If you can do anything, you won’t do anything (Or The Paralysis of Genius)

The first day of my unemployment, I was beyond bubbling over. I was past brimming, I was bursting with raw, fresh, new power. I was going to shoot fireballs off my fingers and burn the sky, burn the very sky. If anything I wrote was beamed from the mast on the hilltop to your phone, your laptop, your tv, it would come with fire. 

Everything I held back while I was under the roof of that stoic sarcophagus of dreams called the corporate media was now free. I was going to the internet, the real free world. The internet had no limits. It was open for the taking. And I was going to take it. I was going to, let me use the appropriate internet terminology, own it.

And four years later, it is still…

If I had a dollar for every idea I came up with, I would have one dollar. Because if anyone had paid me for the first idea, I would not have come up with the others. But as it was, nobody paid. 

Nobody came to my bedroom at three a.m. to ask what I had just come up with. Nobody stood at the foot of my bed listening to me stacatto-rap my latest brainwave at them and nobody picked themselves up off the floor, having been bowled completely over, and breathlessly said, “This is going to make us rich! Rich! Rich!”

After I left the job, I found myself at a co-working space. You know the ones. They are designed with snazzy feng shui, bright colours and daring deco choices like furniture made from palettes, huge murals of Nelson Mandela and Tim Cook, blue and red bean bag chairs and coffee servers who speak with international-school accents. When I jumped ship I landed on one of these.

They can be tribal places. Some are popular among white people. Some among NGO bean-counters, some among globe-trotting bankspeople (That particular one I remember well. I was told the rate for the day was 14. I thought they meant 14k. Kumbe!) The one where I ended up was filled with youngsters. Early-to-mid-twenties. Youth. With Youth potential. With youth energy.

I sat across the baby pool table with these youth bouncing ideas back and forth. We cooked up some audacious schemes. But nobody came to the baby pool table to ask what was up and/or if any of us could take a cheque.

Because this nobody was so assiduous at ignoring my brainwaves, I kept coming up with more.

In the first year alone, I created a webcomic, I begun producing a youtube series. I wrote a sitcom. I wrote three podcasts. I wrote novels. I created a Facebook fiction serial. I invented a social media soap opera.

The reason I did so much stuff was because it is fun coming up with things. There is a straight-to-the-nuts ego-rush that cannot be replicated through hard work. The initial euphoria of the initial eureka will not be matched until it meets the pride of having finally hit the goal. Fire courses through your veins when you are coming up with an idea.

This is the paralysis of genius. This is why if you can do everything, you end up doing nothing. 

Fate.

You get the idea, you get excited, you start to work on it. Then you get another idea. When that happens, you discard the last one and you throw all your muscle into the new idea. The last one is discarded, abandoned, left to dust. 

Meanwhile, nobody maintains nobody’s winning streak.

The pace heightened as the months slid in and under. I would come up with something new almost every week– the parody socialite, the Ugandan comic strip blog, the fitness and diet podcast, all of them are now just squiggles in abandoned notebooks.

I told myself that I was juggling them, that I could do both, then all three, then all five, then all dozen. But then I started quitting, quite inadvertently, but quite actually quitting them, one by one.

It’s not that these ideas weren’t good. It’s just that they never stood a chance. What happens to a hyperactive dreamer’s dreams deferred?

No idea occurs to just one brain. Certainly not in this Uganda where talent and shrewdness are packed thick like white kikumis and blue Allexes in that Jinja road jam. Everything you come up with, someone else comes up with.

The difference between me and the book lady is that she followed through.

The difference between me and Uncle Mo is that he went the distance.

The difference between me and Ray is that he stuck it out.

Coming up with ideas feels amazing. It’s the bright flash of conception. But pregnancy is work. There are a lot of skills and crafts and techniques to learn, a lot of discipline and focus and sacrifice to endure, a lot of exhausting and taxing and rough emotions to go through and a lot of self-doubt and weakness and questioning which need to be followed by a lot of resolve and grit before you can turn an idea into a thing. Every success story is a story of work.

Here we find ourselves. I would like to end this post with a bona fide success story, the tale of a triumph that I earned from putting in the sweaty hours, but I don’t have one yet. Because in addition to focus and discipline, it also takes time.

But I know there are Ugandans out there with gifts of astounding power. I know there are dreamers out there with passion and drive. You have ideas, too, and ideas feel goood! Goood! And the next new idea will seduce you with the promise of that feeling repeated. 

But if all you ever do is get new ideas, you will not move.

One of the hard lessons from this wilderness sojourn is not just that you have to pick one idea and stick to it up to the end, but that you have to say no to so so many others.

Suki sends her regards.

6 thoughts on “If you can do anything, you won’t do anything (Or The Paralysis of Genius)

  1. There’s so much truth here. I’ll refer my young people to this tale as often as I need to.
    Warm Christmassy greetings to Suki and your genius.

    Like

  2. This is a great piece of writing . induced with humor but yet truth is out for the taking . i think this describes almost every person. I Like the fact that you mention . You need to say no and no to many ideas.

    Like

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