February 22, 2024

I don’t want people to know what I’m doing until I’m done


I have no interest in telling anybody what I’m working on right now.

My projects are going to remain a secret for as long as possible, because then nobody can vomit their pointless opinions all over them.

I value my own efficiency more than other people’s feedback. I would rather get it done than get it right.

Now, if this sounds selfish, cagey and close minded, you’re absolutely right. But containment is the only route to progress. Secrecy is the blanket of dirt on the seed that guarantees growth. Hiding away from the light of day is what will help the idea flourish.

This is why so few people actually accomplish their goals. They talk them into the ground. People don’t do what they say, they say what they want to do. Building momentum becomes impossible because ninety percent of their energy is wasted on checking in, touching base, circling back, syncing up and closing loops. And none of this is real work. It’s shadow labor. Procrastination in disguise. Creating an illusion of false assurance that they’re actively doing something about their situation.

I have a friend who literally took ten years to redesign his website. Ten years. I’m not exaggerating for effect here. We first met when I was thirty years old, and he finally launched the site when I was forty. I remember him telling me about this project for a decade.

The worst part was, the site didn’t even come out that good. It was fine. But not ten years fine. Not seventy thousand dollars fine. That same investment of time and money and energy invested into the quiet dark would have produced significantly more value for this world.

All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and the project would have been done.

But sadly, we no longer live in a world of done. We live in a world of dither. We have designed a culture in which all of our work goes to giving status updates.

Just look at the most popular smartphone apps in the world. Every one of these programs revolves around users sharing thoughts, feelings, experiences, whereabouts, and other media, so that they appear in the new feeds of friends and followers.

The irony is, the more time people spend on them, the less satisfied they feel about their life.

Goffman’s anthropological theory about the presentation of self in everyday first researched this behavior in the early sixties. He found that human beings consciously manage their identity related information in social contexts to gain peer regard and acceptance of their presentation.

And since the reward circuits in our brains are more active when our statuses are liked by more peers, we can’t stop that dopamine train.

There’s no done, only dithering. There’s no secrecy and containment, we just give a little bit of everything all of the time, slowly pecking away at our fulfillment like a flock of angry ducks.

Now, I don’t completely discount the value of getting input from others along the journey. Some people thrive with a mechanism of accountability.

I just wonder if it’s handicapping them. I wonder if people are developing an inability to independently meet their own needs.

Nolan, a favorite filmmaker of mine, is legendary for his containment strategies. For his movies, he goes to great lengths to avoid script leaks. The level of secrecy maintained by the actors is astounding.

One actor claims he received a knock on his door on random day, and standing there was the director himself with an envelope under his arm.

I’ve come to deliver the script to you. Twenty four hours from now, I will give you a telephone call and we will discuss us. And it would be nice if we kept this to ourselves.

Another actor claimed he was locked in a hotel room for several hours to read the script, and was required to leave empty handed.

While another time, the director insisted on sitting right there with the actor, drinking tea in the actor’s living room, until he had finished the script, and then took it away with him.

That’s secrecy. According to the official biography of this filmmaker, of the more than six hundred workers who helped bring his war drama to life, only twenty crew members were allowed to read the script. Copies of which were kept on set and watermarked with actors’ name, so that missing copies could be traced back to their negligent owners.

This might sound extreme and obsessive, but then again, what’s worse? Thinking that you’re paranoid, or knowing that you should be?

The problem with containment building is, it’s one of those strategies that requires skills our society is inherently bad at. We have been conditioned not to value things like discipline, patience, reliance, trust and delayed gratification.

Or we have forgotten how to execute them in light of our technological amnesia.

Whatever the reason is, you’d have an easier time building a radioactive containment system to enclose a nuclear reactor, than getting people to keep their mouths shut about things they’re doing.

It’s too soothing to share. There’s too much dopamine on tap. Seems the secrecy deck is stacked against us.

But that’s all the more reason to be vigilant. The truth is, one of the reasons that I don’t want people to know what I’m doing until I’m done, is because I often don’t know what I’m doing until I’m done.

All I know is, I don’t like anything that prevents progress. Anything that keeps me from satiation my need for action is the enemy.

Just leave me alone, and when it’s over, you’ll know.

Are you giving too much weight to people’s opinions to early in the process?