I am excellent at starting things.
This blog, for example. I’ve started it at least 5 times now. This post, at least that many. In my Dropbox folder I count nearly 20 other started articles and the vestiges of around 8 started novels. I did actually finish three of the novels, but then I un-finished the second one by completely rewriting it and then not bothering to add the last chapter, because I realised it was still a bit shit.
I started trying to design a board game earlier this year. Last year it was an accountancy program. The year before that? I think it was a poker calculator of some sort. I lose track – I have about 40 unfinished code repositories on Github.
I’ve started a climbing course, a kitesurfing course and a paragliding course. I’ve started running and swimming and cycling (not all at the same time). I’ve started trying to get fit and I’ve started trying to lose weight – twice, in fact, in the last 24 hours (damn it, Sunday lunch). On the flip side, I am pretty good at finishing my food.
I’ve hatched about a hundred different plans to Make The World A Better Place, but so far I think my cumulative score is a few Big Issues and some sponsored goats (who are, I am sure, very grateful for the sponsorship).
I’ve started learning salsa and tango and cha-cha-cha. I’ve started massage and yoga and meditation. I’ve started learning French and German and Spanish and I can express an opinion about a dog in Nepalese.
I even have a bad habit of starting sentences I
Finishing stuff is hard.
But then, part of the problem with finishing something is it’s not always clear why I started it in the first place. Sometimes it’s because I’m bored. Sometimes it’s because I want to impress somebody. Sometimes it’s because I believe I am far fitter and braver than I actually am and it kind of looks like fun from below.
The best reason to start something is because you want to. And the worst reasons not to start something are because you don’t think you’ll finish it or you don’t think you’ll be very good at it. Just try it. Keep at it for a bit. See where it takes you. And if where it takes you looks a lot like Milton Keynes, then stop.
Don’t feel under pressure to achieve beyond your means, either. There are a lot of books out there full of Life Hacks and ways to Get Things Done or Train Your Brain. As someone who wants to be a successful professional, I often feel pressure to read them in case there are tricks that I’m missing that would make me bigger, better, stronger than my mere mortal self, a sort of personal upgrade with a greater capacity to achieve: Mark mark II, perhaps.
But there is something undeniably therapeutic about having a great idea on Saturday morning, spending several hours scheming about how you might implement it, and then spending Sunday in a state of self-inflicted lethargy quite deliberately doing nothing about it before burying your notes at the bottom of a drawer you’re unlikely to open until the TV’s conked out and you can’t find the warranty.
Besides, finishing something is rarely the point. I learned this when I was trying to be a novelist. My goal, when setting out to write a new book, was not to reach the end so much as it was to reach a point where I knew whether it was a good idea or not – and, more importantly, whether it was an idea I wanted to start a relationship with. The answer was usually ‘no’.
I’ve learned it more recently in the world of start-up development. You don’t start building a product to fix a problem that you’ve already solved. You start building a product that helps you answer the question of how to solve it. You take small steps in the hope that at some point you’ll arrive at a destination that makes the world a tiny bit better and makes you a profit on the side.
That’s the value in starting things. It’s the first step to doing things. And it you never quite finish, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile.
I don’t really have a conclusion to this ramble. In fact, I have no idea how to end this post. I may lost interest and never write another one. Maybe I’ll just