During my three years of playing video games for a living at IGN.com, my job had evolved several times.
I started off playing video games and writing detailed strategy guides for them. Doing so taught me how to systemize information. As time went on, my role evolved into a sort of hybrid editor type that reviewed games occasionally and still wrote strategy guides. That was nice, too, and something that I was comfortable doing. Then that morphed into something a bit less recognizable to me: a community management role where I oversaw a nascent community. I wasn’t too thrilled about this, but I saw the opportunity to learn an entirely new skill set so I took it.
I learned a lot of good things meandering through different roles and opportunities at IGN and later on at Bodybuilding.com, and am forever grateful for them. But I also learned a few sort of bad habits. One of these bad habits was hoarding way too many video game figurines and useless mouse pads that companies had sent us.
There was another habit that was worse, born out of my own passiveness. I realize now that throughout most of my career I had waited for someone else to tell me that I was “ready” to do something — whether that was to take on new responsibilities, launch into a new project, or just jump into a leadership role.
Each time I was given the chance to grow, it was because someone else told me that I could do something new, something different. As if the way forward was to sit quietly and twiddle my thumbs for an imaginary board of Awesomeness Judges to convene every once in a while, whisper among themselves, and finally give me their nod of approval. The crazy thing was that I craved this approval.
I put my head down and did what I was told, waiting to get noticed. I did the work that made me sigh very loudly at my desk while I waited for more responsibilities or a better opportunity maybe at some point in the future. I waited like a chump. Is it a small wonder that I never got what I really wanted in those years?
Waiting our turn is a practice that has been inextricably programmed into our society and everyday life. Take, for instance, waiting to get off a plane. It’s a waiting game of immense suckitude as you try to remain calm and zen while secretly thinking that everyone needs a good kick in the pants to move the fuck faster. It’s the same when you want the person at the deli counter to call the number on your ticket. Or if you grew up in a stern Asian family like I had, you had to wait for permission to speak.
All this waiting has taught us that we have to bide our time, be patient, ask for permission, or follow the rules to get what we want out of life. We’re taught that patience is a virtue, and with enough patience, it’ll be your turn. Sometimes, though, being too patient and waiting for approval backfires.
When it comes to telling ourselves to take a chance, stand out, or forge ahead in uncharted territory, our instinct might be to put it off until we’re “ready”, as though we’re just waiting to receive a text from the universe saying, “Hey, dude, sorry it took me a decade to get back to you, but yeah, I’ve been watching you and noticed that you’ve been rockin’ at this LIFE thing. So I totally think you should do that one thing you’ve been thinking about for the last three years. Actually, you know what? Let me part the skies for you so that things will be easier for you. K, ttyl!”
Sounds silly, but I know a lot of us do that. Guilty here.
I know that there are certain things you constantly daydream about, talk about, read about, watch videos about, and essentially do everything else but actually work on the necessary steps that would move you toward your goal. Perhaps it’s to start working out in the morning so that you can get it done and be in better shape. Perhaps it’s to finally quit a life-sucking job and travel for a bit. Or perhaps it’s to start a side hustle or business but you’re not sure if it’s something viable.
Yah, patience can be a strategic and necessary step to allow you to gather information, see what’s possible, lay down the necessary groundwork, and do just enough to take a calculated risk. That’s fine, but if all you do is learn and wait and prepare, telling yourself “I’m not ready until <insert some arbitrary condition>”, you have to realize that you’re really putting yourself in a sterile waiting room, where your number is 9,999,999 and the current number being served is 42, and the only thing to occupy your time is a TV Guide from 1981.
Patience IS a virtue, but not always.
Of course, here I am appearing as if I’m clubbing you over the head with this wisdom from my ivory tower, but I’m definitely not above spinning my wheels and overanalyzing.
For a long time, I’d been teetering on the precipice of entrepreneurship, wanting to create something of my own. I had ideas. I had many ideas and I tried a bunch of things and I’d agonize over all of the future what-ifs. What if it doesn’t work out? What if no one wants or cares about what I’ve created? What if I look stupid? I was very good at talking myself out of acting on my ideas. I’d convince myself that the ideas would happen “some day”, but not now because I wasn’t ready NOW.
But some day.
That mythical “some day” attitude is comforting. Just look at all the people that vow to lose weight. You know the pattern: They’ve talked about doing so for ever and ever and every time say that they’ll start on Monday. Or New Years. Or the summer. Many Mondays and Januarys later, they haven’t gotten very far. Their excuse? They’re not ready — to start or to put in the work. It’s not just weight loss. This rationalization is how some people can rhapsodize about their dreams but stay put. It’s amazing how much time we let pass when we do this.
“Now now” eventually becomes “not ever.”
Deep down in the pit of your rumbling stomach, you know the truth: that feeling of being ready will never come.
The only way to overcome this sounds paradoxical: you have to feel woefully unprepared to be prepared. You have to force yourself into uncomfortable situations that will make you ACT, even if you’re about to crap your pants from fear. You just never quite know when you’ll be ready. You can put things off forever (and trust me, I have done this many times before).
It’s hard to undo a lifetime of waiting for someone to properly tell us that we’ve done good or that we’re ready to move forward in life. It’s worked for some, but they end up getting promoted to positions they don’t care for or get saddled with extra projects they’d rather not do. That’s not living life on your terms. That’s just reacting to whatever cards you’re dealt.
Here’s the secret: You are the one who decides that you are ready.
The skies will not part for you. The universe will not tell you that you’re ready. This is something that you decide for yourself with conviction. And then you jump into it and let the fears of falling flat on your face and of looking stupid drive you to do it so good and struggle with such glee on your face that you wish you had done this sooner.
Cover image by tableatny.
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