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A personal manifesto
From now on, and until further notice, consider me an amateur. At everything.
When I was younger, I had some promise.
I was fairly bright. I had some early successes. I wrote blog posts that people read, and libraries that people used. I spoke at conferences across the globe. I was achieving things and going places. I had ambitions to build a great company and do important work.
Then I started drinking, and learning how to talk to girls, and I wanted to be clever, and I wanted people to think I was clever. And it crippled me. I found myself stalling. My head reset around its worse impulses. I was ruled by my neuroses. And, worst of all, I never admitted to myself that this had happened.
It was easy to frame it positively: I was reprioritising from my career, to a richer life. That’s a good thing. I developed hobbies and interests. I met a wonderful woman, who now carries my surname.
And all that is true. It’s a wonderful thing. I am so extraordinarily grateful.
But I was treading water nonetheless. And missed the biggest bull run of my industry, and all those opportunities, in the process.
That would be bad, but forgivable. I was a child, a very young adult. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t a good man. I’m better now.
But I have begun to realise that the problem was deeper: I thought I had learned what I needed to. I considered myself grown up already, personally, intellectually. From the earliest days, I was arrogant.
Sure, I could still learn new content, but the mode was fixed. I thought I was a professional, that I could build and lead, when, in reality, I was still an amateur. Any of my few career successes have been built on blags and luck.
But I am getting bored of that. I am now beginning a company that I think could be important, and push forward the UK and the world. It may not work. The base rates alone tell me it won’t. But I’m going to try. And in order to succeed, I’ll need more than blags and luck.
I’ll need skill. Right now, I have very little.
So, today, that changes.
From henceforth, I am an amateur. An amateur software engineer. An amateur writer. An amateur thinker. An amateur man. I am parking any preconceptions that I might have about knowing whatever the fuck I am doing, and striving to figure it out.
I am going to be less confident in my abilities. I am not going to rely on time and tenure as a proxy for expertise. I am going to hold my strong opinions more weakly.
I am going to be more open to feedback. I am not going to chase the approval of others, and allow that pernicious form of self-hatred affect everything downstream. I am going to learn from them instead.
I am going to study more, and take my consumption seriously. I am going to take more notes and produce more first drafts.
I am going to be more interested in the quality of my work for its own sake, because quality matters. I am going to revise my first drafts and produce second drafts, and third drafts, until the marginal improvements decrease significantly.
I am going to be more prolific, because improvement needs repetition, and progress demands effort.
I am going to evaluate what I am doing with respect to a broader set of goals and missions. I am going to be more purposeful, and more critical.
I am an amateur. I am not exceptional.
And I have a lot of work to do before that changes.