The Terror of a Blank Page
Category : 2021
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work. – Stephen King
Writer’s block. Even the most talented authors collide with it. Could-have-been writers let it defeat them and dam up the flow of great ideas. Successful writers recognize writer’s block for the myth it is and find ways to defeat this crippling curse of composition.
Before you click on the next item in your inbox, pause for a moment to consider the parallels between writer’s block—the inability to produce or create something new on a page, and leader’s block—the inability to create or produce something new in a career. Whatever the level of responsibility or the industry focus of a role, most executives have a brief, or extended encounter with that debilitating feeling that somewhere in the past, the executive “peaked” and his or her market value is now static or perhaps, on a downward trajectory.
Novelist James Ellroy discovered a quick cure for this adversary of achievement—”the necessity of earning a living.” For some leaders, upkeep is sufficient motivation keep them going for a while. But from the boardroom to the mailroom, the simple exchange of time and energy for money—even a lot of money—quickly loses its motivating power and ability to keep the engine of productivity running indefinitely.
A brief scan of the alleged sources of writer’s block reflect many of the forces that plague an executive staring at what feels like a blank page in a career.
- Uncertainty that promotes indecision.
- Boredom that smothers motivation.
- Perfectionism that fuels immobility.
- Stress that precipitates inaction.
- Distractions that cloud the end goal.
Changing the analogy momentarily, experienced pilots know you can’t get out of a stall by coasting. Counterintuitively, to recover from a stall, you push the nose of the plane down and accelerate. Only when adequate speed is achieved can you level the wings and return to normal flight. Writers and executives wanting to regain altitude act purposefully and decisively as well.
- Embrace the reality—not the myth. Admitting you’re burned out, stuck, or just sick of what you’re doing will advance you much faster than listening to the mental reasons that justify your inaction. Experienced authors know writer’s block is solved more by perspiration than by inspiration.
- Do something. In every industry and every role, one differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not is that successful people learn to do things they don’t like or want to do in pursuit of a greater objective. When it’s time to explore a new opportunity forward momentum is easily generated by choosing to do one thing every day to change the current situation.
- Release your expectations—so you can grasp something new. By any measure, 2020 created a corporate upheaval unlike anything we have seen before. Thousands of businesses closed forever. Millions of people filed for unemployment. And while that whirlwind of economic pain swirled around us, new business applications in 2020 surpassed those filed in 2019 by over 20%. Thousands of people facing the blank page of a COVID-driven career change opted to write a new story. Economists call this “creative destruction,” a process where, as one economic structure dissolves, another is created in its place.
- Expand your thinking. By the time people reach the second or third decade of a career, they become extremely skilled at thinking the same thoughts over again and calling it “exploring new options.” Any executive serious about overcoming career inertia will benefit greatly from reading widely, listening to new voices, and choosing to invest time with people holding viewpoints the executive doesn’t embrace.
- Take a break. When facing complexity, uncertainty, and the need for action, initially slowing down or even stopping, can result in faster, more purposeful action later. While it was nice to save money on oil changes and travel insurance in 2020, shelved vacation plans and delayed breaks prompted some to fill time normally allocated to leisure with more work. Zoom now brings work into any room where you allow it. Allocating a few hours every week to something other than work will feed your ability to move past a blank page of complacency to a book full of possibility.
If it’s time for a change, a good place to begin is with a conversation. Leapfrog Executive Services can help you evaluate your options and prepare yourself for the next chapter in your story.