I've recently become interested in history, which was one of my least favorite subjects in school. Last week I watched a documentary about the Medici family, the rulers of Florence who served as patrons to many of the great Italian artists, including Michelangelo.
When we look at the great works of the old masters, we don't necessarily appreciate the scale of time it took to create each one. David, one of Michelangelo's greatest works, took him four years of near-daily sculpting. Four years for one statue.
Even today, when we see modern greatness being revealed, we often don't see what goes into it. Sprezzatura, the concept of making hard work seem effortless, is in full effect. Success always looks like overnight success, even when it's nothing of the sort. It's a neat trick to pull off, making the creator seem super-human, but it also puts out a dangerous message. If success doesn't come from hard work and time spent in the trenches, what can it come from beyond natural talent and sheer luck? We live in a world where people believe that they're born to be stars, and all it will take is that one American Idol audition to be discovered.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I fell into this trap as well. When teachers told my parents that I had a lot of potential that I wasn't living up to, I took that to mean that I was just so naturally special that effort wasn't required. I told everyone that I would be a millionaire by twenty five. I wasn't. I managed to complete a handful of good quality projects, but I was always disappointed when they weren't immediately world-changing successes.
Over time my view has become more realistic, but no less ambitious. I realize now that my daily goal isn't to build something great-- it's to built a very small piece of something great. For Michelangelo's David to be a great statue, he had to spend a week chipping away at marble to create a toe. It wasn't glorious and probably didn't look like the creation of excellence, but Michaelangelo knew that in any given day, his task was only to create a very small piece of something great. Greatness is a cumulative effort and an attitude, not a single accomplishment.
Some day SETT will be great. I'm not building it to make a buck or to disrupt the blogging industry-- I'm building it because I want to make the internet a better place for communities to form and for communication to happen. If I succeed at that, I will have built something great, at least by my own standards.
That sort of result doesn't come overnight, and it doesn't even come after a year of coding. It will come, I expect, through the daily practice of trying to build a tiny piece of something excellent. I spent all of yesterday reducing the amount of time it takes SETT to render a page from 18 hundredths of a second to 10 hundredths of a second. That doesn't make SETT great, but a great blogging platform will render pages fast, so it's certainly a small component of it.
The challenge of building something great can seem overwhelming, and I suspect that the intimidation it generates dissolves people's ambitions to much lower levels. The remedy is to understand that, like David, all that's required to build something great is chipping away little by little, day after day.
Photo is Gaudi's Casa Vicens in Barcelona, one of his earlier buildings.
I'm going to create a new book that's made of new material as well as some reader-favorite posts. Would you mind going here and telling me which of my posts had an impact on you? It would really help me out.
Also, if you are interested in Rolexes, I wrote a comprehensive guide to why they're awesome and how to get them very cheaply.