If fear is the opposite of progress, then action is the opposite of hesitation. Hesitation comes from uncertainty or over-thinking things.
It’s good to have a plan, but as the famed military strategist, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel once said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
Remember that your plan may fail, and not because of any flaw in it or you, but because you didn’t know everything.
Taking action means that you need to be able to change your direction, and even change your entire plan on the fly.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if your plan is perfect. Even the best thought out plan will have eventually have to change. That often happens in the middle of implementation.
Overthinking the plan is, in essence, pointless. We wonderfully imperfect human beings do this because we are trying to over-compensate in other ways, trying to anticipate the change in the plan before we even take the first step.
That’s like trying to catch a fly by analyzing every direction it might take while buzzing about the room. By the time you have the alternative tactics laid out, the fly disappeared long ago.
Overthinking will stagnate you. The definition of the word stagnate, according to
Dictionary.com, begins with this line:
To stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing;
It continues: To be or become sluggish and dull.
Raise your hand if you’d like to be described as sluggish or dull…or perhaps the words lethargic, listless, draggy, drippy, indolent or slothful sound better?
When you overthink a subject or a question, you spend more time thinking about it than is necessary or productive. That is not to say that every question should be answered by a snap judgment – making quick decisions doesn’t necessarily mean that they will always be the RIGHT decisions. Especially when thinking about questions that will affect your life, your livelihood, your health or your family – just to name a few – making snap decisions may not be the best way to go.
For instance, when I was trying to decide some years ago, before coming to Connecticut, if I was going to apply for a promotion with my current employer, I had a decision to make.
It seemed that just “waiting my turn” wasn’t going to be the most productive way to go. I’d been a full-time employee for a few years, received one promotion from Junior Programmer Analyst to Intermediate Programmer Analyst, and had been a part of some significant projects that had gone well.
I was one of the go-to people who were asked to watch over contracted employees and to shepherd them along until they learned our systems, despite the fact that they were paid a LOT more than I was as a municipal employee. I’d proven myself – shown my mettle, so to speak, and after reading the job description for Senior Programmer Analyst for the fifty-leventh time, I was pretty confident I met the criteria.
I thought, considered and ruminated over putting my name in for the promotion, and then just went for it. I waited and waited, and then I was told that there was no money in the budget to promote any more people and I’d have to wait. They were gambling on me NOT leaving and on my being willing to be a good doobie and just wait my turn.
At the time, I was a single mother with a son. My son’s father was no longer a part of our lives and was providing NO financial support. It was all on me. Now, I had the happy benefit of still staying in the home I grew up in, but I had plans! I wanted a newer car, I had house renovations planned to split the house into a two-family so I’d have my own independent space, and I needed the extra income from the promotion to help make all of that happen.
In my moment of disappointment, I happened to notice another job listing – for a Senior Programmer Analyst, the title I wanted, but it was in the City’s Law Department. I didn’t know anything about the practice of Law, but I figured being a Senior Programmer there couldn’t be any harder than staying were I was and remaining an Intermediate Programmer who was doing Senior level work, but not being compensated for it.
I submitted my application – along with a few other people, and I was interviewed a few weeks later. Then they offered me the position, and I felt through my sense of loyalty to my supervisor that I should tell her what was going on so she wouldn’t be blindsided by my departure.
Less than a week later, I was offered a Senior Programmer position in the IT Department where I was already working. The very same department that told me they didn’t have the budget to promote me a few weeks earlier.
I didn’t have to think very long about that at all – I refused to stay. I did consult with some trusted advisors (my mother and another senior programmer) and they both said if I stayed, I’d have a target on my back, and it would be a less stressful life if I just took the new offer and walked away.
I didn’t look back.
Overthinking can become a way to discover all the ways something could go wrong, rather than finding a plan for change. Overthinking will tie you up in knots and make it impossible for you to proceed. If I had overthought the decision to take the promotion, I would have been putting my destiny in the hands of someone else – the Department Heads that begrudgingly offered it to me only after they knew someone else wanted my expertise! That experience, among many others, taught me the value of taking action.
Think for a moment – what’s something you’ve wanted to take action on that you haven’t jumped into yet? What's stopping you from taking action? Is it fear? Is it that uncomfortable sense that you might be taking on too much?
Perhaps you're waiting for the right break instead of making your opportunities in life? Or maybe you believe you're not smart or talented enough? Maybe you believe it’s not the right time, or that circumstances aren’t quite right, the stars aren’t aligned, and the winds of Fate just aren’t blowing your way.
These negative beliefs are holding you back. If everyone who wanted to stretch, grow, get out of a bad situation, or challenge themselves to a new level of greatness waited until the timing was perfect and everything was going smoothly, they’d never make a move.
I’ve heard multiple inspirational speakers say that the graveyard is the saddest place on earth not because all the people there are dead, but because there are hundreds and thousands of unlived dreams right there with them. Dozens upon dozens of inventions never created, songs never sung, artwork never brought to life, and ideas never realized.
There's a reason why so many intelligent, wonderfully imperfect, loving and creative human beings fail to create the lives and projects they have in their hearts and souls. They tend to overthink everything and some of them are afraid to take risks. Now I’m not saying you should throw caution to the winds and just jump willy-nilly, but I am going to encourage you to stop overthinking and become more of an action taker.
You don’t have to jump off a cliff the first go around, but I’ve got some ways that you can start becoming an action taker, and some powerful reasons why you should make these moves right now.
Get Rid of Your Doubts
If you don't take action, you'll keep wondering What if? You’ll struggle with self-doubt and question your decisions. Taking action builds experience and boosts your confidence. It also allows you to discover new resources and information that will contribute to your success.
Rev. Theresa Soto, who recently released a book “Spilling the Light,” a series of meditations on Hope and Resilience,
says in her piece “Finding Our Dreams” this (paraphrased):
The world makes many demands on
your time, your skin, your heart. Until
you are left gasping and wondering
if you will ever do enough,
have enough, be enough. Stop your
counting, measuring, and checking.
You are enough. So much more than
enough, made from fragments of the galaxy.
Realize Your Time Is Limited
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, once said that remembering you're going to die is the best way to stop thinking you have something to lose. Your time on this earth is limited. You never know what’s going to happen a day, a month or a year from now on.
You might never get a second chance to rent that perfect office space for your business, go to that meeting you've been postponing for weeks, or apply for your dream job. Take action today! Don't settle for anything less than you deserve!
Understand That One Thing Leads to Another
Getting started is often the hardest yet the most important step to success. No matter your plans, you must take action to bring them to life.
Once you take that first step, everything else will fall into place – the universe will align to help you move forward. Your efforts may or may not work out as you hope, but they will lead to something new. Think of it as an opportunity to grow and learn.
Let's say you want to work on a project that calls to your spirit and your heart, but you think you aren’t quite qualified enough, knowledgeable enough…something enough. Yes, it’s scary to start, but what’s really at stake? Even if you don’t finish the project, you’ll get practice taking action on something that fires you up and makes you stretch and grow, and increases your happiness quotient.
When you start taking action, you get results – perhaps not exactly what you were aiming for, but positive results nonetheless.
Develop More Skills
Whether your projects succeed or fail, there's always a chance to learn new things. Taking action will help develop your skills, leading to greater confidence.
The next time you want to take action on a dream, you'll feel better prepared and have more experience. On top of that, you’ll approach things from a new perspective and won’t repeat the same mistakes.
To close out this sermon, I want to encourage you and to share with you a command, in the form of a meditation by Jessica York, the Director of Congregational Life at the UUA – it’s entitled “Gird Thyself”.
This is not a prayer that you may find hope
For hope is a luxury that some cannot find and others cannot afford
This is not a prayer that you find more love in the world
Though I hope you continue to feel love and send love to those near and far
I pray instead that you may find tools
A hammer lying half-hidden in the grass
A roll of duct tape, curled up and forgotten on a high shelf in the back of the closet
A wrench poking out of the back pocket of a stranger
Take these tools and gird thyself
A hammer for justice
Duct tape to hold together your broken heart
A wrench to “grip and provide advantage in applying torque to turn objects” – or turn the world
Take these tools and others you may find in places expected and unexpected
Take these tools and gird thyself
For weeping may last through the night
But the work begins in the morning.
Amen. Ashe. Blessed Be.