Harry Smith

Failure and Fortune

2022 has been a year of both failure and fortune, but it depends on how you measure it. Let's dive in and see how it's changing my goals for the year ahead.

It’s come to the time of year that I start thinking about my end of year review. But this year I noticed something peculiar during my evaluations. When I compared myself against my stated goals for 2022, I appeared a dismal failure. I had not achieved a single one of them. But if I ignored those goals and only evaluated my progress, I got a different result. The year was now a success. Something must be amiss with the process I’ve been using.

If your anything like me, choosing a set of goals is very exciting. It’s almost impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and set goals that aren’t based in reality. You imagine the version of you that is perfect. And you base your expectations on that infallibal image. Your goals are rigid, demanding perfect adherence or none at all. They are unrealistic, not accounting for the realities of your life. And they are too complex, requiring so much maintenance they become boring. My goals were all three of these.

But it isn’t as if I immediately noticed the flaws in my goals as soon as the year began. I had proceeded to bash my head against the wall of my ill fated ambitions all the way until October. A review of the year so far revealed what I already should have known - things were not working. I had to face the realisation that I’d achieved very little of anything. I set about doing something, anything, as soon as possible. The sudden simplicity was astonishing. I worked on exactly one thing, with no plan beyond knowing the very next task. In other words, a single, small step at a time.

Of course, I already knew that, but that doesn’t mean I was practicing it.

In the final three months of the year I’ve achieved more than in the rest of it combined. The work has become easier, more joyous and more exciting. The projects are ambitious without being overwhelming. Instead of stressed, I’ve felt balanced. And for the first time in my adult life, this pattern of work feels resilient. Interruptions, changing work schedules and sudden setbacks no longer cause anxiety and anguish. The work continues around these obstacles.

It’s clear now that any system of work most enable more work than it generates. Much more. If minutes of organisation don’t enable hours of productive work, then the system isn’t going to work. You must be able to state the system from memory. Any more complexity than that and it becomes impossible to use on a moment to moment basis. What your up to and what you’re trying to do should fit into an elevator ride.

You can better most complex productivity systems with one question. What is the most interesting thing I can work on right now? Getting one interesting thing done every day puts you ahead of 90% of the competition. And you don’t procrastinate when the work is interesting.

I’ve often, like many others, chased goals like “start a business” or “launch a successful project”. And the next question that follows a goal like that is, well what exactly am I starting? In that moment, you’ll find yourself bereft of ideas. You don’t go about to start a business. A business is almost thrust upon you. When people start asking you to provide them (for money) what you’ve already been doing. You can’t pursue these things directly. They are the results of setting the right conditions for good work.

That, in essence, is why I decided on a theme of subtraction for the year ahead. To remove any distractions that disrupt those conditions for good work. It places the faith in you and your ability to come to something interesting on your own. Given the time, energy and resources to do so. I’m hoping by cultivating a very rich soil, the crop will take care of itself.

In 2023, I intend to spend a hell of a lot more time doing ‘it’ than thinking about ‘it’. This means removing everything that isn’t ‘it’. The problem, and this is the only real problem, is knowing exactly what you mean by ‘it’! That is the definition that evolves year to year, and the one we seek to answer in our end of year review. For this year - and I have no doubt this will soon provide insufficient - I have five core values.

Challenging Work - Given the option between projects, choose the most challenging. The work should have a higher than 50-50 odds of failure.

Constant Action - The quickest cure to the anxieties of life is to act. Instead of waiting and deciding, be in constant action towards the future.

Health Trifecta - 95% of health comes from these three things - sleep, diet and exercise. Before anything else, these three things must be right.

Simple Life - It should be possible to describe the state of your life in an elevator ride. Any more complexity than that is indicative of underlying problems.

Active Creation - The human purpose is to create, not to consume. And to that end, everything you do should be an act of creation.

This year I’m looking forward to starting a set of projects that I have feared for too long. Because if not now, then when? And if not here, then where? But more details on those at the proper time. For now all that there is to say is I hope your as excited for the next year as I am. Many, many challenges lie ahead - but that’s exactly what makes it exciting… right?

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