Last week, we welcomed the 20,000th subscriber to this email list.
But that number conceals its far less auspicious beginnings.
I launched my blog in September 2016. It took me several months to post my first article—primarily because I was treating its launch like a space shuttle launch. The conditions had to align perfectly. I struggled for months to settle on the right theme, the right logo, the right name—the right everything.
The ridiculous name I eventually landed on was “Brain Steroids.” My very first newsletter, which you can see here in all its messy glory, shared a “weekly dose of brain steroids—a list of articles, tools, quotes, and other gems to help you finish your week smarter than when you started it.” The headline of my website declared in big bold letters: UPGRADE YOUR BRAIN.
These early misfires make me cringe.
But they’re also a great reminder: Nothing springs to life perfectly formed. This is why Pixar’s former president Ed Catmull calls the initial ideas behind the studio’s blockbuster animation films “ugly babies.” All their films start out “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” But if the game doesn’t end until the film is released, a messy early version isn’t a catastrophe. It’s a momentary blip. A temporary glitch. A problem to be solved.
Jerry Seinfeld, a modern master of stand-up comedy, is another great example of this principle. In June 1976, a 22-year-old Seinfeld took the stage to publicly perform, for the very first time, at an amateur night in a comedy club in New York City. He grabbed the microphone to deliver his well-rehearsed routine . . . and nothing happened.
“I couldn’t even speak,” Seinfeld recalls. “I was so paralyzed in total fear.” When he finally mustered the strength to move his lips, he could only rattle off the subjects he was going to cover: “The beach. Driving. Dogs,” Seinfeld said into the microphone, his voice unraveling. The whole performance lasted for 90 seconds.
This is why comparison is the ultimate joy killer—and why it’s so dangerous. When you compare yourself to a seasoned professional like Seinfeld, the comparison isn’t apples-to-apples. You’re the beta version, and they’re the finished product. They’ve been doing this for years—if not decades—and you’re just starting. You’re not seeing the earlier drafts of that article that would make any self-respecting writer shudder or the earlier iterations of that stand-up routine that elicited crickets.
The key is to start walking—start doing the verb—before you think you’re ready.
We embodied this mindset as children. When we learned how to walk, we didn’t get it right on the first try. No one told us, “You better think hard about how you take that very first step because you get one step and that’s it.” We repeatedly fell. With each fall, our bodies learned what to do and what not to do. By learning not to fall, we learned how to walk.
Whether it’s walking, doing stand-up comedy, or starting a newsletter, the same principle applies.
The opening doesn’t have to be grand, as long as the finale is.