A Lesson I Keep Trying to Learn

December 27, 2020

Over the years I’ve internalized many lessons.

When in a conversation with someone, listen to what they’re saying—don’t just wait for a moment to make your own point.

When feeling overwhelmed, stop. The tendency is to go faster, but that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

When in doubt about whether to go for a walk, go for a walk. You’ll never regret it.

And so on.

Some lessons took longer than others to land. One lesson stands out. I’ve realized the truth of this lesson many times, but for some reason I keep forgetting about it. Here’s the lesson in question:

Clarity comes from action. (And not from more thinking.)

Sometime in 2017, I had the idea of starting my own online business. Maybe I could help expats who were moving to Amsterdam find their way around the city. Maybe I could help yoga studios sell more memberships by improving their email marketing. Or maybe I could do something on the topic of productivity.

It wasn’t until March of 2019—two years later!—that I made any money to speak of, though. What did I do in those 24 months between having the idea and making some money? I was “wantrepreneuring”: wanting to be an entrepreneur without doing anything about it.

In hindsight, my mistake is obvious: I wanted perfect clarity before executing on anything.

I didn’t want to make any rookie mistakes. I wanted to see the whole path before embarking on it. I didn’t want to run the risk of starting a business that wouldn’t make money or that wouldn’t feel right. At the time, I didn’t realize that I’d never be able to find out whether a particular idea was good or bad unless I tried it.

So I spent hours, days, week, months, and even years not executing. Instead, I read all the books, listened to all the podcasts, and took all the courses on how to build an online business. Okay, not all of them, but many of them.

It took my hiring of a mindset coach to finally snap out of my wantrepreneuring. Almost immediately, my coach told me not to consume any more information on starting or running a business. I wasn’t allowed to plan to start a business; I was only allowed to do.

And it worked. Shortly after that, in March of 2019, I launched my first online course, Get Stuff Done with OmniFocus 3, which still gets people great results today. Of course I’ve updated the course many times since then, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I had never started.

As I said, though, I sometimes forget that action comes from clarity (and not from more thinking).

Right now, I’m about to launch a podcast. I’ve wanted to start a podcast for a while and I recently decided to go for it. But again the old “I want to plan everything in advance!” gremlin appeared. I first wanted to come up with the most unique podcast concept that’s fun to record, that’s fun and useful to listen to, that would immediately become a hit, et cetera et cetera.

Today I realized what I was doing: I was yet again trying to get clarity from more thinking. I should have learned this lesson by now, but apparently I still forget.

Immediately, I decided to take action instead. I emailed three friends to ask whether they’d like to be on my podcast as a guest and, if so, when it would suit them to record the episode.

We’re in the middle of the holidays so I’m not expecting quick replies. But I took action. I will record those episodes soon. They won’t be my best episodes—as with anything, there will be a learning curve. But I’m pretty sure they’ll give me a lot of clarity on what sorts of questions I’d like to ask my guests, on what makes for a compelling interview, on what sorts of people I’d like to speak with, and so on.

Take it from me: clarity comes from action.

If you have something you’d like to do, but you’re lacking clarity, just give it a shot. Even if you don’t have all the answers. Truly, don’t make the same mistake I made.

Before you know it, you’ve spent two years not doing very much. And life years don’t grow on trees.

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