I remember my young daughter’s tears.
They weren’t tears of sadness or pain. They were tears of defeat and despair. She was being asked to do the impossible thing.
She was being asked to clean her room.
Her overwhelm that day was palatable. And her room was an authentic mess. A metaphorical (and very real) disaster area. Not only had she drug out every toy and book she owned, there were piles of clothes and shoes and stuffed animals mixed like a vegetable soup of 5-year-old girl possessions. We have asked her to pick up. Told to pick up. Her failure to do so has come to this. Now, she was so overwhelmed, all she could do was sit in the middle of the mess and cry.
But lest we get too critical of my daughter, let’s recognize we’ve all been in this place. (Side note: My daughter is now 26. While we weren’t perfect in a lot of things, she’s now doing okay.)
Who hasn’t needed to start a project so prodigious we end up on the floor in a puddle of tears? Or watching sitcom reruns on Netflix? (Anyone still mad about the removal of “The Office”?) Or scrolling social media? Or following up a solid rearrangement of the dishwasher with a round of sock sorting? Sometimes it feels like we’re being asked to rebuild Hoover Dam. When we feel that way, the human brain will either deny or deflect. Denial is choosing to ignore what you know you must do. Deflection is when you do something else to feel productive. I am a kitchen cleaner, myself. When a project feels too big to start, I deflect, resulting in a weirdly clean kitchen.
The problem here is that most projects are not at Hoover Dam scale. It just feels like it.
If you know this feeling you may, like my daughter that day, be face to face with fortress fallacy.
Fortress fallacy is when we believe we have to build something so perfect, large, and grandiose, we’re paralyzed and cannot start. I could take a beginner drawing course online, but I have to paint a modern-day Sistine Chapel equivalent or nothing. Gosh darn it. You feel the need to write the next Harry Potter series, so a simple journaling habit feels like foolishness and a waste of time.
Some of you want to start a project but you’re concerned it will not be Apple, Google, or even Airbnb. This is fortress fallacy, and the imaginary fortress in your head needs to be dismantled. The BAM world is glorious at talking about business as ______ (you know the word) — but we’re here for people who actually want to do have a sucessful busines or project. Because of the fortress fallacy, many would be entrepreneurs struggle to start.
It’s a paralyzing trap that throws you on the floor in a puddle of snot and tears. Let’s tear it down the way my daughter did that day.
1—Start with small wins
Here’s a trick I learned about cleaning a room from watching some of the first seasons of Sesame Street as a small child:
Clear the floor by putting everything on the bed.
It seems like a small thing — it’s just moving stuff around. But something positive kicks in when you see progress. The floor we couldn’t see a moment ago is now clear. That’s a single, huge, momentum-building win for an overwhelmed 5-year-old girl.
We need minor victories, especially at the beginning of a project. We crack the foundation of fortress fallacy with small but noticeable accomplishments.
Take five to brainstorm your business or project idea or research your market. Have a conversation with a friend about customer or particpant needs. Make a list of what needs to be done and put your project into actionable steps. Simply putting things in writing is a brilliant start and a better use of time than a Netflix binge.
I then told my daughter to put away the things on her bed — one item at a time. Choose an item. Think about where it goes. Put it away. Then do it again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Keep going until she finished. It’s liberating to do the same task with the same process over and over to completion (Again — I’m pretty sure I saw this on Sesame Street in 1970).
Consistency pays off. Show up every day and do the work. No, you may not see every desired outcome in a single day. But you will see huge results if you show up every day for a year. For my daughter, it was amazing what she could accomplish in an hour if she was consistent.
And she was.
And she did it.
And so can you.
3—Follow through to the end
This means finish what you start. My daughter had to push through until finished. Don’t stop. Don’t leave rough edges. Keep going to the bitter end.
Perseverance is a Biblical word long gone out of style. At this stage in my life, I want to be very slow to start new things — and whatever I start, I finish. This means a quick “no” and a slow “yes.” I only have time for 10 projects. It’s not possible to complete 100 projects. This means saying “no” to 90% of the requests coming my way because if the answer is “yes,” I will see that one to completion. Follow through. Finish what you start.
4—Have Systems and Support
And she did it. The room was eventually cleaned. She just needed a little support and a system. Once the system was in place and she knew she wasn’t alone, she executed on our system for the win.
This model holds true for organizations. Leaders often fail to execute because they feel alone and don’t have an operating system. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing someone flourish when they have systems and support.
That’s how you clean a room. It’s also how you start a new ministry, church, business, or non-profit organization.
Stop talking (and sobbing in the middle of the floor) about it and start doing it. It’s one thing to think about a grand project. Thinking can feel like doing sometimes. Tear down the fortress by taking your very first baby steps — however small they might feel.
What step could you take today?