Flirting & Flying (an idiot's guide)
I love women. I’ve always loved them.
I remember being 12, standing in the middle of the “Relationships” isle of Barnes & Noble bookstore, holding up a large, yellow “Flirting for Dummies” book, and painfully focusing and repeating each sentence to myself with my broken English. My head hurt. I had never pushed so hard to comprehend something as if my life depended on it.
I wanted to be able to talk to her. Her name was Kelly. She sat behind me in science class.
I wanted to turn around and pour my heart out. I wanted to say the magic combination of words, the perfect opening line, the fantastic finish that would unlock her heart on the spot and make her my girlfriend.
Science class came and i was frozen. I had memorized everything, but nothing came out. shit.
My imaginations of saying my lines effortlessly, like poetry, was blanked out by pure fear. Instead I looked straight at my notebook.
I spent hours, days and weeks like that. Always thinking of the best way to start speaking, to say the best lines.
Meanwhile, some scrawny zit-faced kid named Keith showed up, asked her a boring nerdy question about homework, followed by some stupid remark about a TV episode of whatever it was on tv, and then giggles followed. Next thing u know, Mr. zit-face was well on his way to steal her away from my future.
Only if she'd heard what I had to say, I knew she'd been mine.
Years passed and many many "idiot's guide to flirting" books were read. I had learned every tip and trick in the process, from flirting to dating to relationship management to divorce...I had covered it all. I was ready.
Never the less, as the many Kellys, Natalies, Jessicas and jacquelines came along, with them came the dorky Jeffs and Daves. Each time, I knew I deserved her, but somehow I had managed to be too late, too frozen and then too angry at myself in the aftermath. The anger was simple. I thought "I could've done it much better than that guy", so I felt denied of what I thought rightfully was mine.
Overtime I learned my way around my problem: I stopped putting myself in that situation.
So when that beautiful girl would show up somehow next to me in a class, bus or store, I just assumed that she didn't exist. The reasoning was simple. I wasn't going to do it. Because I had failed before, and I just didn't have the awesome words ready to start the conversation...and that whole act of going up to her and talking about a trivial, nonsensical thing like "hi, where are you from?" or "hi, cool shoes" that other boys did, was simply ridiculous...the fact that somehow it worked for them was also ridiculous. It was like a miracle that it worked. Perhaps those girls didn't even know any better anyways...telling them their shoe is nice...pishhh...
Instead, I started to put myself in situations where everything was in my favor. In positions where my status spoke for itself. Where I just had to smile and say "hello" and she already knew how "cool" I am before I started speaking. Of course, for this to happen I had to do everything with triple the effort. Possibly, I had to be the loudest, funniest, 'most achieved', etc... I just couldn't bare looking stupid, approaching a girl and not knowing what to say.
Times passed and my dreams and ideals shifted from girls to work.
Now, becoming the awesome journalist, photographer, filmmaker was the dream. I wanted to be one so bad. Even more than I had ever wanted that girl at school.
So there I was. This time not in the middle of the bookstore, but behind the computer; learning non stop about what gear to buy, how to use it and so on. Then I worked hard and purchased the gear, learned how to use it, and even did many many jobs for people who approached me.
But yet, my dream work was still not here. I wasn't there. So from time to time I would research the people doing my dream job...And lo and behold, it was the Jeff's and Dave's again...! and again, they were not even doing it right. I could've done it so much better...
I knew I was ready. I had the knowledge. I had the gear. I was just frozen. blocked. something was missing...what was it...?
I wanted reassurance that what I was going to do and the work that I was going to create, was going to be good. Just like reading the "Flirting for Dummies", I wanted to make sure that whatever I was going to say would be fail-proof. embarrassment-proof. Guaranteed.
I didn't have any problem with talking to people, nor did I have a problem with using my camera or writing up a piece. They came naturally. What I really had a problem with, was being perfect.
Because perfection meant Safety. Safety from all that could come with failing.
And because I couldn't be perfect, there would be no reassurance. and therefore, no action.
So what was I to do with this situation. How could I take any action?
I found Seth Godin explain it in the wisest form:
He calls those emotions Resistance.
Resistance is the work of Amygdala; the tiny, almond sized bit of brain close to our brain stem. It's ancient. It doesn't speak any language. It only knows fight or flight, and it was there when we were wild animals. It's helped us all get here; through the jungle, the deserts and the valleys, and it is still here while we live in the modern society.
Amygdala wants to protect us, but the problem is it sometimes cannot tell a life threatening danger from another. It cannot distinguish an editor rejecting your work, from an angry tiger. I cannot reason with it. It doesn't speak English or Persian. So it backfires.
When it sees danger it freezes up. It goes into flight mode, and being extremely clever, it finds a 1000 ways to avoid doing the things that it is afraid of.
So what to do?
Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield suggest that we learn to dance with the Amygdala. Each time. To trick the Amygdala in working in our favor.
Let me use Seth Godin's own funny story, which explains this much better:
Growing up, Seth was great at trivia, and at the time there was a inter-school competitive game called Quiz Bowl (like Jeopardy); basically a quiz-like competition where a group of students are read questions and try to score points for their team by buzzing first and responding with the correct answer.
He loved the game so much that even though his school did not have a Quiz Bowl team, he pushed hard for the formation of a team. He did all he could and finally the school agreed. They held auditions to put together the team. He participated, and yet ended up in the 10th place, so he was not picked but was allowed to coach the team.
After some time and watching how the other students played, he became sure that it was definitely not the knowledge part that he lacked, but indeed something else;
He had a "buzzer-management" problem
Here was the answer in front of him all this time and he couldn't see it.
The trick was simple and yet so illusive: While playing the game, you can’t wait until you are sure you know the answer, because by that time someone else has already buzzed.
"The secret, was that you don't aim to buzz when u know the answer, but instead buzz when you think u might know the answer. That 1.5 seconds between the time you buzz and the time the host calls your name, your brain is working overtime, its dancing with the Amygdila to come up with the right answer."
Basically, the realization was that when you put yourself in "Fight" mode instead of "Flight" then your Amygdyla becomes more afraid of someone else buzzing than it is afraid of coming up with the right answer.
That was it.
All of this time, I was always seeking to be sure before anything. I wanted to make sure what I was about to do or say, would be %100 successful. In effect I would end up keeping back from doing anything, as that reassurance would never come.
The truth is: there was no such thing as being "creative enough" for a job, or being "attractive enough". It is instead our fear. Our fear of putting our reputation on the line because our next work or next move is not going to be as good as our previous one.
And the only way to overcome that fear, as he suggests, is:
To "do it" despite the bells and whistles that are going on in the head. Knowing full well that your animal friend who doesn't know any better will try make you avoid what it thinks is a "lethal" danger. But since you know better, and you know that its nothing lethal, you merely do it. Using brute force. You do it over and over and over until see for yourself that its not lethal.
Take out your computer and write. take out your camera and shoot. buy that ticket. Do it. Go up. Speak. Put yourself in that position. Dance with the amygdila. Once it realizes that you’re gonna do it anyway, it gets its act together and starts to work with you.
"Your problem is not that you don't have enough good ideas. Your problem is that you don't have enough bad ideas."
I had to see that the biggest names we know of -and we know them for their success- have the same problem.
But they have kept creating/doing/trying/practicing nonstop; knowing that their failures and "bad works" are the paving stones for the good work.
Isaac Asimov, David Mamet, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Miles Davis,... are among the endless names known for their achievements, while the amount of failure they have had is more than any amateur in their fields. just look up the number of albums Miles Davis has recorded, the shots Michael Jordan has missed, the books Isaac Asimov has written which you have never hear of... But instead, at the end of the day, you remember them for what they've achieved.
So I guess my point is this:
No one cares for the times you've screwed up, gotten rejected, gotten slapped in the face for prematurely reaching for a kiss, failed an audition. And that's an amazing thing.
So shift your style. Aim to actually mess up. Go for the slap. Go for the rejection. get cozy with it. Or as Beckett once famously said: Fail, Fail again, Fail better.
Only when we realize that we need to create more and more bad work on our way to good work, is when we can get past the stuckness/frozenness. Its not doing those things that we have always dreamed of, that scares us, its doing it Perfect.