Seemingly my entire life growing up was a struggle to get good at something. There were always more hobbies than days in a year, and the rush of starting something new always took hold before the last thing could be perfected. Sports, video games, building plastic model kits, creating websites, photography and many other hobbies (anything but schoolwork) came and went without the courtesy to see the last one through.

Rainbow Road

That probably didn’t start changing until my adult life after college. It wasn’t a sudden or complete change, of course, but a gradual conditioning of the mind. The benefit of this was that I was able to focus enough to start a career in 3d art, and again to reinvent myself as a software engineer when the former career wasn’t panning out. I was thinking about this today to pinpoint what changed, and concluded these three things:

1. Responsibility

I hardly had any responsibilities as a kid. There were no real consequences to my actions that I cared about, so I didn’t have that drive to complete something. Few have that luxury as an adult, and as the “real world” hit me, I learned about consequences. The consequence of starting and stopping something prematurely meant a waste of time with only some skills learned and little to show for it, especially when you could have used that time to help get yourself off the ground financially.

2. An Audience

I first got into software development by making a simple Windows Phone 7 app for tracking SFMTA predictions. Like anyone’s first piece of software, it was a poorly written. However, it was limited in scope, useful, and stable enough to release it to the store. Then the magic moment when you see people downloading it and using it actively. The downloads totaled in the hundreds, and daily active users in the dozens, but it didn’t matter. Someone was using something I created, and that was the spark I needed. I continued to develop better and more complex apps and the audience grew, and I attribute this to learning how to finish something. For this reason, if I’m getting serious about working on something, I always look for people who are interested in my end product. Knowing that you have an audience depending on you, even if it’s just one person, lights that little fire under your butt to keep progressing.

3. Stability

One thing that I always thought about when learning something is a sense that I’m running out of time. When I was a kid, this might mean the end of summer break, or when I got older, running out of money. Once life stabilized, it gave my brain some space to say that’s an interesting idea, I will get to it later without that impending sense of urgency. I acknowledge that I’m lucky to have this one, especially with a partner like Tinna taking care of life’s little details so well. I think the lesson here is that in the long term, investing some of your time in stabilizing things can pay off.

None of this means I’ve completely changed. Several unfinished house projects remind me of that daily. But I do feel changed, where I can make deliberate choices of what I invest my time into completing, either for profit or satisfaction. Perhaps fame and glory are next!

Do you tend to finish things you start? HOW DID YOU DO IT?!