Fear of Failure
I may not have mentioned that last Thursday I got together with Lucy for dinner and conversation at Borrone. I haven't seen much of Lucy in recent months, partly because she's been finishing up her Associate's degree (yay Lucy!), and partly because I have not been terribly on the ball about getting together with friends for a while. (This seems to be changing; not only have I seen Lucy, and socialized with John and Anders lately, but CJ and I were throwing around the idea of getting together next week. But I digress.)
Lucy is looking forward to doing different things with her life in 2003. Discussing this, I mentioned that I was looking forward to doing... something with my life in 2003. Looking backwards, 2002 seems like a pleasant year but not a landmark one. Settling into my new house and working on my somewhat-less-new relationship, important things, both. But in some ways 2002 feels like an extension of 2001.
I don't need a major life change (I had plenty of those in 1999), but I'd like to do something. The most obvious something is to actually start writing, which I've talked about off and on for years, and have never made much progress on.
Context: Way, way back in 1993 I read Vernor Vinge's stellar novel A Fire Upon the Deep. While reading it I conceived of a short story which was titled "The Long Run", involving long-lived people with short-lived memories (an idea which also turns out to be window dressing in Kim Stanley Robinson's Icehenge). I've made several false starts on it, but never finished it. It's evolved in my head, gotten plotted out and re-plotted, but never written. That's my "career" as a writer writ short.
I have a terrible fear of failure. It's almost paralyzing at times. It's often on my mind when performing any task which involves other people. It's probably a big part of why I'm so competitive at games (truly a Catch-22, since as I've learned it tends to turn off people who aren't that competitive, thus instilling a fear that I've failed whether I win or lose).
This fear has two aspects.
First Aspect: Perfectionism: Like many geeks, I have a perfectionist streak. I want everything to come out perfectly. The problem with perfectionism is that one can spend all of one's time polishing the last few bits of something long past the point at which it is, for all intents and purposes, good enough. It's something I've worked hard to overcome, since it's the sort of thing which troubles many people in their professional careers. Plus, true perfectionism is at odds with engineering (which is all about making things "good enough", not "absolutely perfect"), which is what my career is.
Perfectionism has a particularly pernicious trap for people who try to overcome it: You try to be just good enough without being too good. You want to be good, but not look like a perfectionist.
Second Aspect: Aptitude: I've only realized this recently, but I have a strong worry that I lack essential aptitudes to fully carry through endeavors I undertake.
This has deeply troubled me professionally of late. I worry that I'm not inventive enough, or not assertive enough, or not articulate enough, or lack the ability to see the big picture, or the small picture. Some of these are probably true in one shade or another (and I'm sure my friends could easily tell me which are, and how). Some of these may be a matter of perspective; I often compare myself to the very best of my cow-orkers, or to the greatest strength of a particular cow-orker. These are fine things to do when one is aspiring to become better (especially considering that I work with some astoundingly talented people), but one is usually going to suffer by comparison in these cases if all one is doing is comparison.
Perhaps this is mainly an indication that I'm spending more energy worrying than aspiring, and that I need to work on that.
I'm sure every beginning writer has essential qualms of this sort. No doubt most long-time and professional writers do, too. Mine are particularly fundamental: I worry about being able to write characters, to convey emotions, to render my ideas in an exciting or compelling manner. Descriptions, I can do. Plotting, I have at least some thuggish facility for. But I've always felt like I have a blind spot where certain human qualities are concerned, possibly because of my strong self-control over my own emotions. (Too much admiration of Mr. Spock when I was a kid, maybe.)
"The Long Run" turns to a large degree on something that isn't quite a love triangle, but more a needing-to-be-understood triangle, two points of which were formerly lovers. That's the part I keep getting stuck on.
And you can tell me until the cows come home that I have the right to write a shitty first draft, but the perfectionist in me has a hard time dealing with that.
My point being that I know that I don't need to do it exactly right the first time. I don't need to show the first draft to anyone. That I won't know whether I can do it until I try. I've been telling myself all of this for several years now, but knowing that doesn't cut through the problem.
One thing I am very, very good at is living in my comfort zone, and arranging my life so that I don't have to confront issues like this. And whenever I do confront these kinds of things, some good comes of it, and some bad comes of it. And, well, better the devil you know, I always say.
Problem is, I'm feeling at a point where something needs to change. Not something monumental, but something that means something to me. Where I can look back a year from now and say, "I accomplished that in 2003, and on balance it was a good thing. It made 2003 special."
So (in the immortal words of slackers everywhere), we'll see.