Start Before You’re Ready

As Reddit.com co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped on stage to speak to a crowded NYC hall at 99U’s Pop-Up School, a slide behind him read:

“I have no idea what I’m doing and that’s awesome.”
Video of Alexis’s talk here.

If the co-founder of one of the most popular websites on the internet has no idea what he’s doing — what does that say for rest of us?

One of the greatest myths is that of the fearless entrepreneur or corporate escapee having it “all figured out” before they started.

Here’s a secret: they didn’t.

Here’s another: they still don’t.

Meanwhile the myth persists, and while they’re out slushing through the muck to build something or making awkward attempts to reinvent themselves, we’re huddled ‘round getting ready to get ready. Once we’re ready; once we acquire the skills, knowhow, connections, money and confidence; once we’re sure we can pull it off, then we’ll get going.

Our perfect moment is just around the corner and once it’s here we’ll start.

For destinations unknown (career change, unproven business idea, life transformation) the foolproof ten-step plan won’t get us there. Ready, aim, shoot doesn’t work. Start once you’re ready is a surefire way to never begin.

Instead, life and work experience tell me this:

Take small steps. Hell, half steps if you must. Conduct experiments. Work on projects. Act first and reflect all along the way: What are you learning? About yourself? About your ideas? About new possibilities for yourself? About what you enjoy? What you don’t? What you’re great at? What you’re not so great at? How the world responds? How does this inform your next small steps?

Relentlessly focus (and refocus) on where you’re going. And remind yourself WHY you’re going there. When you find yourself stuck steeping deep in your own introspective juices (and you will), remember to get out of your head by immediately helping someone else. And please please please remember to ask for help yourself. Be generous. Be brave. Celebrate your tiny wins along the way. Do it with people who get it. Sadly they might not be found within your current circle, but they’re likely waiting for you inside another tribe.

Wash, rinse, repeat. This might not get easier, but you will become more confident and courageous as you keep on stepping.

Alexis concluded his NYC talk bluntly:

“Sucking is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

Having the courage to “suck” — in whatever you’re testing out, with whatever you’re working towards, on whatever experiments you’re conducting — is the crucial first step in actually going somewhere worth going. Embrace the “suck,” and then keep stepping.

And when the time comes to make a larger leap, you’ll be ready to heed the advice given to a young Native American at his initiation:

“As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm.
Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”

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