Rashly Undertake Challenging Projects: Lessons from a Life’s Work

“I have tried in this book to accomplish the first part of a pleasant assignment which I rashly laid upon myself some twenty years ago: to write a history of civilization.”

These are Will Durant’s opening words in the preface to the first volume of his magnificent series of books, The Story of Civilization. He wrote this in March, 1935. He turned 50 years old later that year. So, he undertook his project to document human civilization around age 30. He pursued this monumental endeavor for the rest of his life, publishing the 11th, final volume in 1975, at age 90, 60 years after he first embarked on his journey of creation. He died 6 years later at a ripe old age.

This contains multiple lessons:

  • If you find a project you truly love — a “pleasant assignment,” as Durant put it — you might spend six decades working on it, two thirds of your life, without tiring of it.
  • If you haven’t started the grand project of your life yet, don’t despair. Durant didn’t start his until age 30, and none of it saw the light of day until age 50. And yet it was a beautiful success that has inspired and educated generations since.
  • An assignment you “rashly lay upon yourself” may end up becoming your life’s work. So be rash and undertake challenging projects, whether it is a book, blogging daily, a podcast, learning a complex software tool, learning how to write marketing copy, etc. As Goethe has been paraphrased:
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
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