This post doesn’t have much to do with software development, but I’d like to talk a little bit about motivation and start-ups. I’m sure most can relate (I mean about the motivation part), but it’s definitely something I’ve struggled with over the years.
To begin at the beginning, here’s a great quote relating to motivation and the origin of the title of this post:
“He who hesitates is lost. Swift and resolute action leads to success; self-doubt is a prelude to disaster.” -‘Cato’ (1713) by English essayist and poet Joseph Addison.
This is something my father used to say (well, more succinctly the first sentence), but I never really got to know him very well before he passed away. That being said, that saying has stuck with me throughout my life, and as I get older the more and more I’ve come to appreciate it. Sometimes (read: a lot of the time) I have not heeded its warning, but I really think that it’s an essential attitude to have in life in general, and especially when trying to follow your own path.
One of the biggest problems I’ve faced so far has been the so called “tyranny of choice” because all growing up I wanted to be a scientist, and that focus narrowed to Physics as I approached the end of my High School years. In the meantime I had also picked up a keen interest in computers and programming at an early age.
So I was faced with a decision. “What should I focus on?” I asked myself.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have an answer.
Part of me wanted to start a company making video games, but I felt that I probably wasn’t ready for that because most of my self-started projects would end up being too ambitious or I’d become distracted and start some other pie-in-the-sky project instead of trying to finish what I had started. Another part of me wanted to do the noble thing and pursue a career in Physics, to try and unravel the secrets of the universe. So, as a bit of a compromise, I told myself that I’d get a joint degree in Physics and Computer Science and delay making a decision until after I graduated.
So I graduated.
I was still in the same ridiculous situation.
I was too afraid to make a choice, because, “Oh god, what if I make the wrong choice?!” In retrospect, this was stupid, but stupid things happen. So I decided to get a job doing corporate software development so I could pull in some money while I sat on my hands waiting for an epiphany, or a sign, or maybe someone to come and hit me in the head with a shovel for being so ridiculous.
Another seven years or so passed of me coasting along, unmotivated to make a decision and take charge of my life. Part way through I even toyed with the idea of becoming a professional photographer, which did not help me make that decision in the least. Mind you, I would never count these years spent in university and in the corporate world as “wasted” as I did learn an awful lot about myself, computers and the world in general. That being said, I was in a rut, and sick and tired of not trying to do something about it.
So, as you may have noticed, I decided to try my hand at this video game thing. It may not be as “noble” as a career in physics, but if there’s something other than science that I’m truly passionate about, it’s computers and video games.
While many people might think it’s scary to try and start your own business, I think that at least for me, I would rather at least try and live with the potential of failure than end up living a life filled with regrets. Would you rather look back on your life and say “What if I had tried to do something exciting with my life instead of taking the easy route?” Sure I will have to look back and say “What if I had pursued a career in physics and/or academia?” but you can’t do everything at once, and I am genuinely happy and excited to be following this seemingly crazy path in life.
So, if you’re hesitating on doing something daring and exciting that you know in your heart you can do, don’t hesitate too long or you may live to regret it.
If you’re in a similar situation to me, I’d highly recommend reading the many essays by serial tech entrepreneur Paul Graham. One thing I definitely took away from his writing, that relates to motivation and doing your own thing, is the proposition:
“Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years. Instead of working at a low intensity for forty years, you work as hard as you possibly can for four. This pays especially well in technology, where you earn a premium for working fast.”
I really like the idea of that, and he also talks a lot about doing what you love in the context of start-ups and working hard to make a comfortable living doing the things you love.
Mind you I’m not saying that my primary motivation in this is to get rich quick or some other malarky like that. What I’m saying is, if you can do something that you love, and turn that thing you love into a way to support yourself, then why not try and do that?
Another thing Paul talks about is not giving up, and he could not be any closer to the truth of the matter. Realizing of course that money is always an issue with these sorts of things, as long as you don’t give up, eventually you’ll succeed as long as you have good ideas and a passion for what you’re doing.
That being said, one thing that usually keeps me from doing anything too risky is that I’m a fairly shy person, though I do like to think of myself as more daring and brash than I probably am usually. However being the head of a start-up is not a place for shy people, so I am actually pushing myself outside my comfort zone on a daily basis. As odd as it sounds, I think I may be a closet extrovert. Would that be ironic? All I know is I do get a bit of a kick out of pushing my boundaries, even by a little bit, every day.
So, if this meandering beast of a blog post could be summed up, I think ultimately I’d like to say that you should never give up on your dreams and passions, turning your dreams and passions into your job might be scary but in the end you’ll be a better person for it, don’t be afraid to push your boundaries because you might actually enjoy it, and in the immortal words of a great physicist, trickster, raconteur and personal hero of mine, Richard Feynman:
“What do you care what other people think?”
Don’t let the fear of failure, judgment, or “what if?” smother your potential.
Don’t be lost.