21: Don't build a house, just lay a brick
I have been thinking a lot about the metaphor of running lately. I do it less so now, but years ago, when running was an active part of my life, I wrote frequently about it. In a medium publication titled “Running is a metaphor” you can find the essays I wrote between October 2019 and February 2022. In the first post, Throwing the bag, I wrote about making the commitment to run a marathon. In the final post, Picking the bag, I published shortly after the completion of my first marathon. I have not written a post about running since.
I am looking at that publication now, and reading its description:
“When I can’t control anything else in my life, I control how much I run”
Over dinner, a dish of hummus and calamari, I spoke to my friend about how in the past week, I had completed hour-long french practice sessions every single day. We spoke about this, with the backdrop of the other ways I have not been living up to my potential. And she brought up the unavoidable fact, that I contained the striking contradiction of struggling and excelling at the same time. I can’t remember the phrasing now, but the question of how I could be so focused on some things but struggle so much on others was thrown into the air.
I grabbed it, swallowed it and thought of running.
The simple act of creating a metaphor.
The simple act of putting one foot in front of another to build great stories of conquest.
So simple to start if you just start.
In University, running was the source of my inspiration to do every other thing in my life. From running, I could find reason and rhyme in the world. And perhaps most importantly, I could find the answer to whatever question was bothering me about life. ‘
All of this, from the simple act of creating a metaphor.
All of this, from the simple act of putting one foot in front of another.
Incase you are new here: My name is Mo Isu. I am an audio producer based in Lagos, Nigeria. I am currently attempting to build a career in audio journalism. I have taught myself most things I know so far. You are reading issue 21 of my newsletter detailing this segment of my journey. Read the about page for more
Do the smallest possible thing and then do it again
My friend, Jill, and I have been having two recurring conversations. One, about the inescapable feeling of not being good enough.
“Nadal sometimes cries before a match.”
“Jad has imposter syndrome. This shit will never end”
“Debs was telling me that she still suffers from imposter syndrome. Even on the podcast, she is currently working on. Isu I was shook” - “Deb’s first work experience is from 1994 for the BBC”
Everywhere we looked, we saw people with undeniable expertise describing the exact same feelings, we newbies were feeling.
In the past two months, I have described this feeling in many different ways. In one eloquent paragraph, I said to Jill
“I think my anxiety actually got worse as I got more into audio which is dumb because I was supposed to feel more like I deserved to be here instead I felt less and started to doubt my ability to have good ideas then stopped having ideas all together”
The second conversation we have been having, in some way, might qualify as the solution to the first. A Solution to this crippling feeling - an invitation to ignore the big thoughts that make us feel this way.
Yesterday, staring down the barrel of yet another deadline, and without even a spark of an idea in my head, a blank page staring at me, I texted Jill.
“I’m struggling. I don’t know how to look at a prompt for stories and then think of a story that fits”
Jill’s reply to me
“I think we should talk on the phone”
I cannot tell you why, and I really wish I could, but having ideas has been a great deal of a struggle for me. Especially since I started thinking a lot about making a living. Since I started needing to pitch stories and apply to opportunities, It feels like I have lost the ability to have a good idea.
Before texting Jill, I looked at the pitch prompt I was responding to for one hour. I read it over and over again and I looked at a document of ‘ideas’ I had saved on my notion page, none of them looking good enough. Then I opened my google drive and navigated to my folder of writings to see if there were any decently formed ideas that needed some push.
On top of this unending drought of ideas, is the lack of motivation and drive to do the work to bring them to life. Some days, I have the drive, some days I do one small piece of the puzzle but it is not sustained.
On Sunday morning, my friend, former mentor and former university lecturer called me to catch up. We spoke for one hour and amongst many other things, we spoke about the drought of motivation. During our conversation, she uttered the abominable b-word, burnout.
It is possible that I am burnout. It would be a perfect explanation for my inability to do this one thing that I got into doing out of love.
It doesn’t make any sense to me that I currently struggle so much to do something that I actually enjoy doing.
The second conversation Jill and I have been having over and over again, is about stripping away the idea of doing large complex things and focusing instead on the small things. I sent this to Jill a couple of days ago.
In sending this, I was thinking about how it applied to how I think about work.
“This is partly my problem atm. Thinking of things bigger than the small tasks that actually lead to that big thing”
When I set out to complete a small task like conducting an interview or logging audio or writing story beats, I am often able to do it.
I do struggle with stringing enough of this together.
I also have a weird fear of starting a difficult task. That is the key cause of my procrastination. The fear and hesitation of starting a major task.
Jill sent me a different image with a similar message days earlier.
“ That's what resonated with me
When I think career, it makes me anxious and I freeze”
And all of this made me think of running. Because running always reminded me of this intrinsically. With running, you know that it takes many small steps to finish a long race. You knew it every time you came to the starting line. And you knew that the finish line was only a pause.
In case it isn’t obvious, I miss running.
The thing I am here to offer you today is that like in a long run, don’t think of how far you have to go, think only of the next step.
As with the boppy song by Goldkimo,
“Don’t change the world. Just change your socks. Just turn the key, don’t change the locks. “
Thank you for reading
This week, I am listening to:
I am listening to it right now and I have already listened to it 4 times since discovering it over the weekend. This live performance by Hania Rani is so good that it might be life-changing.
Find of the week
I wake up thinking that exact thought… it’s oddly comforting
“But who can do anything now, after Beethoven”
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This essay was brought to you courtesy of the cup of coffee I had at dinner two nights ago and the one I drank while writing this between 12 am and 4 am today.
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