapped in my head.
While I am definitely in favour of facing the fear and doing the thing you want to do and not being super worried about judgement, I speak from experience when I say that for me that was harder than it sounded, and the perfect bridge for me from where I am to where I want to be is to lower the stakes and work on the smaller version of what I really want. There is much to be said for getting my hands dirty, for celebrating the small wins, and for showing myself that when I don’t put too much pressure on my shoulders, I can finish what I started while gaining the skills needed to tackle the even bigger goals.
So what is the low stakes version for you? Perhaps you want a new job and you are waiting for the “perfect thing” to come through your inbox - maybe you could do some volunteering and see if you can get a better feel for trying something different. Perhaps you want to write that book - why not try Nanowrimo (link also at the end of this post!) - no one is looking over your shoulder so you can write to your heart’s content. You want to create some more art? Try a paint and sip class and get those creative juices flowing. Sometimes when the stakes are low, you can create something amazing - your own courage to chase after your biggest goals and dreams.
I send you big love from a small island.
Here are the links I mentioned:
https://www.instagram.com/kissdatinghello/ if you want to learn more about the dating challenge
And click here to learn about Nanowrimo - if you want to write that books in a low stakes, no pressure fashion. Remember - no one is looking over your shoulder!!
PS - the photo above is one of the "low stakes" photos I took in my first photography class.