January 9, 2023

Which corners you can cut and which landmines to avoid


Anything is impossible until you’ve done it once.

The first cut is the deepest, as the song goes.

But the good news is, once you get the minimum amount of context and experience under your belt, the delta between zero to one and one to two is massive. What initially appeared too difficult is now just what needs to be done.

Impossibility very quickly turns into a matter of course.

Our very existence proves that we’ve been able to survive all of the difficult things we have already encountered.

And that’s when we start looking for new challenges. Bigger ones. Projects we may never have even tried before.

I remember wanting to write my first book during my senior year of college. Clueless about where to start, my mentor who had spent his career as an author, took the time to answer my questions. Bill spent a good hour walking me through the process soup to nuts, including writing, editing, formatting, designing, printing, distributing to marketing.

My brain felt like it was bouncing around in my skull.

You mean I have to think about all of those things? That’s way too many moving parts for me to manage. Good lord, I just love writing. The rest of that process seems completely overwhelming.

And understandably, this was back in the very early two thousands, when the print on demand and digital publishing industries were still in their infancy. The book publishing process wasn’t nearly as fast, cheap and efficient as it is today.

Nonetheless, I still pressed on with the project. Building the boat and learning how to sail at the same time, so to speak. The entire endeavor took one year from start to finish. Publishing was confusing, exhilarating, difficult, expensive and exhausting.

But sure enough, on that fated new year’s eve, the truck delivered thirty heavy boxes to my house. This was it. Three thousand copies of my very first book, hot off the press.

And as I held that hot little potato in my hand, a hundred thoughts blasted through my brain. Not the least of which was, wow, this wasn’t impossible. Becoming an author was eminently doable. I wonder what else I might be able to do?

That’s a critical moment in every person’s journey. When your very existence proves that you’ve been able to survive all of the difficult things you have already encountered.

Do you remember a time when you felt that way? Wasn’t it the most empowering goddamn feeling?

The thing about this moment is, you don’t realize how useful it is until you start on the second thing. When you go from zero to one and one to two.

Because once you’ve already got a win under your belt, now you know what to expect. You have data and perspective and context, so you know which corners you can cut and which landmines to avoid.

It’s funny, when I look at the average production timeline for my books over my career, the graph falls off a cliff around about number four.

First it took a year, then it took nine months, then six months, and so on.

Similarly, the average stress level falls off a cliff too. What used to cause me massive amounts of anxiety quickly became another task on the list. What initially appeared too difficult was now just what needed to be done.

Today, authoring and publishing books is like breathing to me. There’s so much muscle memory there, I don’t even have to think about it anymore. And this has ultimately given me the confidence to attempt larger and more complex opportunities that were formerly out of reach to me, like making films, creating a card game and building software.

Behold, the beauty of repetition. The more we do, the more we understand what doing means.

My recommendation is, get your units up. Find a way to exponentially increase your activity level in your core work.

Use the sheer power of repetition to sear the fundamentals into your muscle memory.

And before you know it, impossibility will turn into a matter of course. And you’ll begin making even larger bets whose payoffs are massive.

What will cease to become impossible after you’ve done it once?