Is it new or does it suck?

Hu Chen / Unsplash

Hey! Dan here. If you're an introspective person, you probably spend a lot of time asking yourself how things are going: Do I like this? Do I not?

This is a post about those questions, and when they might, paradoxically, get in the way of helping you find the things you love. I wrote it in July 2020, just as I really started to ramp up working on Every. I bumped into it recently, and it was exactly the thing I needed to read. I hope you feel the same way.

A lot of people ask me for advice on how to get started writing.

The pattern I see is fairly repetitive:

They get inspired by something. They make big plans to write: maybe it’s a newsletter, maybe it’s a book, maybe it’s a script for a movie. Then they set up their routine.

Often the routine itself isn’t bad. They’ll block time off on their calendars once a day, or a few times a week. They’ll try to focus on the process and not on the results.

They finally sit down to write. And then they make it through a week’s worth of sessions before they throw their hands up in despair.

The verdict? “Writing sucks! I can’t take it. It’s not for me!”

Writing is hard. You have to deal with so much inner chatter: is this any good? Does this idea even make sense? Where should I take it next? What if people hate it? What if no one pays attention?

The process is similar for doing pretty much any new creative thing. Starting a company is similar. Starting a new job is similar.

The key thing to realize here is that they’re all transitions — points in your life where you’re doing something different than you were before. So, mentally, they have to be treated a bit differently than in other parts of your life.

Taking your temperature

Western culture, generally, tells us we should be happy. If you’re ambitious, you expect that your work is going to be the thing that makes you happy. 

That’s usually why we get into creative work in the first place. It’s the perfect mix between the thing we love to do and a way to get paid. 

So we go about our lives trying different types of work and constantly testing, Does this make me happy? When things do make us happy, we notice and we tend to do more of them. When things make us unhappy, we tend to want to stop.

We’re like a chef taste testing the sauce every few minutes to see if it’s done. Except we’re not testing food for flavor — we’re testing our lives.

In general, being aware of how you feel is a very good thing. But in certain moments acting too quickly on that awareness can cause us to miss out.

Temperature checking transitions

It turns out that whenever we’re going through a transition, whenever we’re doing something new and hard, it’s probably going to make us miserable at least for a little while. 

In other words, new things tend to suck no matter what. If you’re doing something new and it sucks it doesn’t mean that you won’t grow to like it eventually, it just means that it’s new. You haven’t had enough time to morph into the kind of person who can enjoy it yet.

As Nathan noted this week (in the context of companies) when something isn’t working immediately it’s tempting to try to jump to something new. But often that’s just the easy answer, not the right one.

Let me explain.

A few years ago I started going to the gym. I wanted to get jacked. The first few sessions were, predictably, extremely hard. I woke up the next day sore all over. I had none of the benefits of being fit: better mood, better concentration, ease getting around. Plus I was miserable. 

If I had taken my happiness temperature in the first week it would have come back with a very clear reading: I was miserable.

In fact, the misery extended quite far beyond the initial shock of going to the gym. The problem was that I was working with a trainer that kept pushing my limits. So even a month or two in — once I had a baseline amount of strength and stamina — he kept pushing me beyond where my body thought it could go. 

It was pretty miserable to finally master an exercise at a certain weight and be told in the next session that everything is going to get harder again because the weight is going up. 

It felt like nothing would ever get easier. And therefore I would never be happy about working out.

Is this new or does it suck

But the misery didn’t actually last forever.

After a few months of working out something shifted for me. The whole thing was no longer new and unfamiliar. I knew the workout was going to be hard, but I also knew I was up to the task. I knew it was going to be painful, but I started to enjoy the pain in a weird way.

Once it wasn’t new anymore I was able to get a more accurate reading on how much I liked exercise. 

The verdict? It’s great. I made it part of my routine. I don’t have to force myself to do it anymore.

I think this experience applies to pretty much any new endeavor. At first, it sucks. It just does. It’s new and overwhelming and scary. 

And it’s only after we push through those first few months that we can really tell whether or not it’s the right thing for us. 

If after six months of writing you still think it’s not for you –– then you’re probably right. But if you give up after a week? You don’t even know what writing is yet. 

So whenever you’re starting something new it’s worth pausing your in-built propensity to test every new experience for how happy it makes you. And when you’re unhappy it’s worth asking yourself: 

“Is it new or does it suck?” 

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