The Courage to do Nothing
If you‘re like me, you want to clear your desk every night before you head home. You want to make sure that anything that might impair you that evening at home is off the to-do list and out of your mind. Then you’ll be able to relax without having unresolved work issues hanging over your head.
Now this is a very good strategy to rid you of repetitive paperwork/accounting/office management. But it can be the death knell for creative work. Forcing yourself into making a decision about a particular project just to get it off your desk will bite you in the ass later on. I can’t tell you how often I’m haunted by the consequences of my hurry up and move on decisions. If you see me walking down the street cringing, you’ll know I just remembered one.
And don’t forget business decisions are creative work too.
Whether or not you should make that call and press for better terms with that vendor may seem like a run of the mill decision, but it’s not. You need to creatively think about what it is that decision will do for you. You may win a marginal short term victory, but your vendor may hate you for being such a penny pincher that she does the least amount possible to keep you happy. Your inventory is mishandled so your customers return more goods and are dissatisfied etc.
Making the call and pressing for a reduced fee may be the right choice. But until you sit with the problem for a little while and map out the pros and cons of a decision, you’re running on “first draft-itis.” And no one should see your first draft of anything.
Why do we do this?
We do it to avoid confrontation. It deflates our anxiety, gives us “thank God I got that over with” relief.
It’s important to remember though that life is conflict. It just is. These are why stories, things built on the bedrock of conflict, are so important to us.
That doesn’t mean that it is all about screaming or passive aggressively getting your way. It means that in any human interaction, there is a clash of one kind or another. We communicate in order to figure out where we differ (where should we go to eat?) and then we confront the controversy and make it go away (how about a Mexican restaurant?). If you both love Mexican food, problem solved. If one of you wants Sushi, then there’s stress.
The courage to do nothing is all about remembering that you don’t know everything. You are capable of changing your ideas about things. You can hold two opposing thoughts in your head without jumping off a cliff. Really you can. You can hate taxes and also believe that the government should raise them to help people incapable of taking care of themselves.
When I went away to college, I’d never eaten Japanese food, Chinese food, Indian food, and on and on. I was a Mook who’d only eaten meat, potatoes and canned green beans. Food was fuel where I grew up, not entertainment.
Was I an idiot because I’d never tasted Baked Alaska? Of course not.
But if I’d refused to have the courage back then to do nothing when new friends who’d traveled outside of their area code before insisted we get some Pad Thai, I’d never have eaten anything more exotic than a cheeseburger.
It’s the same thing with your novel or your screenplay or your plumbing supply business. You are going to confront major and minor problems creating these works of art (and if you don’t think running a plumbing supply business requires art, you’ve never tried to manage more than one thing at a time). The perfect answers will not come to you off the top of your head.
Take a minute, an hour, an evening, to let your ideas stew.
It’s a lot harder to do nothing than you may think…