The Curse of Preparation

There are two kinds of people. One doesn’t start doing something unless they think they are fully prepared. Others just start doing stuff, then figure it out along the way. You should aim to be in this second group. If you are in the first, welcome. Read on.

I’m sure you know some people like that. Someone you know has done something way before they were “ready.” They opened a business, started making content, moved country. Maybe it went well, maybe it didn’t. But they did it anyway.

You see, the problem with people like us is that we overestimate the cost of failure and underestimate the cost of preparation. It’s counterintuitive, but preparing, in most cases, is more expensive than failing.

When you prepare, you are delaying the actual start of your project. And time, sadly, is a one-way road. Each day spent not working on your project is a day you could have. When time is so limited, each passing day becomes more and more expensive. You know what I’m talking about: when you were a kid, or in school, days were nothing. You probably felt no guilt wasting en entire week. Now, when work takes away your most precious hours, and the clock ticks, every minute counts. And it’s not going to get better.

The most compelling argument against preparation though is that the real preparation is in the doing. People learn how to drive a car by driving a car. They learn how to shoot an arrow by shooting an arrow. Yet, we think we can prepare for our projects by reading up on them. That’s like thinking the best way to learn to swim is to read a book about swimming.

Creating is a skill, just like driving and shooting arrows. The only rational and effective way to get good at creating is to start creating.

When you first drove a car, you weren’t good. You knew there were risks involved. Yet you did it anyway, and now it’s second nature to you. The first time you create it’s not going to be good. There are risks involved. But if you do it anyway, it too will become second nature to you. And by create I mean anything from writing a paragraph to finally starting your business.

People like us think failure is the end of the road. We think failure is a cost too heavy to burden. But to fail is to prepare. We imagine in our head Micheal Phelps just jumping in the water and being the absolute best from day one. Or we imagine Mark Zuckerberg pouring over PHP books for 20 years before starting to write a single line of Facebook. But those are constructs of our head, pushing us to prepare so we avoid doing the actual work. They are far from the truth.

If you do something then succeed, great: you got what you wanted. If you do something then fail, also great: you learned a lot so that you can succeed next time.

You don’t get ready then start. You start then get ready.