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How to know when you’re ready to leap

I’ve been thinking about “taking the leap” a lot lately as I’m considering what comes next for me. I’m writing a book right now, and writing this book feels like a fitting end to this chapter of my life — a chapter defined by academics and MIT and growing up, a chapter defined by becoming the person I am today: a person who blogs and reads and writes, one who is writing a book.

When you start writing a book it’s impossible not to think about publication.

It’s impossible to put words down on the page and not wonder about the people who might one day pick up those pages and read those words. It’s impossible not to wonder what will they think? will they like these words I have written? how will they judge me?

The question I keep coming back to is: how will I know when I’m ready?

How will I know when I’m ready to leap, to dare to be seen, to just freaking do it already? Because I’ve been waffling a long time, one foot in science, one foot in poetry, one foot in some nebulous future I can’t even imagine — and I can’t help but worry over the thoughts, the fears that keep holding me back.

It’s easy to start writing a book full of the feeling that writing your book is somehow “safe” because probably no one will ever read it anyways. But as I’ve continued working on mine I’ve realized the most important thing: I’ve realized that I don’t want my book to be just words that linger on my digital desk. I want, some day, to share them with the world. And sharing my book with the world will require an unimaginable leap of faith.

So I wanted to boil it down today, because it occurs to me that the question of when will I be ready to leap? can be put like this: Will I regret not doing it more than I would regret trying and failing? I think that’s the only question I need to know the answer to. And, as I commit ever more words to the page on this book, the answer to that question is rapidly becoming yes!

The more I write, the more I invest in this book, the more I begin to feel that I can’t back out now — I’m already in.

I’ve got some 80 (double-spaced) pages tucked away on my hard drive these days and with each page I feel a little like I’m deepening my own grave — because very, very soon I know I’ll have reached the point from which there is no turning back. The point at which the cost of quitting is higher than the cost of failing — because there comes a point beyond which the most important thing is that you really tried.

And I’m almost to that point with my book. I’m almost past the point of no return.

If there’s something you’re dreaming of but can’t quite dare to do in your life, here are five tips for getting to the point of no return on your project:

  1. Start small. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Start small. Start so small it feels stupid. Write one paragraph or one scene. Write for 20 mins. If 20 minutes feels like too much, then write for 10 or maybe even 5. Start so small it feels easy. (Start so small you’d feel worse about not doing it because it’s so ridiculously easy.)
  2. Grow slowly. Celebrate your first paragraph or page or chapter but don’t overdo it. Don’t finish your first 20 minutes and then binge on a four hour tear. This is how you achieve burn out. Instead, when your 20 mins are up, STOP. Stop while you’re still excited, because that way you’ll be looking forward to 20 more minutes tomorrow.
  3. A timer is your friend. I resisted the timer so much when I first started writing, but now I don’t really know what I’d do without one. I set timers for everything. Pick one that doesn’t make you jump when it goes off. Pick one that goes off gently. And then set gentle, sacred boundaries around your time.
  4. Don’t over think it. The middle is the most dangerous part. The moment where you’re almost to the point of no return. The moment when it is your absolute last chance, the last moment in which it might still be ok if you fail, if you quit, if you cop out on your dreams. I just didn’t have it in me, I couldn’t do it, I guess it wasn’t for me. The excuses are already piling up in your head and this is the moment when you need to stop thinking. You need to just keep setting your timer and do it.
  5. You win. Really. Because here’s the thing — even if my book never gets published, even if no one ever reads it, even if people do read it and they hate it, or me — whatever might happen I win if I tried. I win if I put my life on the line, if I took a risk, a plunge, if I dared to do different, to be different. I win if I dared to expand until I was as big or bigger than my dreams — even if I never achieve exactly the dreams I set out to achieve.

If you’re struggling with taking the leap in your own life, here’s some related reading:

Now, it’s your turn! Do you have a project you’ve been dreaming about getting started on? If so, what’s been stopping you from taking the leap? Let me know in the comments!


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