Stop Hoarding Your Ideas for a Rainy Day (More Ideas Will Follow, I Promise)

Have you ever had an amazing idea come to you at the most inopportune time? It’s like a light bulb goes off in your head, but it happens right before bed or while you’re driving or in the middle of something else, so you write it down immediately in the notes section of your phone so you can fully flesh it out later. So it kind of just sits there, collecting digital dust, waiting for you to take action on it. And then, as luck would have it, someone comes along and decides to pursue something strikingly similar to your idea and brings it to life!

UGH. Seriously?! I know I’m not alone in experiencing this unique sort of agony. It doesn’t take long for you to start beating yourself up about it, thinking of the “shoulda coulda woulda” that you would have done had you just done the darn thing when it first came to your mind. 

But then, you shake it off and move on, adopting a “it wasn’t meant to be” mindset, believing that it simply wasn’t supposed to be your idea to pursue after all and the right thing is ahead.

That would be the easy route, no? It certainly keeps us from feeling like we missing our only train to success and motivates us to move forward quickly and resiliently. That would be fine, if we let other things get in the way of an idea or two, and we learn from the dragging of our feet in order to inspire an even better idea. However, how often does this pattern repeat itself? How often do you find yourself on the dock while your ideas are out to sea, captained by someone else? 

Liz Gilbert writes in Big Magic that she believes ideas and inspiration float around the universe, knocking on doors, waiting for someone who is eager and ready to pursue it. She says ideas will try to get your attention, but we often get distracted by our own anxieties and insecurities, by life and its drama. So, we pause. And if we don’t open that door quickly enough, it moves on to someone more receptive. 

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Maybe that sounds a bit woo woo. But the experience of it is universal, isn’t it? We’ve all been there and it sucks. I have dozens, maybe even hundreds, of notes of ideas on my iPhone, little bits and pieces of blog posts and podcast episodes, rough frameworks of programs and offerings, that simply live inside my phone, just waiting for a longer stretch of time for me to sit down and flesh it out and turn it into something real. And when I finally go into my notes later, half of them have already been pursued by someone else and the rest feel attached to a previous season of mine that I wish I had just shared at the time. 

It makes me feel wistful and I shrug, thinking, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

What if we didn’t save our ideas for a rainy day?

You know the kind of day I’m referring to. That picturesque rainy day that leaves you feeling inspired and ready to take action. I’m blissfully sighing just thinking about it! We believe we’re at our most creative on those days, so we hoard our ideas in hopes that we’ll make them happen on a day when that becomes our sole focus. And inevitably, on those rainy days, there are too many ideas to pursue, so some never see the light of day—at least not by our hand.

I think our lack of action comes from a place of fear. I think we are so worried about spending our ideas when they aren’t fully fleshed out, when they aren’t perfectly figured out, when we don’t have the right conditions during which to pursue it, and we fear we’ll eventually just run out of them and have nothing left.

Author and poet Annie Dillard implores us to do the very opposite in “The Writing Life”: 

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spent it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Maybe this sounds a bit sinister and serious for some seemingly silly creative ideas, but it highlights something important that can combat our fear: trust. 

Instead of approaching our creative work from a scarcity mindset, believing that we will run out or even waste our ideas, we must believe that there will always be more. Just as we are ever growing, so too will our thoughts. 

Much like how establishing a new healthy habit encourages you to introduce other healthy habits, creativity also begets more creativity.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just need to give it life.