Have you ever had a really big idea? An idea so big that the more you thought about making it happen, the more excited — and terrified — you became?
Ideas are abstract in the sense that we can’t measure them by weight or mass or density. You can’t put an idea on a scale and judge its worth or put a price tag on it based on the numbers it spits out.
But ideas are emotionally charged. Often times, you can tell whether or not something is worth chancing just by the way it makes you feel.
Of course, sometimes we act based on how we feel and it completely backfires, in the most extreme of cases. Sometimes we just try something out to see what might happen and eventually we lose interest and the thing we were once so excited to start gradually fades into oblivion, never to be resurrected.
Unfortunately, it’s this possibility that we might give an idea a chance only to be betrayed by its emotional facade that stops many people from pursuing the projects and businesses and dreams that once brought them warm sensations of hope.
People are afraid to fail. Most of us now are rasied to believe failing is some kind of warped, unforgivable sin. We have it drilled into our heads that if we try something and don’t succeed, either something is wrong with “the system” or something is wrong with US.
Here’s some truth you might need to hear: The only way to fail is to avoid trying.
Trying and not succeeding is, by definition, failing. But I don’t agree with the way that comes off to people who have been conditioned to back away from anything that implies they were wrong to attempt something. I prefer much less harsh phrasing. “Didn’t reach a goal.” “Fell short of expectations.” “Didn’t quite make it.”
I’m not sugar-coating the fact that mistakes happen and we have to take responsibility for our own. If you started writing a book and didn’t finish it, that’s on you, and it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to make a second attempt and learn from the first one.
What happens, though, if you have a really big idea you can’t stop thinking about? Like, you want to move to Hollywood and start on a path to becoming a screenwriter? Or you want to turn your years’ worth of blog posts into a course or book? Or you want to, for whatever reason, attempt to write a million words in 365 days even though you know it might actually kill you?
Do you go for the big idea, knowing you might fail? Do you weigh the pros and cons for months before coming to a decision, or do you just jump into it? Do you approach it rationally, or let your creative instincts take over?
I would love to say that every time, your best bet is to take your idea and run with it, no matter the cost. But I think it would be irresponsible to imply that everyone reading this is privileged enough to even be able to consider making that choice.
The reality is, you can’t necessarily just quit your job today, or move your entire young family across the country, or spend every penny you’ve ever earned without guarantee of financial security. It’s one thing to dream. It’s another to be recklessly impulsive in pursuit of something you’re not sure you could live without.
But I’m not saying you can’t, or shouldn’t, make your big idea happen. You absolutely should.
You just have to take baby steps to get there. Such as taking screenwriting courses while you save up the funds for a sustainable move, or starting a rough outline, or writing 3,000 words this weekend.
Just because an idea is big doesn’t mean you have to make big strides all at once to put it into motion. Some of the world’s biggest ideas spent years in the development stage before becoming real. You just don’t see or hear about those years, because they’re the montage scenes in all the Hollywood biopics and nothing more.
Go big. Shoot for the stars, as they say. But don’t build a rocket ship and fly there yourself tomorrow. Buy a telescope and chart your course. I hate this metaphor but I’m fully committed to it now so bear with me.
Taking chances, trying things out — that’s better than nothing. You could spend your whole life dreaming of being in space. Reading books about going to space. Watching movies about space.
Or you could take very small steps closer to getting there every single day. Go big, or go nowhere. But take things slow. Take your time. Learn how to do it right. Build up the confidence you need to make it happen, and the resilience required to get back up every time you crash.
But never, under any circumstance, stop believing you can do it. THAT is what will lead to failure. Try. That’s all anyone is asking of you. Try.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.