Is It Too Late? No. Start Now.
In The Beginning
Sometimes it feels like the world is chock full of successful, beautiful, rich people, and somehow they're all younger than you.
They've come out of nowhere. They've launched global clothing brands, they've monetised their YouTube channels, they've published their novels and they've made '30 under 30' lists, all without breaking a sweat.
It's easy to compare against these examples and feel like we're behind where we should be. It's easy to feel like it's too late to start something. It's easy to give in and accept our lot in life.
This is wrong.
I don't know if you needed to hear this or not, but I'm going to say it so that it's out there:
No matter who you are, it is never too late for you to get started.
It doesn't matter whether it's a small project or a grand plan, you can start today. It doesn't matter who you are or where you from, you can start today. It doesn't matter if you don't have everything you need yet, you can start today.
That book you want to write? It's never too late, you can start it today.
The business you want to set up? It's never too late, you can start it today.
The relationship you want to build? It's never too late, you can start it today.
If there's one thing that's certain, it's this: waiting - for the lucky break, for the perfect conditions, for enough money - is never going to get us closer to success. Starting is.
In this article, I'm going to walk through the following:
- Why it's never too late to start
- Why you need to start today
- What you need before you start
- How to start today
- How to keep the momentum going
Okay, let's start.
Why It’s Never Too Late To Start
Some of the most successful people out there only found their success later in life.
- Harrison Ford was a carpenter in his thirties before he made his break.
- Vera Wang only started making dresses at forty.
- Ray Kroc didn't get into the fast food business until his fifties.
All of these people have different stories behind them, the things they were doing before they 'hit the bigtime'. Ford had done some acting but had been unsuccessful. Wang had been a figure skater and journalist. Kroc had been a salesman.
What all of them have in common is that none of them were starting from scratch. They all brought something different and unique to their work, different from everyone else who had gone ahead of them.
No Such Thing As 'Scratch'
Before we get going, it can feel daunting to start from scratch. There's nothing quite so as unsettling as a blank page and no clue what to write.
The good news is that there is no such thing as starting from scratch. Whatever we do, we're all coming to the table with something we've already done. With some experience we've already had. With our own ideas and opinions.
Whether you start something at 16 or 66, your experience to that point will inform and instruct how you go about what you do and how you do it. Each start will be different, yes. But each start will still have value.
There's a popular chinese proverb that goes like this:
'The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.'
When are you going to plant yours?
Why You Need to Start Today
Each day of our lives, there are always two choices: to begin, or delay.
Waiting until tomorrow can feel comfortable, and comforting. We know we'll do it, just... not yet. But there's a problem with this.
'We don't tell ourselves 'I'm never going to write my symphony.' Instead we say, 'I am going to write my symphony; I'm just going to start tomorrow.' Steven Pressfield's 'The War of Art'
When we tell ourselves that we'll wait until tomorrow, we're pulling the wool over our own eyes. We get the sense of satisfaction that comes from believing we'll start tomorrow, so we get to breathe a sigh of relief that we don't have to experience any difficulty today.
Saying we'll start tomorrow is like saying we'll never start at all.
What Happens When We Begin
If, instead, we make the choice to begin, something unusual happens.
As if from nowhere, things suddenly start to fall into place.
We see opportunities we hadn't noticed before. We find that some things aren't as hard as we thought they would be. Opportunities land in our laps. A friend mentions they know a guy who has a relative who works in a place where... and so on.
No, this is not 'the universe' at work. Nothing is being 'manifested' - that's just something dreamt up to sell more copies of 'The Secret'.
The cold hard reality is that it's just your mind, hard at work, helping you to notice things that you wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't already started.
This is why it's so important to begin today - we write ourselves a guarantee of our own success.
What You Need Before You Start
Let's talk about motivation.
To be able to start now, we need to be motivated enough to make that first step. For some of us, motivation comes easily. For others, it's a lot harder.
If you feel like you should be starting something but you don't have the motivation to do it, the chances are it doesn't interest you enough.
If we spend all our energy on drumming up motivation to do the thing we're not that interested in, we won't have as much energy left to actually do the thing itself.
It could be that it's something you feel you should be doing, or something that would be 'the right thing to do'. If you're thinking this, stop right there - this is a big red flag.
'Should Do' vs 'Must Do'
Let's imagine for a second that you've got this idea that, to be successful, you need to qualify as an accountant. You're not sure where you got the idea from, but you feel like it's something you ought to do.
You wouldn't say you have a strong interest in it, but there is this qualification that you need to move forwards, and without it you can't be an accountant. And you can't be successful if you can't be an accountant. Right?
But really, when you're true to yourself, you know that your real interests lie elsewhere. Maybe it's something like astronomy, or writing, or sports, or statistics, or physics.
You have a choice to make - do you go the route you think you ought to take? Or will you go with what you know holds an important place in your heart and mind?
Let's say you go the accounting route. Five years from now, how's that going to look and feel? What's it like to wake up and go to work every day? Do you have any regrets? Is it easy to make progress?
Sure, you could go ahead and do the qualification. You could reap the benefits of doing that. But will you be happy? Will you be excited? Will you be energised to start every day putting that qualification to good use? No?
Then don't do it.
The world is full of people wandering around imagining what life could have been like if they'd done something else. Don't be that person.
Focusing our efforts on things that we find genuinely interesting and exciting is important. There's no need to find the motivation to do it, because it's already there.
Caution! It's Not Necessarily About Your 'Passion'
Focusing on your interests and your curiosity is not the same as 'following your passion'. This is because, depending on what your passion is, it could be a terrible idea.
On the one hand, it might be that your passion is to start successful businesses. But then it might also be that your greatest passion is going on holiday.
One of those passions has a profitable future that can sustain itself, and you, as you do it. The other does not.
Hitting the Sweet Spot
On the spectrum between our passions and our obligations, are our real interests. They are the things that excite us, that we are the most curious about.
Finding a way to tap into that interest and excitement is important.
If we tackle a task that has us excited from the moment we think of it, it will be a breeze. We'll make progress, we'll produce great work, we'll have the energy to do it day in, day out.
The path of most interest is usually the path of least resistance. And we should always, always choose the path of least resistance.
Already clear on what your interests are? Skip this next bit.
But if you’re not sure where to start, or you need some help to get your thoughts in order, here are some questions to ask yourself to identify your sweet spot:
- What can you not stop talking about, if someone gets you started? Why?
- What are the last five things you ordered online? Is there a theme?
- What are the books/magazines/blogs/journals that you are actually reading, rather than just 'in the pile'? What is it about these things?
- When your mind wanders and you daydream, what do you end up thinking about?
The answers to these questions won't necessarily give you what you're looking for straightaway. But with enough time, they should lead you in the right direction.
How To Start Today
Stop Waiting For Perfect Conditions
Even with the best intentions, there are four words that have stopped so many good ideas in their tracks:
'If I only had...'
If I only had more time, more money, more connections, more qualifications... then, maybe - just maybe - I might be able to do this thing.
We don't say these words because of what we lack. We say these words because we are imagining the finished product first. We then imagine all the resources and time it will take to build that product, and it feels overwhelming.
To have the best chance of finishing that product, we need everything today. Or do we?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as perfect. If we are always waiting for things to be perfect, it will never arrive. We will never start.
Even the world's best athletes know there will never be a day where they wake up truly pain-free. If they waited for perfect conditions, they'd never train. They'd never win. They have to play hurt, no matter what.
If things aren't perfect right now, that's fine. Accept it. Lean into it. Just get started and improve what you do as conditions improve along with it.
Start Small, With What You Have
Just as we shouldn't wait around for the perfect conditions, we should never try to build the finished product to begin with.
- It will take a long time
- It can easily be derailed
- It could quickly cost a lot
- And after all that, it might be the wrong thing to build in the first place
If we start big and find out, down the line, that what we're doing isn't the right thing, it becomes much harder to stop.
The simple solution to all of this is to start small. When we start small, we can:
- Spend little
- Get feedback quickly
- Change easily
- Stop if we have to
Whatever it is you want to do - whether it's a creative pursuit, a business, a side-project - don't focus on the finished product. Have a 'vision' in mind, but set it aside and start with the most fundamental element:
- If you want to start a blog, don't spend hours deciding between Squarespace or Wordpress. Just start writing.
- If you want to run a marathon, don't spend any time researching new shoes. Just go and run.
- If you want to start a business, don't spend time on a business plan or building your system. Just start doing the thing.
Sometimes it feels like every fibre of our being wants us to do anything but get started. This can happen on day 1 or day 100. It can be easy to busy ourselves doing something else, and just put things off until tomorrow.
There are many ways to overcome procrastination, but there is one way that works better than all the rest. Especially when it comes to making a start in the first place.
Here's the trick. After we've made that small start... we don't finish it. Not today. We deliberately leave it unfinished. The page, half written. The sketch, just an outline. The presentation, nothing more than a quick draft.
If you've got the motivation you need to overcome procrastination today to make the first start, procrastination can strike on day 2. Or day 3. Or on any day.
However, if the start we make leaves the task unfinished, we can return to something that is already underway. And that's far easier to continue working on.
If I ever do finish something on any given day, I'll make sure to start something else - even if it's only minor - just so that it's easier to carry on with tomorrow.
Do The Work
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.” - Somerset Maugham
Now that you've sat down to make a start, you've got some momentum. It's not much, but it's enough. Like a flame in the kindling, we need to pump oxygen into what will become a roaring fire.
How do we do that? We do the work.
This is the part of the success story that nobody ever talks about, but everybody has to go through. Now that you're committed and the first line is written, you best get on and write the rest of it.
And you need to keep on writing it. Every damn day.
Don't leave it up to chance. Have a routine, a schedule, a place to do the work. Do everything you can to remove friction or resistance so that you can focus on what you're doing. Put everything in its right place and create the time you need to do it.
The good news? This is actually the best part. This is where we see the fruits of our labours come into existence right before our very eyes.
Always Be Shipping
As enjoyable as the work might be, this is not enough. We cannot just work away at something and put it in a drawer to gather dust. We have - we need - to ship.
This could be as simple as saying 'It's done!' and putting it somewhere someone else can just see it. Or it could mean that you flick the switch to turn something on. Or it could mean that you finally send that email that will start a new chapter in your life.
Whatever it is you're doing, the longer you sit on it, the more comfortable it becomes. The easier it becomes to not ship the thing.
We can't ever sit back and hope for the best. We have to take what we've done, what we've moulded and created, and do something with it. Put it on display, put it to use, share with someone who needs it - it doesn't really matter.
You've just gotta ship it. You've always got to be shipping what you do.
The only thing worse than not starting a good idea is not finishing it. To get so close to the finishing line and then... abandon it. It's criminal.
At first, it will never feel like it's ready to ship. This is normal. This is supposed to happen. It will feel weird and nerve-wracking and you won't want to do it.
Do it anyway. You'll thank me for it later.
But What Next? (How to Keep the Momentum Going)
If we start every day, we add to the momentum. If we sit down to do our work every day, we add to the momentum. If we accept there will be no perfect conditions, we add to the momentum. If we overcome procrastination, we add to the momentum.
The act of starting, on its own, adds to the momentum. Not just for the task at hand, but for everything else we do. Buoyed by what we did in project A, we can often apply to project B.
And so it continues.
The only thing we need to do to keep the momentum going is to keep starting.
What are you going to start today? Come find me on twitter and tell me.