I'm about halfway through the new Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness) book Command and Control and as I expected the experience has been both enjoyable and frustrating. It's enjoyable of course because it's a well written book about a topic I love. It's frustrating because about eight years ago I decided to write this book.
In a fit of New Years resolutioning or some sort of attempt at personal and professional growth I sat down and wrote an outline for an entire book on the history of the Cold War nuclear buildup and, as Schlosser calls it, the illusion of safety. While obviously it was not the same as Command and Control I can't help but note the similarities as I read through it. Despite the similarities in our ideas, Schlosser's book has one overwhelming advantage: he actually wrote his.
This is the second time in the last few years I've had this experience – Gregg Grandin's Fordlandia was one of my earliest "Someone really needs to write a book about this, maybe I should try" moments. And I'm starting to understand more clearly that this is why at 35 my life is effectively half over and I've managed to accomplish absolutely nothing; for every decent idea I've ever had I think, plot, research, conceptualize, sketch, and ruminate…but I never actually do it. It would be nice to be able to identify the reason. It could be any number of things: fear of failure, laziness, risk aversion, self-doubt, etc. But every time I successfully convince myself that no one else would find it interesting and besides I don't know anyone in the publishing industry so it makes no sense to devote the time to doing it. Instead I devote that time to more productive pursuits like Netflix.
And that, for all you young readers out there, is how you end up old and stuck living in central Illinois.
This kind of thinking appeals to the rational part of my brain, which is the entirety of it. Investing a ton of resources, both time and financial, into something with no guaranteed payoff (and perhaps not even half-decent odds of payoff) is the kind of decision from which it is very easy to dissuade ourselves. For a while I tried to convince myself that it would be good for me just to get the sense of completion that comes from taking something from the idea stage to a finished product regardless of whether it was "successful" or not. Unfortunately my mind really doesn't work that way; maybe someone else can take pleasure in writing something that no one else will ever read, but not me. Besides I already tried that, it was called writing a dissertation. *rimshot*
Anyway, let this be a lesson to anyone out there looking to be unsuccessful. Take all of the things you've thought about doing, talk yourself out of doing any of them, and then sit back and watch other people succeed. I'm not going to lie, it's really easy.