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September 10th, 2019
When you start speaking a sentence, do you know exactly how it will end? Are your words all pre-decided, pre-arranged?
No, not at all.
We begin to speak due to some kind of emotional urge. That emotional urge has a kind of conceptual shape, and the words that we assemble seek to trace that shape, but it’s like tracing the lane lines while driving in the fog.
And just as we take a winding road one turn at a time, we place each word after the last in accordance to the emerging shape of that conceptual emotion.
Notice how no one is afraid to start a sentence, even though almost no one has any clue exactly where and how the sentence will unfold. Of course we have an ‘idea’.
But what exactly does that mean?
When we say we have an idea of what we’ll say?
That idea is certainly nothing like a script. It’s that conceptual emotion.
It’s more accurate to say: I have a feeling that I will speak.
That’s about all we can grant the situation. The moment we actually start describing the idea, or the feeling, we are building in real-time and that conceptual emotion is being converted into words. And we continue to build by speaking until the feeling is resolved, and we feel a sense of relief.
But examine how elusive this experience is: it cannot be planned. It simply happens and in some respect we simply listen to what we say.
The same exact thing happens while writing. Each piece of writing assembles itself as it moves forward. The great difference, however, is that while speech vanishes as fast as it is spoken, the written word is stamped onto reality in a way that permits editing. We can go back, and change, delete or start over. But on the whole, the same core elusiveness exists as it does with speech. We only ever have a feeling as to what we will write, just as we speak.
In the process, of course, we often end up stumbling across things we never dreamed of.
This experience can be scaled-up to larger efforts that we might undertake, and this is where we run into a strange disconnect.
Fear of failure often stops us in our tracks before we even begin work on some dream or goal. But why does this same fear fail to over come us at the beginning of each and every sentence that we speak?
Surely none of us would claim that each and every sentence we have uttered was a total success. The history of speech for every individual is undeniably riddled with tons of failure. Things that weren’t worded well, things we regret saying, things that just didn’t make sense.
But when it comes to that business we think about starting, or that book we want to write, or that adventure that fills our dreams, we hesitate.
Does this hesitation come from fear or from lack of practice trying?
Young children who are developing the ability to speak are constantly confronting false starts and inaccurately constructed sentences.
For example, let’s compare a child pointing at a ball and saying ‘ball’
and a slightly older version of the same child saying ‘I want ball’
and then a fully grown adult saying “Would you mind passing me the ball?’
All three of these utterances can reasonably describe the same conceptual emotion. But they represent possible iterations that are successively effective.
Fact is, we are so practiced with trying to speak that the possibility of failing to put together a complete sentence does not even phase us, even though it happens from time to time.
Everyone who speaks or writes has ultimately already taught themselves one of the most important lessons that we can import to all other parts of our life: keep trying and steamroll your own failure until you’ve built that thing you imagine, that business, that app, that movement, that book, that verbal description…
As we trudge into the unknown, we can take heed in the fact that things have a way of emerging and assembling themselves as we make progress. Just like the sentences we speak.
The key is to start and to keep moving.
This episode references Episode 63: The Etymology of Fear