This is a short post. I want to give you some guidelines on what I call the stages of reality in a project. All of the stages are real and I don’t think there is anything wrong with staying at any one of the stages, if that is what suits you. However, if you are getting unhappy because your projects always putter out at the same stage, you might consider thinking about how to move them on to the next stage or reality.
- You have a dream. You imagine it clearly in your mind’s eye. You firm the idea up with concrete details. You can really see it happening. If you get stuck at this stage of reality, you can repeat this process forever, repeatedly visualizing different outcomes.
- You talk your dream through with friends and relatives. Not all projects need to be talked through. There are some things you can get on and do by yourself. But if you are working in education, it is more than likely that you will have to share your project with others in order for it to happen. When you do this you get a feeling of release and renewed energy. Somehow the project feels more real now that it is out there. If you get stuck at this stage of reality, you will drive your friends crazy. You might hear them say, “Whatever you do, don’t mention education!”
- You get some solid, independent backing. Once you have gained confidence by talking to friends and relatives it is time to give them a break! Now you have to go out and talk to people who will be your backers, suppliers, contacts and customers. This allows you to put a reality check on your dreaming. Strangers do not have the same patience that friends and family do. They will cut you short if you drift off topic. If you get stuck at this stage you won’t be the first. Remember it took Columbus decades to get finance to set out with three boats for America. Perhaps you have to keep looking for the right backer.
- Start Worrying. It is inevitable that you will start worrying. You will worry that you are not capable enough to do this. You will worry that the idea is not good enough. You will worry that there will be no market for your project. There is nothing wrong with this. It is much better to have realistic worry than to have an unrealistic optimism, but take steps to get past crippling worries by moving on to no.5. If you get stuck at this stage you may end up spiraling back to the dreaming stage: any other project has to be easier than this one!
- Do Something- Anything. Start putting things in place. Get your ingredients together and start preparing them. If you find yourself looking at your ingredients and saying to yourself, “maybe I should just go and check another cookery book,” you are stuck at the mental level. If you want a project to move forward you need to produce something. There are many reasons you might avoid doing the something that is going to make your project move forward. The most common is creative anxiety or the feeling that people might be looking at you and judging you. You might deceive yourself into thinking that, if you just give it another three days thought, the end result will be so brilliant that no one will be able to deny your genius. Unfortunately, you are more likely to find another project that doesn’t look as hard as the one you are engaged on. You will spiral back to dreaming.
Stop and Reflect. Give yourself time to stop and reflect. Don’t just keep on hammering at it until you are finished. This is the way that people get lost in the jungle! If you just keep on hammering along without stopping to reflect every now and again you can find yourself a long way off course. If you work in a team, you have to do this process of reflection together. I know it sucks. It means you have to listen. Someone in your team may not be happy with their role, their prospects or have some blinding perception of risk, possibility or danger. Let them speak. And listen when they do. If you get stuck at this level, you might have a perfectionist on your team. You have to listen to and value what they can contribute but if you don’t sort a perfectionist out, your project will never come to completion.
- The Never Ending Story. The last stage in the reality of a project is when you realize that it is going to keep going. It won’t remain static and every time you pause to reflect there will be new dreams bubbling into new conversations that might find enough support to turn into positive actions. They may not have to be your ideas and dreams either. If you build a project with a generous enough spirit, you will be able to include many more people in your dreaming.