Notes on Stagnating
I have a prominent and sometimes disruptive aversion to stagnating. (‘Stagnant’ is just an awful word in a linguistic sense too but that’s a whole other post.) Becoming stagnant has always been a fear in the back of my mind. It comes from submitting to the idea that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. That may not be true given some context, but in general, my brain tends to freak out if I don’t feel like some sort of progress is being made.
This aversion to becoming stagnant will manifest in two ways, depending on the time frame. In the short-term, it shows up as guilt. You’ll often feel guilty on days where you haven’t done anything productive. Your brain will give out to you for being a lazy prick, and it’ll nag at you all day. The guilt can be good in terms of staying productive, as it’ll force you to do something in order to relieve the feeling. Still, action shouldn’t be motivated by guilt or it won’t be your best work, so allowing this to be your primary motivator over the long-term doesn’t seem like a great idea.
In the long-term, my aversion to stagnating manifests as panic and anxiety. Whenever I feel like I haven’t made a move forward in some time, I’ll attempt to compensate by making hasty, incomplete, flimsy progress in the right direction. This usually looks something like, sending samples of half-written books or articles to publishers to jump-start a deal, buying expensive things that I do need eventually but not immediately, and generally making life-altering decisions on the fly. Again sometimes this can work in my favour but the real root of the issue isn’t fixed. I’m only making attempts to move forward, and I only feel the need to do that because I’m convinced I should always be working which is unrealistic and can cause a person to burn-out over time.
The latest example of this happening to me was making the decision to move out of home. Due to the pandemic my travel plans for the rest of the year had been cancelled and I suddenly went from having the next 6 months on the road, to having no plans at all going forward and it freaked me out. So I made the decision to move out fairly quickly, and although that decision has turned out to be a positive one, it could have easily turned out a different way. The point is that knee-jerk, impulse decisions based on the idea that you need to keep moving won’t always work out.
Not wanting to stagnate is for the most part a good thing. It means you’re ambitious, and hard-working and all the rest. But being motivated by a fear isn’t exactly good for the head in the long term. When that happens, you’re not doing the work for the love of it. You’re doing the work because you feel you have to rather than because you want to. The quality of your work will be impacted by this, and your daily mental health will also begin to deteriorate as you begin to resent doing things you once loved.
Try not to stagnate, but also try not to allow yourself to be consumed by a fear of stagnating. It’s a fine line but it can be done.