The second step is much harder than the first.
I’m biting my fingernails to shreds as I write this. It’s the fourth draft since I hit publish on my first article. Said drafts have spanned the art of consciousness to the meaning of life. How very deep.
And none of it is worth publishing.
Or maybe it is. It’s hard to tell from here.
Because the first step of anything is comparatively easy.
For that first step, you’ve got the momentum of your entire life to propel you into taking it. The frustration that’s built up over all that time spent not Doing The Thing. The hours/days/months/years spent thinking that you really oughta. All the advice from your friends and family that, yes, you should, definitely.
And so you give it a go: you write, you quit, you sweat, you spill the beans. You make your move. It’s scary but exhilarating: you are doing it!
This first step is compelling. How fascinating to finally feel whatever-it-is happening, at last. You find out how it matches and doesn’t match your expectations.
And after, immediately: the marvelous sense of satisfaction. The relief at finally having Done The Thing. You are now a person who rises to her own expectations. You are a woman of your word. You can be proud.
Not to mention the accolades! All those friends and family — they are proud of you for this first step, too. You said you were gonna, and then you did. You deserve public recognition. Everyone is thrilled by your leap forward into the unknown. Your efforts will be praised, and you will be encouraged and loved.
This happiness is sweet and true.
But it doesn’t last.
(Happiness, by its very nature, doesn’t.)
The days slip by. As they do. And you edge closer and closer to a horrible truth:
That you have to take a second step.
No longer can you rely on the oomph of a lifetime of Not Doing It Yet to push you forward. You’ve spent it and it’s gone.
Plus, the Thing is now known. It retains plenty of its capacity to scare you (see why via this incredibly neat interactive animation about how anxiety works in the brain), but the mystery has dropped like a curtain. There’s nothing drawing you forward.
And, often, the only thing pushing you now is your will. Friends and family do the bulk of their work getting you to that first step and congratulating you when you take it. The second step loses much luster. It’s simply not so interesting to see you doing something a second time.
But perhaps the very hardest thing about the second step is expectations. Especially if your first step has gone well and you’ve been praised, then taking the second one is wildly intimidating. Fear of failure is alive and well.
What if I disappoint everyone? Impostor syndrome is what’s presently chewing off my nails.
As to whether completing the second step can result in the same sweet, true happiness as the first: I’ll tell you at the end of this article.
Two steps do not a rhythm make.
They say it takes 66 days to form a habit. Maybe more, maybe less. But certainly not two.
From the viewpoint of two, forming a meaningful rhythm feels hopeless.
My brain tells me this. Hence, it entices me to enter a roundabout of Facebook-reddit-Instagram every time I sit down to attempt words. The potential dopamine hit is more attractive than trying to build a tiny piece of something I can’t see the shape of yet.
The only way I’ve found to push myself around it:
Is (potential) shame through accountability.
I share a Google calendar with a beloved friend of mine. She loves me, and she doesn’t let me get away with even a smidgen of shit.
On this calendar, I plot out when I will publish articles.
The idea is lifted from the concept of a Commitment Contract. It proposes that it doesn’t matter how good your work is. What is absolutely crucial is that you do it at the frequency to which you’ve committed yourself.
In the original video I watched, the person under contract must agree to lose something massive if they don’t stick to their plan — a great deal of money, or perhaps a dear possession.
I’ve committed to losing my face. Because I’m deeply ashamed of myself when I don’t do what I publicly promise.
You can help me out too.
Here’s the link to the public Google Calendar, wherein I plan out at least the next two articles that I will publish. You can add it to your own set of calendars and see when they’re coming up.
Sometimes I have to shift articles around a day or two. That’s fine; life happens. Deleting articles is not.
I don’t promise that they’ll be any good. But I’ve committed to doing them. And you can help hold me to it.
Because I have this feeling that the third step is a doozy.
By the way — that “sweet, true happiness” that I promised to evaluate at the end of this piece? Honestly, not nearly so strong as when I published the first one. I felt better about that first article, and I’ve raked myself over the coals to get this one out.
No — right now, the word isn’t “happiness.” But “satisfaction” still rings pretty true.