Over the past week, as I was attending Macworld, I had the pleasure of talking to a dizzying array of incredibly talented people. Designers, engineers, hackers, writers and those who juggle several of those titles.
Throughout my time in San Francisco covering the event, I met people for the first time, or got better acquainted, something that this gathering is especially good for. When the opportunity presented itself, and if the other party was willing, I asked them a simple question: “how did you get started doing what you do?”
The answers were as widely varied as you would hope they would be with a cast of characters as entertaining and enjoyable as the people who make the stuff we read, use and enjoy every day. But one theme kept cropping up and it can be summed up in Master Yoda’s most famous bit of advice to Luke Skywalker, a simple farmboy with a lust for adventure:
Do or do not. There is no try.
As someone who has always been fascinated with the reasons why people create things, I was having a great time listening to the various paths taken to the world of development or blogging or whatever occupation they held, I wasn’t really looking for the secrets of the universe.
But I did find, with shocking consistency, that the story basically began with people doing something that they may have liked, tolerated or even hated, but found they didn’t love. Then would come a moment where they discovered coding, or design, or even just the desire to make cool things because of the influence of a mentor.
Then began the doing. Whatever it was, they just started. They didn’t dream about winning the lottery while never buying a ticket. Instead they started printing their own tickets.
Late nights, early mornings, financial hardship, kids, marriage, divorce, success, little failures, massive failures. Through it all they kept doing. Producing, making, asking questions and learning through failures and successes.
One designer fell in love with creating and taught himself by asking questions and using resources on the internet. A developer began learning to code with a simple Mac app called Game Maker and couldn’t stop. Another sustained his business through massive debt and out the other side because he believed in what they were doing. Some live in tiny apartments and others have earned and lost fortunes.
But most importantly, they started something and kept doing it. They realized that what they were doing was the thing that they loved more than anything else and began to do it.
It amazes me how many times people are surprised by the answer to the question “how do you get to be X.” Whether it be someone asking how to be a writer, a developer, a designer or anything else that you want to be, the answer is always “start doing.”
Not every person I spoke to was wealthy, completely happy in every way or perfectly healthy. In fact, many of them are still in the process of doing. They hold day jobs and write in the wee hours of the morning or late at night when the family is asleep, others code on their lunch break while juggling full time jobs and families. We’re all human and the timing is never ‘perfect’ to change what you’re doing.
These were all people who had decided that they wanted to be doing something and went after it hard, with a concerted and continuous effort. No magic buttons, no fairy godmothers, just hard work and a desire to make.
I spoke to a lot of people in the tech industry this week because that’s the crowd I was in, but it doesn’t matter if you’re interested in developing applications, or writing, or painting, or building houses, or dancing, or accounting, or quantum physics. The answer to the question of how to begin is still the same: do.
Now that you’re done reading this, go do something.