It doesn’t always show to the outside world, nor do we always notice it, but we find a magical kind of success when we show up regularly.
Our efforts compound.
The value plucked from the hundredth day working is greater than that from the first. What once seemed unimaginable seems obvious as you gain a better understanding of subtleties the amateur simply cannot see.
We give up time with friends or family, we horde books and movies and albums we hope to get to one day, we ignore the exploration of some skills in the hope of gaining mastery over others. We ignore the monochrome world-at-large in favour of the Technicolor dream going on inside our heads.
And any pains caused by such abstinence is quickly zapped from our memories when we get a hint of what we will become.
Even a few days of work gives us growth. Which is great! We deserve a break, no? We are better than we were before, and today we’re tired, and there’s a great movie on tonight, and there’s that other project we want to work on, so why not just stop? Why shouldn’t we stop? Just for a couple of days?
What’s the worst that could happen?
When Nothing Happens
There’s no reason not to feel great about any accomplishment you have as you hone your craft. But it’s a slippery slope.
Suddenly pride can turn to complacency, and we think what we’ve done as being fairly … mundane. After all, who are we? We’ve just been doing small things, and we just happened to do them for a long time.
This complacency stops us from recognising what we’ve accomplished.
When you spend so much time looking down at what’s in front of you, you don’t realise that the bricks you’ve been laying have built a castle.
A writer might write a couple hundred words a day, but given enough time it becomes a book. A designer might just be trying to figure out how to give harmony to image and type, but, sure enough, eventually they’re able to evoke emotion and drive action. The developer might just be trying to solve small curiosities, but they add up to apps and platforms that change lives.
Complacency doesn’t allow us to see all that. Complacency stops us from sticking to our habits. From seeing that what we’re doing is important, even if it’s only important to us. It stops us from seeing where we’re going, even if it’s obvious.
Complacency doesn’t let us see our magnificent castle.
It only allows us to see a pile of bricks.
Then something horrible happens — the effort put in seems meaningless (because it looks easy), and the outcome pointless (because it’s just a few bricks).
So who cares if we stop for a few days.
The Moment We Stop
We lose so much by stopping.
We lose the habit of showing up, the one thing that ensures that any effort is to be made.
We lose momentum, that magnificent element of learning that means tomorrow will be worth more than today, that the whole of our efforts is greater than the sum.
Building habits is never easy, but maintaining them is. Once we’re past the initial hump of 60-90 days of showing up, doing so becomes automatic. Our days feel empty and unfinished unless we lay a brick or two.
And momentum isn’t even noticeable until you don’t have it. Unless you’re making sure to count your bricks daily, you won’t notice that you’re building a rhythm, and are slowly laying more and more every time your now-natural habit has you show up.
Both become regular, and regular means boring, and boring gives us a misconception of value.
Best of all, this boring couple open you up to the opportunity to grab onto moments of exponential growth.
Those moments in which you’re not just in the flow of our work, but you’re seeing a balance to the myriad of ideas you’re trying to hold onto.
Those moments when you make a comment on Twitter and it’s caught by someone you admire, someone you can learn from.
Those moments when your mind is so entrenched in your craft that even waiting in line to buy eggs means you’re solving problems.
Those moments when what were once mountains and dips on the path to mastery turn into milestones and opportunities.
Those moments that can’t be forced, or instantly gained.
Those moments that are our rewards for showing up regularly and doing work we care about.
What Could A Few Days Hurt?
The next time you’re tired, or disorganised, or uninspired, or just too busy, ask yourself “What harm could skipping it really do?”
But make sure you get the inflection right. We always ask that question of ourselves with the unspoken answer of “none! ha-haaa!”
Really ask it. Really wonder what harm could be done.
For me it was losing a writing habit. I haven’t written regularly in four months, or published in about two.
For me it wasn’t losing a writing habit. I haven’t written regularly for five months, nor publish in about three. That hurts. Deeply. But the harm done is far worse.
I haven’t shown up. I haven’t continued to have with you this conversation about craft and building skill and getting better.
I’m sorry about that.
I fooled myself into thinking that because I was working on something important (I was, I swear) like a major revision to the design of Retinart, that it was ok to stop. My complacency had me think that planning content for you was as good as writing content for you.
It was only meant to be for a couple of weeks. Just long enough for me to focus. I thought it would be easy to start again. To come back and write a post a week. It was just a brick? What of it, a brick is a brick is a brick, and I was once able to mortar one in place in barely a couple hours if needed.
Now all I see is a castle.
Don’t make my mistake.
Don’t take for granted those bricks in your hand.