Leaping in the Absence of a Net

I’ve been playing it too safe lately.

I haven’t spent enough nights racing against a deadline, pushing to get a piece finished, or leaning into territory that is well past my comfort zone.

Complacency is a manhole that many self-employed folks are prone to falling into and while I haven’t exactly fallen in I do have one foot hovering over the abyss. I’m usually a hard-driving boss but I feel that lately my motivation has slipped. Not having regular, hard-edged deadlines and an external superior that I must report to can have that effect.

That’s why sometimes it’s a good idea to do something a bit drastic, to leap without having a net and create a situation for yourself where you MUST make things happen.

It’s why, in the past, I would agree to teach classes in a subject that I am unfamiliar with.

“Of course I can teach kite-making!”

Then off I’d rush to the library to find out how to make kites (yes, that’s right, LIBRARY. This was back in the day before the interwebs).

It’s why I would quit my job and move to the west coast of Canada two months before receiving my acceptance into the (then named) Emily Carr College of Art & Design.

“If I don’t get in this time, I’ll just apply again next year!”

[Thankfully, I was accepted – it would have really bruised my ego if I hadn’t been.]

Leap, little unicorn – and keep reaching for those rainbows!

Leaping without a net has rewarded many for their boldness.

I’m going to share an anecdote with you. It’s from a television program I watched well over a decade ago. I can’t remember names but the details are seared into my memory. It may sound a bit like an urban myth that can’t be fact-checked but it illustrates the Risk Equals Reward concept beautifully.

A young fashion designer, wearing one of her own creations, was riding on the subway. A stranger complimented her on her dress and asked where she got it. “I made it,” she replied. The stranger then introduced herself as a buyer for a major department store and asked the designer if she had a collection. The young designer didn’t but said, “Absolutely”. The stranger gave her a business card and told her to bring her collection by the store on Monday morning. It was Friday afternoon. The young designer went immediately to buy fabric and spent the weekend designing and sewing a collection. She took her freshly minted fashions into the meeting and her entire collection was bought (and then came fame and fortune and etc., etc.).

I know, I know – it sounds too good to be true, right? Anyhow…

It’s in the spirit of this potentially fictional anecdote that I signed myself up for a grant review session in a week’s time when I barely had the application started. If I hadn’t committed to this review session I was afraid that I would have done my usual avoidance dance and then given up entirely.

Not this time.

Because I signed up for the review session I made a point of scheduling time to work on filling out the application. I blocked out one hour on five different days to plug away at the questions.

I prioritized the grant work because I had an appointment with a grant officer (fear of shame is a horrible thing, but in this case it was a great motivator). In a week’s time I had completed all the written work and had time to revise the draft. The result of leaping before I had a net was that on the day of my grant review I was in fine form with only my images left to choose and upload.

Giving myself some gentle pressure in this way worked so well that I’m going to use these three steps when applying to other complex calls for submission:

1. Start the process early

2. Give yourself a hard deadline for having your application ready to review

3. Schedule an appointment with someone to review your application well in advance of the actual deadline (in the absence of a grant officer, ask a friend to review for you and give them permission to hold you accountable if you waffle or try to back out)

Leaping without a net doesn’t always result in a happy ending; failure is an ever-present option. The alternative, though, is waiting until everything feels safe enough to move forward, and rarely do we humans consider all conditions as being perfect. In my case it meant backing out of grant or residency proposals because the timing wasn’t right, or my project didn’t seem right, or I didn’t have the work documented the way I wanted to. Or, or, or…

Falling into the habit of playing it safe (aka Manhole of Complacency) makes it more likely that we’ll never do the grand things we hope to. That doesn’t sit well with me, so I’m going to do my best to inflict just the right amount of self-imposed “danger” to keep my motivation humming.

Do you wait for the net to appear before you take action, or are you more of a jump-in-with-both-feet-even-if-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing kinda person?

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