J. Maureen Henderson’s latest post on idea hoarding (inspired in turn by Gina Barreca’s entry for the Chronicle of Higher Education) got me thinking. I am a collector–OK, a hoarder–of many things, including ideas. This fact was confirmed several years ago when I did the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment with my coworkers (I highly recommend this exercise; it’s immensely enlightening.) One of my results was the Input theme, which basically means that I collect both tangible and intangible things, whether I need them immediately or not, in the hopes that I may be able to use them someday.
Yes, this means I have a cluttered home (with apologies to my hubby). But it also means that my brain is a rich hodgepodge of the information that I copiously consume and file away in its nooks and crannies each day. Eventually, I am able to make connections between these various bits of information and turn them into something someone can use, namely articles or books. Sometimes, even the physical stuff I’ve collected makes it into these finished products (this makes me very happy).
There is a downside to all this, which both Henderson and Barreca both point out: the nagging pressure that these collected ideas can put on a person. Barreca likens these undeveloped ideas to “the chains Jacob Marley forged in life.”
I personally don’t feel burdened by the ideas I’m hoarding. In fact, I’ve found that if I act on an idea too quickly, it’s less likely that I’ll see it through to completion. It turns out that I *need* to hoard ideas, because it gives them time to incubate in my brain and get better. The word I always use is “percolate”; I imagine putting the idea into a little basket in my brain and allowing my creative juices to wash over it repeatedly until I have a good solution, formulation, concept, etc. Sometimes this process takes hours; sometimes days, weeks or even years. Sometimes this process helps me realize that a given thought probably isn’t such a great thing for the real world and I have to say goodbye to it.
“By letting go of old ideas and plans, you also start to separate yourself from the weighty guilt that comes from being confronted with unrealized ambitions in the form of others’ successes.”
Here is where the social pressure comes in, and I think what has helped enable me to let go of some ideas is that I’ve embraced my status as a “late bloomer.” I know that my success isn’t going to be like anyone else’s or come at the same time as that of a social media acquaintance. I know what my identity and sense of self rely on, and I keep the best ideas that support that vision and let go of those that don’t. When I’m confronted with someone else’s success that makes me think about what I haven’t yet accomplished in the same vein, I’ve learned to distance myself from that individual. That is why Facebook has a “remove from feed” option, and it’s why Twitter has a list feature. I use these features to my advantage without causing social anxiety by de-friending or unfollowing someone.
I read what is inspiring and thought-provoking to me rather than what makes me feel guilty or unproductive. Essentially, I focus on what will help me generate even more ideas rather than the things that will make me feel bad about the ideas I haven’t had or have been hoarding for too long. The more fodder for the percolator, the better.