I start projects semi-regularly. About ten percent of the way through things I have started, I start questioning their worth. And shortly after, I’ll stop working on them.
In 2014 I started:
- Reading GEB.
- Adventure Capital.
- A little project called maat.
I started GEB and got about a quarter of the way through but then I had a week and a half of insomnia. My commute is when I read and instead I was too tired to take in what was on the page. By the time I got my sleep patterns back on track I had just let the book slip aside.
I lost sight of what I was trying to achieve with Adventure Capital and stopped to re-plan. The plan never really got done and then weeks had gone sliding past and I never picked up the work again.
Maat is my current project that is beginning to slip its ropes and drift off into the mists.
If I include 2012-3 I started and failed to finish
- Reading House of Leaves.
- Writing a messaging platform.
- Writing a blogging tool.
- Writing this blog, kind of.
- Writing a novel.
I was really only working on the messaging platform in reaction to frustrations at work. Once I realised that I killed that endeavour in short order. The blogging tool I was writing because of the one or two frustrations I have with octopress but knew if I started I’d reach a good enough point and be left with dozens of frustrations. The novel I managed to write about 12,000 words using pomodoro, but lost momentum after a pause of a couple of days after re-reading them and never got it back.
There are some common threads in those recollections that, while obvious, are worth restating. Sometimes I re-evaluate my motives, realise they are bad, and stop. But generally I lose momentum because of a pause and never get it back.
It isn’t just that these activities are hard or time-consuming. They are all one or both of these things. Writing a novel is near the hardest thing I have ever attempted. It’s difficult to even just write a profoundly terrible novel let alone a good one. I almost wrote one fourteen years ago, in public no less for eighteen months. I bailed right before the ending, an ending I had had in mind from the beginning, because of a childish temper tantrum1. My tertiary degree was hard because I had no idea what I was doing or wanted; I completed that, took me seven years, the last three and half years part-time. I can be distracted, but each of those efforts suffered many distractions and periods of inattention, but I always recovered enough to keep momentum going, to keep picking up and carrying pebbles to the pile.
I started doing the exams for the Microsoft Certified Developer merit badge a few years ago. The books you are supposed to study are bricklike, and there was only a single copy to go between five of us doing the work. So I cheated2 I found copies of the questions and answers, and memorised them. I did two exams (of four) that way, both times only really starting a couple of days before the exam but spending every waking moment reading over those questions and answers. After passing two exams, it no longer mattered because the Microsoft Certification we were after had been won. I stopped caring as much, stopped working on it for a month and never went back.
If I have learned nothing of myself in the last five years, it is that I am ultra-competitive. Sometimes. I can drift in a comfortable malaise for days and weeks. Bored but unfocused. For whatever reason though, one moment something will hit a spark, my game face will go on, and I’ll smash down walls to get it done before you, better than you. I was trying to get the MSCD because it was an opportunity to compete with others. Then we got the MSDN licenses, everyone else stopped doing the exams as no need any longer to get an MSCD, and I lost that focus. There was no one left to compete against.
I don’t understand people who can just do things. Is it that they can just do the thing for the thing itself? For the doing? Are they competing against someone that’s just not visible to me, someone in their corona? Maybe they’re like Bruce Banner at the end of The Avengers movie – they’re always competitive. I can’t do that. I can use tools like Pomodoro to assist, or I work with or against someone. I can make gains that way, running ahead of the wind. I had someone working with me on that novel I almost completed, reading first drafts and making suggestions on changes. I had someone I was working with on another story effort that ended sooner than I wanted, but at least got finished. In my professional life, my best gains were made when I was competing with a team member, but the last person I felt competitive with has since moved on from the company and interstate.
But I don’t relaly want to talk about work
I attended a training course for leadership through my employer this year. Learned a lot, and if I internalise it well and regularly re-examine what I am doing, I should become a much better leader. One of the things I did learn is that I shouldn’t complete with other members of my team. My peers, absoultely; but not my team. So compete is the wrong term. It’s really about being proud of what you do and what the team does and wanting to show off and show it off. I haven’t built that culture in my team. Building that culture is how I intend to spend my social capital on using this training.
But I don’t really want to talk about the company I work for, at least not in the context of this blog. It’s boring and some people I work with, but not all, read this blog, I wouldn’t want a scenario where only some people know what’s going on in my head because they know where to look.
I could find people to work with. There was a woman who wanted to become writing partners back in 1999. I’ve not really stayed in communication although I follow on Twitter. I could write some pieces, then throw them away and write some better pieces and ask if she could help. I could do the same on Reddit. Probably on more than one subreddit. I could do the more traditional route that Pomodoro is just one flavour of, and stop being such a pissant when I fall off the wagon.
Planning out what I want to do is also important. The projects in which I am creating something - as opposed to consuming something - founder when I lose sight of what I am doing. I get lost in the weeds of small problems and spend too much time on them rather than taking incremental steps along a path to a goal. All of the doubts I experience, whether in the project or in myself, are instigated by this.
Life is no good unless you’re leaving something behind. Something other than a carbon footprint and a pile of trash. That’s all I ask, that I leave a dent in the universe. Doesn’t have to be big, just so that this time next year I can look back and point at something and say “I did that.”
I won’t set public goals. I don’t do New Years Resolutions anyway, because I am too much of a unromantic to believe in artificial renewals like that. I don’t even know if they offer and sort of psychological aid. I’ve read that that doing so can help and I have read that it can harm. By setting the goal I will feel that I have taken a first step, rather than a zeroth step, and then relax. However, I do have the meta-plan worked ot for 2015, the goals and projects that require their own planning.
You’ll know if it works when I say “Look at this.”
03 February, 2015
I continue to want to be Anil Dash, amongst others, when I grow up
via Anil Dash
1. I’ve gone back once or twice over the years and tried to write that ending, once working with the stupid cod-ending I let drift onto the shore back then, and once ignoring the rotting jelly fish corpse I’d left behind. ↩
2. I have no shame here because the MSCD program is worthless in the face of a) Stack Overflow and b) the wider community of open source libraries. However it would have scored us free MSDN licenses.↩