I Am An Idea Hoarder

2012 August 30

You wouldn’t think it if you looked at the bottom of my purse, but I’m not much of a collector. A person who can’t be bothered to throw out empty packs of gum or appointment cards for a haircut that was four months ago, yes, but not by nature a treasurer of valuable or sentimental things.

Ideas are the exception.  When I read Gina Barreca’s piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, I recognized myself. I am indeed an idea hoarder. I cling out of the belief that the time for these ideas will eventually come. Circumstances will align, the perfect collaborators will appear and I will finally have an unsullied block of time – and the accompanying energy – to devote to a given brainwave.  No matter how impractical, never-to-be-acted-upon or out-of-vogue a bygone creative whim might be, I am loath to part with it. Someday, I might use rolls of drawer lining to make it look like one of my living room walls is wood-paneled. I might start to develop that coaching program that combines international travel and encouraging women to take more risks. I might finally, finally submit that book proposal about battling your quarter-life crisis and winning. Someday.  Maybe?

These unexecuted plans and projects are a security blanket. They make us feel creative and inspired and purposeful. Ideas represent potential. They represent opportunities and alternate futures and hypothetical riches and a better state of being. They’re your ace-in-the-hole, your Hail Mary pass, your retirement plan. Giving up these ideas means giving up all of the hope we attach to them. It feels like giving up on yourself as a doer and not just a dreamer.

But the longer I hold onto these scraps of half-baked plans, the worse I feel. When I realize the domain I bought with the best of intentions is about to lapse unused or I see someone else celebrating a book deal when I’ve yet to start approaching agents, or when I think about promising joint ventures that started out hot and heavy only to fizzle when both sides got wrapped up in urgent day-to-day tasks, I feel like a failure. Sure, I’ve accomplished other things in the interim, but those pale in comparison to what-might-have beens that didn’t happen.

I have to let go and so do you. I’ve been hoarding these ideas because I’m afraid I won’t ever have another good one and because I’ve been too stubborn to admit that I’m simply not cut out for some of the things my brain dreams up.  Not only am I closing myself off to new bursts of inspiration (which will come; they always do), I’m also associating creativity with disappointment and failure (I could have done x, but I didn’t). By letting go of old ideas and plans,  you also start to separate yourself from the weighty guilt that comes from being confronted with unrealized ambitions in the form of others’ successes. It feels freeing to stop trying to nag yourself into action. It takes a lot of strength of mind to admit that while an idea is good, you don’t feel called to pursue it strongly enough that you’re willing to invest the resources required to bring it to fruition. There’s no shame in making new priorities.

But that book proposal? Oh, that will get done.

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