Jeremy Côté

Many Tries

Deciding to take action and embark on a project is scary. After all, it feels like you have to be perfect in every moment, or else it will reflect badly on the work. This is even more true when you’re working on a project that’s very important to you. There’s a perfect, idealized version of it in your mind, and then there’s the reality. It’s almost always a disappointment. As a result, we become conditioned to avoid doing difficult work.

This tends to be the primary resistance holding us back from new projects. Perhaps you want to learn a new topic in physics, or perhaps you want to craft an explanation of a problem you’ve been working on for a while. Whatever the project, we don’t want to start because we are afraid of what will happen when we make a mistake.

The problem with this is that we’re not taking a long enough view of our work. Instead of thinking about your project as something you do and then finish, I would suggest trying to think about what you want to do with your time in general. For example, say your project is to write an essay about a topic you’re excited about. If you’re only writing for this one particular topic and don’t care about writing in general, chances are the piece won’t be great. It might be adequate for your needs, but if you’re not willing to put in the work to improve your writing, your output will reflect that.

Instead, I recommend thinking about this project as one drop in a very large bucket. One droplet won’t fill the bucket. In fact, it has almost no effect. That’s both the blessing and curse of the situation. On the one hand, you don’t have to worry about any one project or day. You can make bad work, and it won’t matter in the long run if you keep on producing more. On the other hand, it means you have to be willing to dedicate a lot of time towards improving. Whether you’re willing to do that or not depends on you.

My point is simply that it’s a waste of time to worry about any specific day. You won’t be your at your best each day. This is inevitable. What’s more important is to have an eye towards improving in the long run. It takes a long time, but the improvement will show if you keep at it. It’s not always fun and it’s not always easy, but the path forward is clear. If you want to do great work, don’t worry about any particular day. Rather, make sure that you are always challenging yourself and putting in the work to get better. Do that, and you will get better at closing the gap between the perfect projects in your mind and your output.