it never feels like the right time (+ week 3 check-in)

by Salvador Dali

I sat down today knowing exactly what I wanted to write, but when I finished the post it still felt incomplete. It was frustrating to be 70% of the way there—to be able to list pretty much paragraph by paragraph what I wanted to write—and yet feel like it wasn’t the right thing to send into the world. I’d slept terribly last night (~4 hours) and was too tired to do good work but too wired to nap. I wanted to lay in bed for two hours scrolling on my phone and call it a throwaway day.

Then I started thinking about an anecdote S’ dad told him. He’s been an author for decades, so a lot of people come to him for advice on how to start writing. He said that most of these people get fixated on over-optimizing the conditions they’re working in (do they have the perfect office setup? Do they have enough free time? Do they have the right idea?) and end up never writing at all because they keep blaming their environment. Which, of course, is a great illustration of that William Feather line about how people who “delay action until all factors are favorable do nothing.”

I decided I would finish the post. The truth is that I’m basically always sleep-deprived and overscheduled. Well, always is an exaggeration, but a solid 60% of the time I’m annoyingly sore from a workout or drank one cocktail too many the night before or wish I slept three more hours. If I threw away every single day I felt kind of meh I would literally never get anything done. That’s why for years I worked out in this incredibly irregular way—I would assess whether I felt like working out that day and most of the time I just didn’t.

The way I hear this framed in hustle porn is typically motivation vs. discipline. But the way I think about it is even simpler: remembering that it almost never feels like the right time. Expecting things to feel right is a trap because it means your actions are dependent on some arbitrary set of conditions you’ve decided is necessary in your mind. But you don’t actually need to wait to act—your supposedly “essential” conditions are probably made up.

I once read this great blogpost that used the analogy of keeping your inventory low. The author used inventory as an metaphor for things that you’re currently waiting on, the preconditions that need to be fulfilled before you act. For example, I want to hear about back this job before I apply for others. Or I need to lose weight before I wear this dress. Or, I need to have closure from my crush before I can move on and start dating other people. To be clear, sometimes the preconditions are real, but often they aren’t and you don’t actually need to wait for X to happen before you do Y. One way of keeping inventory low is to set self-imposed deadlines: if I don’t hear back in a week, I move on. Or you could just decide that the precondition doesn’t really matter.

If you have too many preconditions, you end up with a million excuses separating you from the thing you actually want to do. You never leave your job and you stay in your terrible relationship and you never start learning the thing you want to learn. You never start writing because you’re fixated on trying to buy the perfect pen and the perfect desk.

I was reading A Ghost in the Throat this week, which is a very good and unusual memoir about the author’s obsession with an 18th century Irish mourning poem. It is very explicitly a female text, and many pages are spent describing her experience with motherhood (at the time she was writing the book she had four young children). Small children are clearly mind-warpingly time-consuming, and I was amazed that she wrote this book while shouldering so much responsibility, while she had such tight crannies of time. It made me realize that I have a lot of time—a lot a lot of time—and I should honor my time by doing the things I know I want to do even when it never feels like the perfect moment to do them.

Waiting can be seductive—why now when later is so easy to fantasize about? But in the end how we approach our days is how we approach our lives. If it’s the wrong time every single day then it will never be the right time. On the other hand, if you stop waiting for the right time you can do what you want right here and now.

Week 3 check-in

Hi! I thought this week’s essay was pretty thematically appropriate for our group. How the week is going for me:

  1. 500 words of the new writing project every day

    3/5: did 2000 words this week! I don’t really know what shape this is taking, but it’s so early that I feel okay with that. To keep myself accountable I’ll post a small excerpt in next week’s check-in.

  2. Post on Substack 2x a week

    5/5: Despite still being sleep-deprived, I did get more sleep this week, and I’ve adjusted more to having a puppy around. Which has overall made it easier to stay on track! Though if you read the post above you can see I still have my struggles lol. But the end result is what counts!

  3. Go to the gym 4x a week

    4/5: I think I did 3x last week but my lifts are going up, which is nice. I have a strength imbalance in my legs because I figure skated for a few years (left leg is stronger than right), which manifested in a hip shift at the bottom of my squat. But since I started working with a trainer it’s gotten a lot better and I feel safe adding more weight! V happy.

Tell me how your week is going and what you made! (Also, I had the thought that I could text you guys about checking in every week for added accountability (if you wanted)? I don’t know if that’s weird. If you’d like that feel free to email me your phone number. Alternatively I could to make a Whatsapp group or something?)