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First Steps Pt. 1

Hey there,

Thanks to everyone who responded to last week’s email. I always enjoy hearing about what different people are working on, and it’s even more exciting to see how many of you have plans to start something new yourselves.

Since this is our first real post, I thought we should start by talking about starting.

Every new endeavour begins with an idea. Unfortunately, most of them also end there. Starting something sounds like it should be the easiest part—there are so few restrictions on what you can do and how you can do it. But when we’re creating something from nothing its often those first few steps that are the most difficult to take.

For each book that’s been published, thousands of them never even had their first sentence put on paper. There are 1.8 million apps in the App Store today, but ten times that number will never see a line of code. How much value is locked up in people’s heads, just waiting to be released?

There are too many reasons for this paralysis for us to cover them all today, so I’ll focus on the one seen most often:

Not knowing where to start.

The first step is often the hardest to take because we’re so unsure of where to begin. When the page is blank, anything is possible, and our minds freeze as we consider the endlessness before us. And since we’re starting from zero, we have nothing to fall back on, no momentum to carry us forward.

Often we “solve” this problem by working around our idea instead of on it. We think up a catchy name, sketch out logos on napkins, and look at how much it costs to print new business cards. We read articles on raising money or finding an agent, or researching how we’re going to profit from a product that doesn’t yet exist.

Other times we fall into endless planning. Outlines, timelines, deadlines, but not a line of verse or prose or code. Pages of documents talking about the project, but nothing that actually implements it.

Both of these failure modes feel like progress, but neither actually moves us forward. And it’s that lack of forward momentum that’s keeping us locked up at the start.

So how can we identify the types of activities that count as work on the project, rather than unessential work around it?

Real first steps—the ones that create momentum—will teach you useful and enduring lessons about the essence of your idea or the path to making it reality.

Consider the following examples:

  • Do you want to start freelancing? Open up Craigslist, identify some potential targets, and start emailing them. If you don’t know how to write that sort of email, then your first step is to learn how. You may not get immediate responses, but with every one you send you’re learning how to sell, gaining confidence, and getting closer to closing a client as a freelancer. Your first real steps are teaching you and building momentum in a way that sketching logos never possibly could.
  • Do you want to write a novel? Close the writing blogs, turn off the podcasts, and sit down and write an outline. Sketch out how your characters get from point A to point B. If the epic tale you plan to tell is too daunting to outline, choose a portion of it and start with a short story instead. And then start writing. If you don’t know where to start, start at the beginning. Pick a character and have them tell their story. Even if you throw it all out, every word you write will teach you about the story you’re telling, help you improve your craft, and you’ll become a better writer for it.
  • Do you want to get a professional certification or go back to school for a graduate degree to make a career move? Learn about the new field from the eyes of the professionals practicing it. Read their professional journals and industry news websites, join their Internet forums and groups, visit a conference. In the process, you’re learning valuable information about a field that captured your interest, while also investigating whether this new career would be right for you. These are steps that build both momentum and your knowledge while giving you an honest picture of a field in a way that reading slick university websites about the graduate program cannot.

Momentum is all an idea needs at first. By taking real first steps that give us momentum and build our expertise, our second and third steps become clearer and easier.

The best way to begin is to identify the single point that separates where you are now from where you want to be, then figure out the work you can do with the resources you have right now to make it real.

What big idea is sitting locked up in your head right now? What action can you take today, right this minute, to get it started?

Take it! And tell me all about it here.

Until next week,

James

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