Of the “meta fears” that hold many of us back, this is one of the most pronounced.
I’ve never heard it termed this way (because I made it up) but you see plenty of evidence of this fear of iterating all around you.
It is buried in the fear of hard work.
The fear of failure.
The fear of getting it wrong.
The fear of looking silly.
The fear of “What will people think?”
The fear of committing to something that truly matters.
The fear of “Am I good enough?”
These and many other fears are merely the fear of iterating in disguise….
OK, So What’s the Fear of Iterating?
It is being afraid to get something wrong in order to keep getting it more right.
It’s the fear of starting with a wrong or incomplete answer, and then continuing to work and re-work your answer until you get to the right one.
Iteration is the process behind every single form of improving, and unless you’re willing to keep iterating something that needs to improve, it never will.
This means, to get anything right we must be cool with continuously improving at getting it “wrong.” To keep moving towards the right answer we must be unafraid to keep landing on wrong ones.
For many people, this fear is game-stopping.
Literally, they’ll never get past it, so game over.
Because they’re scared to admit they aren’t already living the life they truly want, or they aren’t the 100% perfect person they pretend to be, they remain too afraid to improve in any way.
Look around you. You see it everywhere.
As Emerson put it, “All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves.”
Yet, just by seeing that of course life is nothing but a continuous iteration to the “end,” we give ourselves an opportunity to iterate to new and better experiences.
How Was Your First Sex?
Imagine that the rest of your life’s sex was as “good” as your first.
If you’re like many of us, that would be a drunk (very drunk), awkward, fumbling, painful, uncomfortable to talk about experience.
But, fortunately, once you put a stake in the ground you can always iterate and enjoy improving from there.
Writing is a perfect example of the fear of iterating.
For years I struggled to write a page of words. I was so scared of reading the crap my brain was writing that it was much easier to avoid it.
But you can’t iterate from there!
Sometimes writers effortlessly bang out something front to back, but, like everything else that gets good in life, most good writing comes from a good amount of iterating.
Hard Work? Failure?
A problem with iterating is that it can seem like “hard work” or a “waste of time.”
In our sophisticated modern world where billionaires are made one bitcoin at a time, and our cutting-edge thinkers are looking for that one “hack” that will make them a superhero overnight, many people are unwilling to start something that may take time to iterate.
It’s how I started writing.
I used to whine to myself, “What, so I have to write hundreds of pages of ideas that eventually get thrown out?”
Yes. That’s the craft. Sometimes you can bang out a quickie, but most the time you “need” to roll around in your ideas, to keep iterating, making them better.
If your definition of doing your work over and over and over again making it better is “painful,” then you want to choose new work.
Another problem with iterating is that it can seem a lot like that kryptonite in our society, the dreaded f-word, “failure.”
Fuck Failure, Iterate
Like a kid who fell off his bike once and proclaimed riding was dead to him, many people give up after they have “failed.”
But people who are serious about learning and achieving new things simply see the first time they screw up as the first of many!
This game of life is ENTIRELY in our heads, and people who achieve great things find great ways to keep iterating.
Perhaps most famously, as Thomas Edison put it in regard to playing around with his light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Like learning to walk, falling down isn’t failing—it’s iterating.
What Are You Iterating?
How can you look at some of the things in your life that aren’t where you want them to be, and see it’s all good, you’re simply iterating?
How can you feel that no matter how long it takes you to iterate to the “right” answers, the process of iterating is, in fact, most the purpose?
As much as we convince ourselves otherwise, this game of life isn’t only about results, but who we become along the way.
Think—what type of man did Edison become by training himself to be willing to find 10,000 ways that didn’t work?
Who might you become by being just as focused on iterating?
If there is just one thing that you could get yourself to keep iterating to a greater result, what is it?
Even if it feels hard, how good does it feel to get yourself to iterate just one more step?
And then another… and another… and another…
Loving iterating all the way until your dead end 🙂