Ready or Not, Set, Go

“You have to start before you’re ready.” –Brandon Stanton

I expected Brandon Stanton – the creator of the inspiring blog Humans of New York – to detail his life experiences and the rise of his blog. He certainly started by doing just that. After losing his job as a stockbroker, he moved to New York City, deciding to make a ‘career’ out of capturing the city on camera. The project soon morphed into creating a map of the city via photographing 10,000 residents. Partway through this new project, Stanton realized that these people’s stories complemented their pictures perfectly. Humans of New York burgeoned out of tireless effort, a minimalist lifestyle, and an unwavering passion for photography. Stanton articulated his story very well. But I didn’t expect him to provide one of the most relevant pieces of life advice I’ve received.

About a quarter of the way through the speech, Stanton elaborated on one of the philosophies that defined his success. He noted how he dove into to his photography career with but an inkling of prior experience or confidence; in other words, he “started before he was ready.”  Here’s Stanton:

You have to start before you’re ready. Many times, people have this perfect idea of some project, business, book, play, song, etc. They spend so much time planning. It feels so good to plan. They work tirelessly on perfecting the idea. But by the time they get around to creating something, it’s too late. You have to start before you’re ready, and watch your idea evolve into something so much greater than the original ever could be.

Here at the Academy, we face a similar challenge: we are inundated with opportunity. We are presented with a multitude of competitions, research openings, volunteering events, hackathons, and even business ideas. Many of us feel we must perfect our path before we begin. We think that we should develop the skills to work in the lab before we actually start. We believe we must be an entrepreneur before we start a business. But if Stanton had waited until he had the perfect idea for Humans of New York, he would never have begun. There is no such thing as a perfect idea. There are only improved ones.
To become competent in a lab, we must work in the the lab. We become entrepreneurs by starting businesses. To create a successful blog, we have to get out there and write. We learn best through on-the-job training. Stanton’s philosophy of ‘starting before you’re ready’ promotes action over thought. And action, in the end, is what ideas are built for.

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