The Importance of Finishing What You Start

Charles Darwin was afraid. By 1859, he had spent 22 years traveling the world, making observations, and connecting the dots on the origins of our species.

The time had come to go public with his theory of evolution, and to fly in the face of deep-rooted and widely accepted ideologies. It would also change the world forever.

You certainly can’t wait 22 years to complete your next project, no matter how unconventional it may seem. While the scope of Darwin’s theory is likely larger than what you’re working on right now, we can all relate at least to some degree with the internal turmoil he experienced in regard to completing a major project.

For some of us, it's that very anxiety about our work and sharing it that keeps us from seeing it through to the end.

Even if you spend endless hours constructing a narrative about how impactful an idea can be, nothing changes if you don’t deliver on that idea. Shipping—or bringing an idea to fruition—is what causes change to happen.

Our job as professionals, then, is to finish what we begin. Sharing our completed work can be daunting, for sure, but it also happens to be the most compelling catalyst for change.

Let’s look at some of the roadblocks that get in the way and how you can overcome those to complete and deliver the incredible projects you dream up.

Being Ready vs. Being Prepared

Is your market prepared for your project? Are you ready to produce? Is your project good enough? Is it the right time? These are all necessarily honest questions.

Seth Godin—a champion and voice in the art of achieving an end product—wrote on the difference between being ready and being prepared in the 99u’s book series, Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact:

We tell people that the route to Carnegie Hall is paved with practice, practice, practice. But practice is another word for preparation. I’m not talking about being prepared. Preparation isn’t the same as ready. Ready is an emotional choice, the decision to put something into the world and say, ‘Here, I made this.’ The emotional choice of exposing ourselves and shipping the work. The paradox is obvious: the more important the idea, the less we can be ready. And so we fret that the world, or our market, isn’t ready for the leap. The world isn’t ready for mixed-race couples, or gay marriage, or a woman CEO, we say. The market isn’t ready for a $400 smartphone or e-books or a national brand of vegan ice cream, we say. It’s too soon, we say. Everywhere we turn, the doors appear to be closed, not open. . . . Here’s the thing: Every idea that matters hits the market too soon. While you’re busy practicing and preparing, you’re also hiding from the market, keeping your worthy and world-changing idea from the rest of us. If you wait until you are ready, it is almost certainly too late.

Once you embrace this difference and know where you stand, you can get to work.

Sometimes the best way to put an idea to the test is not to consider the multitude of variables or outcomes for the sake of perfection, but to put it into the world and adapt alongside of it. Like observing a child, you’ll watch it stumble, learn, grow, fail, and (hopefully) succeed.

The Need for Perfection

Completing and delivering a project invites learning, and when learning is a daily habit, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Look at the patterns of authors, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs: the great ones ship their ideas, learn everything they can, iterate, and do it again.

It isn’t about removing the fear or uncertainty from the process. It isn’t about reducing every opportunity for failure or disaster. Yes, make something excellent, but expect issues to arise and be ready to deal with them empathetically. Doing so helps you learn what to improve and it gives your project a fighting chance to make a difference.

At Help Scout, we recently shipped Beacon. There was a clear understanding of who it is for, what it is for, and the change we were trying to make. It wasn’t perfect at launch, but it was ready. In just the first week, problems arose and they were fixed; insights were shared and they got us thinking; feedback was given that opened our eyes.

We didn’t ship Beacon, step back, and pop champagne. We’re right next to it, watching it improve the way our customer interact with their customers, and we’re learning something new everyday.

Imagine if we’d waited for perfect. Imagine if we hadn’t shipped. What would we have learned?

What Will They Think of You?

Revealing an idea or product is fraught with risk and invites criticism.

Because we’re hardwired to be social, we worry about what others think or perceive of us. If the idea flops, it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s even worse if lots of money or time was spent with no reward. No wonder it’s easier to generate ideas than it is to finalize an end product.

However, shipping a project should never be a testament to your character or identity, but rather the change you seek to make. If the change doesn’t happen, it’s the idea that needs tinkering, not your identity.

Fifteenth century German inventor Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press at a time when Europe was about 96% illiterate. It’s quite possible that the printing press could have failed, everyone thinking Gutenberg was a joke. But as history shows us, this audacious project changed people, communities, and the world.

The greatest obstacle known to finishing what you start is ultimately you—all your fears, anxieties, and doubts. Some of this hesitation is warranted because you want to ensure that all your ducks are in a row, but there comes a breaking point where all of your reviewing and polishing is merely an illusion for hiding. The longer you delay, the longer it’ll take for you to learn something meaningful that helps you and your project move forward.

This brings us back to a fundamental lesson on creating change: if you don’t ship, you’ll never know.

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