The Panic

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Five; you can now find an index of all previous posts in this series on my new #ShareHuman page.

And now is the part of the process when The Panic starts to settle in.

The more I start bringing all the pieces of my presentation together, the more I feel my mind trying to pull it all apart, seeding doubt into every choice I make.

Is that really what I’m trying to say?
Is this too much? Is it not enough? Is it too obscure?
Will anybody even notice? Is it too obvious?
Do I need to support this idea more?
Is this even an idea worth discussing?

The Panic wants me to question everything.

For every little note I’ve made, every scrap of an idea I think I can use, there are four others I don’t get to. There seem to be so many paths I can follow but I’m building the map as I go, and it’s unclear if all those paths intersect or lead to the destination I’m hoping for, or if anyone will even notice the details that stick out to me.

I think this is what I mean, but is that the right way to say it?
Why doesn’t that look right?
Is this font better?
Maybe this font? Or maybe this font?
What am I even doing this for? I’m no expert – who am I kidding?
They’re all going to see right through me…

So I stop.

Take a breath and walk away for a moment.

Deep down, I know that as long as I take my own advice and focus on being Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active and Nice with my work, then the work will reflect that and turn out right. And yet The Panic lurks, waiting for me to let my guard down, waiting until I am most vulnerable and doubtful that anything I’m working on makes sense.

The Panic is a stray cat who won’t leave, who suddenly decides to walk across my keyboard as I’m typing, or curl up in a stubborn ball on top of my most important notes. Even after I think I’ve shooed it away, it will return to cough up hairballs of doubt and moist little yellow-grey puke blobs of terrible ideas.

But I knew this was coming. The Panic is just part of the process, and accepting that it will be there actually makes the work easier in some way because it is predictable. Knowing that there will be long periods of feeling insecure about what I’m trying to do means I’m not fooling myself with hubris. I’m taking this seriously, testing my ideas to make sure they hold up and are worth sharing.

Eventually I manage to get The Panic out of my workspace, kick it outside and lock the doors. And there’s a chance that it will sneak back again, zooming in past my ankles when I leave a door open just long enough. Or it will remain lurking outside, slinking in the bushes, or staring at me through a window.

One day I’ll come home and find the tiny mutilated corpses of small birds or mice left on my doorstep as little gifts from The Panic, its way of saying “Here—I killed this for you, just like I can kill your ideas if you let me.”

I see you, The Panic. Thank you for the extra motivation you give me, and for helping me realize that if I can overcome the doubt and silly fears you try to give me than I will have no problem making something awesome.

Those dead birds, though—you really need to take those somewhere else.

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