Do the work to make it simple

ikea_intructions_by_jonathan_khoo

I’m having a great time reading Steven Pressfield’s Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t.

Not only is it fun to read, but it’s easy to read because Pressfield has done the work to make it simple.

He uses short, impactful sentences. He keeps the word-count lean and he doesn’t use big words when small ones will do.

He’s not trying to convince you how smart he is, he’s trying to communicate ideas effectively. He’s trying to make it as easy as possible to read.

With writing, it’s easy to notice when someone’s done the work, but the idea is not limited to writing.

In every endeavour, you can make things better for the next person in the chain. You can put effort into your part which means they need less effort in theirs.

This is how you add value to a system.

If your work creates value which other people can realise, you’ve also created value for yourself.

Do the work to make it simpler for someone else and you’ve just made life better for everyone.

How valuable is your work, to you?

remington-by-mark-grapengater

I’d ideally write this whilst sitting in a house, high on a cliff, by an open window, overlooking the ocean.

I’d ideally write this on a manual typewriter (with a colemak keyboard) and then scan it in so that I can pipe it out to the digital world.

I’d ideally write this after a 6 mile run, uninterrupted by family, phone or any other unsolicited demand on my attention.

I’d ideally have a cup of good coffee on one side of the typewriter and a bowl of almonds on the other. A pair of supportive shoes on my feet and some noise-cancelling headphones on my ears.

If I wrote under these conditions, I’m confident that I could do my best work.

Unfortunately – the conditions have never been just right.

But this is my work, so I still need to write.

The conditions will never be just right for you either, but you still have to do your work.

Not your job, your work. Whatever it is that you have to do.

Because the value of you doing your work – whatever that work is – is greater than the value of you not doing it.

The value of you working, even in a sub-optimal environment is much greater than the value of you not working until the conditions are right.

Sometimes the conditions will be approach ideal, and on those days maybe it will be more fun. Maybe you’ll be more productive. Maybe you’ll have more success.

But don’t make success contingent on ideal conditions.

Conditions are variable, fickle, little buggers.

The only constant you can count on is you doing your work.

Today it’s dark, I haven’t run and the coffee is non-existent but I’m still writing.

Because some value is better than no value.

The battle you need to fight

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The future will be made by those who are willing to fight long, hard, uphill battles, for the benefit of others, when there is almost no chance of success.

Even when, individually, most of these battles are likely to be lost, they are the key to our collective success, our happiness and, perhaps, our survival.

Our success, because they stretch us to be better.

Our happiness, because service to others brings purpose and satisfaction.

Our survival, because without such work we’ll run ourselves into the ground.

The battles are individual, they are personal. We don’t all need to fight on the same fronts, but we each need to find the fight that we’re willing to take on. The thing that we care enough about to do the hard work. To push uphill when most people won’t.

That’s you’re life’s work. That’s your purpose.

To fight a battle which no one else will. To find the impossible task that you care enough about to find the way through where others have fallen by the wayside.

To push against overwhelming odds because you believe in the value of the potential upside.

We’ve all got at least one, uphill, nigh-on-impossible, protracted and probably-hopeless battle in us.

Your first job is to find it find your battleground.

Your second job is to start fighting.

What comes first, the inspiration or the work?

Lightning on an urban horizon with machinery in the foreground

It seems like inspiration should come first.

It seems like you should wait for it to strike and then make as much space as possible for the output which it will fuel. “Clear the decks,” you yell, “I’ve got a full tank of inspiration and I’m not stopping until it’s dry”.

But that’s not how it works, unfortunately – the work always comes first.

Inspiration doesn’t push the work; work drags inspiration into the world, sometimes kicking and screaming.

You show up, you start working and then the inspiration comes.

If you wait for inspiration to show up, you’ll be waiting for a long time.

If you wait for inspiration to show up, you’ll be forever afraid of it running out. It will seem like a precious resource that needs to be handled like eggs. You’ll wrap your inspired ideas in cotton wool and smother them before they have any chance of growing.

If you do the work first, you’ll learn that inspiration is free and plentiful and should never be hoarded away. You’ll learn that inspired ideas should be unwrapped and exposed to full sunshine as quickly as possible so you can determine which will grow and which need to be discarded (yes, some great ideas need to be discarded – they might not be for you).

If you do the work first, you can be generous with your inspiration and the ideas that follow, because you know there’s always more where that comes from.

If you do the work first, everything else will follow.

And since you’re going to be starting this work, most of the time, without inspiration – you’d better start to love the work.

Showing up

This is the trouble with starting any kind of practice. When you first get the intention to start, you’re filled with both a firm view of the possibilities it might offer, and the fuel to get it done.

Some days you can’t see the possibilities, but you have the fuel. That’s ok, the fuel can push you through.

Some days you don’t have the fuel, but you can still see the possibilities. That’s ok, the possibilities can pull you through.

Some days you have neither. And on those days, all you can do is commit to putting one foot in front of the other.

It doesn’t really matter what you do on those days, what matters is showing up and doing the work.

Intention is great – but it’s only great if it catalyses action. Without action, intention is irrelevant.

You can grab someone roughly by the arm because you want to do them harm, or you can grab someone roughly by the arm because they’re about to step in front of a bus. The intentions are different, but they’re only different because something happened.

If you don’t show up and do the work then it doesn’t really matter what you intended.

This isn’t a great piece of writing, but that’s ok. Today its job isn’t to be good. Today its job is just to make sure that my intention to write is manifest.

And sometimes that’s enough.