I read. A lot. Books, blogs, reports, research. Tweets (of course). You name it; I read it. Throughout my adult life I’ve believed that I read because I’m curious. I’ve told myself and others that I read because I am a proud life-long learner.
Of course I am both of those things. But if, like me, you spend more time reading than doing, you may detect the deeper problem here — can you spot it?
Truth is, there is a deeper story. I read because I’m scared. I read to avoid what I do best, which is write. In my moment of truth I had to ask, am I really learning or simply running?
Do you read as a way to postpone real action? It’s cool if you don’t want to raise your hand. I’ll be honest; writing this blog post is uncomfortable. It stirs feelings of shame that here I am — with a God-given talent — and I’m not fully using it. I’m hiding in the pages of someone else’s good writing.
The perfectionist’s trap.
So maybe you aren’t a writer. This still applies if you’re stuck in neutral with the belief that you need to learn just a little more. Are you putting off your real life’s work because of fear, uncertainty or the all-too-ominous cloud of perfectionism?
Reading is a placebo for action. When cloaked as research or learning, reading tricks its captives into thinking this is progress. If gone unchecked, reading and learning become activities rather than action. This was my big aha, and in that moment I had to face the truth. Was I really learning or simply running?
Start right where you are.
So close the book. Shut down the Kindle. Let someone else follow those conference hashtags today. You already know enough to do something.
Start by taking it easy on yourself. There’s no need for psycho-drama; the last thing you need is to trigger a whole new excuse for reading more.
Here are the five things I tell myself when I’m tempted to retreat to the books:
- Declare yourself ready.
- Decide what you’ll do instead.
- Set boundaries for learning.
- Trust yourself.
- Be the teacher, not the student.
Of course, keep learning.
Butt-kicking books for the “Yeah, Buts” in your head.
Let’s pause to appreciate the irony that I’m ending this post with recommended reading. These reads, along with Seth Godin’s Linchpin, will help you break the cycle of avoidance learning.
- Are You Trapped in a Shadow Career? The Artist vs the Addict (article, from the99percent.com)
- The War of Art (a must-read for creatives, written by Steven Pressfield)
- Do The Work (another Steven Pressfield book, perfect for anyone who gets stuck)
- Make Ideas Happen (Scott Belsky’s book for conceptual thinkers who struggle with all-ideas-no-results)