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Through my experience, what blocks us holds the key to what unlocks us. The things that feel most difficult are the ones we most need to grapple with, push through, and fight past because there’s something worthwhile on the other side of that angst and anguish.

For entrepreneurs and creatives, there’s no shortage of obstacles when launching your creative project, growing your business, or finding more meaning in your personal life. But some blocks stand out more than others. The ones that seem to perpetually frustrate you. Just the thought of attempting, let alone conquering, induces dread.

Those are exactly the obstacles we want to focus on. Chances are they affect other parts of your life too. So, conquering them can have far-reaching impact.

It’s different for each of us. Putting up paid ads for a first-time entrepreneur. Having a difficult conversation with staff for a seasoned business owner. Shipping a new creative project.

Whatever it is, it causes a cycle of anxiety. The typical response is avoidance.

One concept or tool that I’ve found particularly effective at overcoming both the frustration and the avoidance is the ‘shitty first draft’, which comes from an excellent personal memoir and writing craft book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

The book is an ode to the challenges and joys of pursuing writing as craft, but its lessons, including the ‘shitty first draft’ concept, are ones that apply to artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, and other organizational leaders as well.

The ‘shitty first draft’ is meant as an antidote to writer’s block and procrastination. It’s designed to help creatives get past the internal terror evoked by the blank page. You can admit and accept that the first thing we write is going to be shitty and just start writing. Edit yourself – and the work – later.

That framing gives us permission to write without crippling expectations. Get something on paper. Break through that imaginary wall. The ‘shitty first draft’ is solely for you, the creator; no one else sees it. There’ll be plenty of time for revisions and fine-tuning. The point is to start the process. It becomes easier (read: not easy) after that.

We use a similar framing with many of our clients, especially those in the early stages of launching and growing their businesses. Sure, there’s going to be a lot of painfully tedious tasks that you’ll have to grit through, but there’s also a lot of core functions to the business that you need to learn and execute on. Some of which are inhibited by major mental blocks: marketing yourself, hiring, digging into financial details, raising prices, to name a few.

When taken less literally, the shitty first draft is really just granting yourself permission to get started. Stop letting perfect be the enemy of good. Stop allowing fear to inhibit the potential for growth.

It turns out that once you dip your toes in the water, the process begins and thus enables something new. After all, the first draft begets the second draft and so on. It might not reveal itself immediately, but the trajectory has already changed.


Wes Melville is COO of BGSD Strategies.