Today at work, I’m working on setting up automatic continuous deployment. This is always a trial-and-error process, and the feedback loop is slow. For every change, I have to push the branch and wait for CircleCI to run the pipeline before I can see the results. I make a change. I push. I wait. It fails. I make a change. Et cetera.
While the robot works, I have time to do some writing. In the background of my screen, it fails the same task over and over. I offer a tiny bit of feedback so that it can improve, and then I watch it fail again. Sometimes it gets further. Sometimes it doesn’t understand my feedback and it refuses to try again at all.
Last month, I set a goal for myself of writing one blog post every day for thirty days. Today is the final day, and I’ve written 4 posts– 13% of the goal. Over the years, I have made countless commitments like this one. The projects are different, but the fundamental task is the same: “I will finish X by working on it for Y minutes each day.” Like the robot, I attempt the same task, every time with a slightly different approach. I succeed or fail to varying degrees with little rhyme or reason.
The fundamental skill of creative work is self-discipline with no expectation of reward. It’s easy to feel inspired and start a new project, but inspiration is fleeting. When nobody cares about your project and you’re so sick of it that you don’t even like it anymore, you need the self-discipline to roll up your sleeves and finish it anyway. That’s what the robot does. And guess what? Two hours and 19 failures later, the robot is succeeding.
This is common advice, and I’ve known it for ages. It seems like I should have improved by now, but I haven’t. The problem is that I keep assuming I can follow through on things, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Instead of focusing so much on the projects, I need to practice self-discipline the way my robot has been practicing deployments. Make a commitment. Try. Fail. Improve. And eventually, I won’t have to blog about failure anymore.Written on August 24th, 2017 by Noah Muth