How to follow through
Getting stuff done is easy. Except when it’s not.
Someone I’m mentoring is struggling to finish projects. He has a fine time getting started, but can’t seem to follow through. I guess he’d seen How Love Lasts a couple years ago and was moved as much by the play itself as by the fact that I’d even done it at all. The other day, he asked,
So how did you finish it?
I laughed because the first answer that popped into my head was, “Well, finishing stuff is easy if your entire sense of self-worth is wrapped up in whether or not you finish stuff!”
Now, before you start envying me for my ego... let me clarify:
By “ego” I don’t mean the kind that’s often lauded in small doses — the kind associated with confidence and vision. I mean egoic fear of death. Abject terror at the prospect of not being a “good” person, because if I’m not a good person, then no one will love me or hire me or work for me, and then I’ll be left outside in the cold to die alone. I was so afraid of not doing what I said I would do that it didn’t even occur to me that not finishing something was an option.
This doesn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t have finished those projects if it weren’t for ego. But it does mean I’ll never know how the experience might have felt — how the final product might have turned out — if I hadn’t been coming from a place of fear of failure to follow through.
On the flipside, there was one show at The City Shakespeare Company I know I wouldn’t have directed if it weren’t for ego. I felt called a few weeks before rehearsals began to scrap the production and move in another direction. But I was so afraid of disappointing the actors we’d already cast, and being a person who doesn’t do what she says she’ll do, that I chickened out of quitting, and did the show anyway.
I walked into that rehearsal process with resistance. I had one foot out the door and everyone could feel it. One actor I hadn’t worked with before intuited my resistance to the point of believing I had no directorial vision at all. His resistance to doing his job directly mirrored my own. It got to the point where I ended up firing him from the show because we couldn’t get on the same page. The irony was not lost on me that in my desperate attempt to avoid disappointing actors by canceling the show, I inadvertently wound up creating even more upset in the company by firing one of their cast-mates.
That wildly difficult conversation was the kick in the pants I needed to accept the fact that I had made this decision to go against my instincts, and so I sure as hell better follow through now. My wisdom kicked in and ultimately made it work. The show wound up being the funniest one I’ve ever directed, so I can’t say I regret the product. But, would I trade the final product to do the process differently? Hell yes.
The point is this: I’ll never know what would have unfolded if I had followed my instincts to not do the show in the first place. What opportunities might have been lying on the other side of that decision?
So here I am years later, and someone is asking me how I finish projects.
What’s changed? What do I do now?
My answer to him is about surrendering. I finish projects now when I’m inspired moment by moment to do so. It sounds like a cop-out, but truly, that’s what I do.
It is the only way to do — it is the way we do our best work — it is the way we feel secure every step of the way. Most of all, it is the only way to know when the wind is blowing us in another direction that we’re meant to go.
So now, I’m not attached to finishing projects. I’m attached to staying in flow. No, that’s not it — I surrender to staying in flow. Because I don’t see that there’s another option — at least not a better one.
So. How do you make yourself follow through? I don’t necessarily recommend that you do anything to make yourself follow through. I recommend you search the part of yourself that knows exactly what to do next — whatever that is — and you listen.
If trying very hard to make stuff happen isn’t working — if it hurts to cling to an image of who you think you’re supposed to be — why not try something else? Why not try surrendering to the part of you that doesn’t give a shit about who you’re meant to be? Give it a shot. See what you find.
You can handle the consequences, and so can those around you. The world needs you to do exactly what you know deep down you‘re meant to do. The time is now. Let’s go!