Counting to 100

17 July 2015
17 Jul 2015
West Lafayette, IN
9 mins

We human beings pick complete arbitrary numbers to celebrate different occasions, from anniversaries to birthdays to days based on mathematical constants. I mean, why is it so special that it’s been exactly seventeen 365-day-periods since I was born? It’s not very special. But it feels nice, and celebrating milestones is in itself a source of motivation. So with that in mind, I, too, have a milestone to celebrate today: This marks my one-hundredth (not counting videos) post on The Lifelong Traveler. No, I don’t normally like to celebrate arbitrary milestones. I avoid it to the extent where I even wrote a post precisely titled It’s Not About the Milestones. But regardless, I’m celebrating today for a few reasons. First, if there’s a 50% increase in the number of digits I need to use to express how many posts I’ve written, why not take some time off to have fun? Second, it’s a pretty good bet that I won’t get to one thousand posts anytime soon, so really, one hundred is the best time to celebrate. But thirdly, and most importantly, milestones on nice, round, even numbers are often the best places, psychologically speaking, to start fresh and begin something new. To introduce changes and take some more risks. And there’s definitely a lot more in the pipelines to come to The Lifelong Traveler in the very near future.

When I started typing out my very first blog post in a Toyota dealership on my then-newfangled Macbook, I never would have imagined, even knowing what I wanted the blog to be, how important and central this website would become to my life. At first, it was just a two-hours-per-week writing gig. And then I decided to build my own website, instead of relying on a free service. So I had to set up a server, design and code a website from scratch, and add on thousands of changes to come until it became what it is today. Ultimately, it’s the result of literally almost a thousand hours of work. But that’s just the technical aspect of it. The site’s also become such a huge part of my identity that I can’t imagine what I’d be doing, had I not started writing here*. It’s a part of who I am; it’s how I introduce myself. It’s where I share my music, my thoughts, and my art online, and it’s where I am me, Linus, to the rest of the world. For the vast majority of people Facebook or Twitter are their online homes. It’s where they are online. For me, this, here, is my online home, my ultimate social network profile.

So in honor of one hundred posts, I’ve compiled a brief list of the five most important things I’ve taken to heart over the past year from writing here. And without further ado, Let’s start by talking about the beginning.

1. Doing it is your biggest obstacle to the thing that you want to do. You are your worst barrier to the work of your life.

Everyone could use a bit of help doing the work of their dreams. And if the life that you’re living, the work that you’re stuck with, the classes you’re tied to don’t get you up in the morning – if the prospect of the exciting stuff that you’ll do today didn’t get you off your bed and jumping to start your day – you aren’t doing the work of your dreams, and you can do better. The first step is making yourself change.

The biggest obstacle between you and the thing that you want to do is the fact that you haven’t started doing it yet. Want to read more books? Stop reading this post, right now. Go to a bookshelf. Grab a book. Open it, and start reading. There. You’ve broken your first barrier. Is it your dream to start a business? That’s a little bit harder. Set aside a time tonight – maybe half an hour will do. Open your laptop. Start searching for stories, for tips, and for anecdotes. What’s your idea? Get ten sticky notes, grab a pen, and start brainstorming. Write things down. Make a to-do list, and do it now. The only thing between you and starting something you want to do is the fact that you haven’t started it yet. It’s not that hard to begin something, so get on it. The rest will fall into place.

2. Practice isn’t perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than not practicing.

And boy, have a gotten a lot of practice at writing over the past year. It’s a lot more time and work than it might seem like to push out two posts, one artwork, one news link, and a newsletter over the course of a week, disregarding the schoolwork and management for other projects that I do. And after over 100,000 words written, my writing is objectively better. It’s not perfect – practice doesn’t make perfect, unless you’ve practiced for an eternity, and then some – but practicing is a lot better than not practicing.

Very nearly every skill that you could possibly want, from starting a business to playing an instrument to sports, can be improved with repetition. Practice doesn’t make perfect – I won’t beat LeBron James at Basketball if I practice for my entire life, and I most likely won’t be the next Yo Yo Ma at cello performance if I devote my entire life to it. But, I will objectively get better. Practicing is at least better than not practicing, so if there’s anything you want to improve, practice.

3. Keep at it. Consistency is the key.

It would be a complete lie to say I enjoyed writing all one hundred of these posts. Of course there were some days where I didn’t have the motivation. Sometimes I didn’t quite have the time for writing after other work, and sometimes I just wasn’t feeling any energy to sit down and put my thoughts down. But I made a commitment to myself in the beginning, and to that commitment, I’ve consistently written two posts every week, with only a single exception, during finals week. Sometimes writing got postponed, sometimes they weren’t as high of a quality, and sometimes I wrote them half-asleep. But personally, I’d prefer all of those alternatives to a skipped post. Doing something consistently for a long time does seem like a stretch after a while, and it’s easy to give into the temptation of just skipping one time, if we don’t feel like it or we lose motivation. But burnout leads naturally to some lack of motivation once in a while – what’s important is to keep pushing. After one brief break in consistency, it’s so easy and tempting to just stop more often, and eventually stop altogether. Consistency is the key, to keep pushing, despite what your heart tells you.

4. Positive Feedback is Magical.

One of the things that I was lead to do, very much as a result of having a blog, is try to find other creative outlets to share my ideas in different ways. Writing was first, and it was the easiest to get into. But eventually that encouraged me to get into making videos, to writing and recording music, video blogging, creating visual art, and a whole lot of other areas of art that I found interesting and new. And throughout my ventures into these new areas, one thing that motivated me the most and the thing that kept me encouraged to do more creative work was, more than anything else, positive feedback from other people. At such small scale that my writings and photos and music are still in, every “thumbs up”, every comment, every positive feedback matters, and it keeps me waking up in the morning to create more. The value of positive feedback to people who do creative work - -and probably any kind of work, as well – was something I found surprising over the past year. I talked about positive feedback extensively in a separate, recent post, The Artists’ Motivation, if you want to read more about it.

5. Nothing’s Ever Finished.

The last four ideas are all things I’ve come across directly, things I’ve felt and experienced often. But if there was one thing that I felt about the website more than anything else, it’s the feeling that it’s never finished. Not just in terms of having more posts to write – that’s too obvious – but in the way I find new things to fix and designs to tweak across the website, seemingly, every four to five days. I haven’t gone a full week without retouching or rethinking some corner or design aspect of the website since I first built it, and the same goes for the content on the website. Of course, there’s the obvious fact that I need update the site with biweekly posts, but the seemingly static “about” pages, for example, are also updated quite often with new information and better phrasing. No part of the website is ever finished. And at first, that made me uncomfortable. I wanted to have a perfect place to put my writing. But I learned to accept that the website is never finished, that I’ll always have things to fix, and that applies to more than just a pile of code.

And I think that’s a good note on which to end my 100th post. I’ve written posts like this one hundred times, but that’s not the end. I keep improving the site, I keep finding new things I want to share, and I keep finding new ways to do it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s impossible to find and settle for something imperfect, and it’s equally impossible to have a perfect, completed object.

Although that particular idea came from working on the website, I think it’s a good metaphor for life in general. Your life will never be “complete” or “finished”, and nor will any small part of it. It’s never meant to be a perfect and complete object. The part that matters is not that it’s complete in some way, but that you keep working to improve it, and have a good time along the way. To any lifelong traveler, traveling isn’t about where you end up – keeping your mind only on the destination, you miss a lot of things. It’s about the process of discovery, inspiration, and experiences you have in between. Nothing’s ever finished, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value to keep going. And to that end, I hope to keep creating.

* Actually, I do know what I’d probably be doing. I’d probably be slaving away at equations of motion for quantum units of the spacetime continuum and scribbling away at equations and notes in a pile of post-it notes. Doesn’t sound too glamorous.

The blind spot

The filter of authenticity

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