Nine years ago this summer—I forgot the exact month/day—I started my affair with the web. At the time, I was fresh out of my first year of university, uninspired and driven solely by the expectations of those around me. The thing I wanted to do more than anything in the world? Build websites. Modest, sure, and something I’d dabbled with in the past, but I wanted to be good at it. Really good at it. Not wither away in the back of an agency slurping up paychecks good, but “holy shit, really?” good.
It all started with a book: HTML, XHTML, and CSS. At the time, XHTML—a since deprecated standard—was all the rage and what the best of the best recommended learning. I’d been following quite a few designers whose work I’d admired and learned bits and bobs of code from viewing the source of their work. To me, the whole thing was incredibly artistic. To produce the best work, not only did you have to have the technical chops, you also had to have taste. The technical stuff you could learn, but the taste, that had to come from you. To say I was intimidated at the outset is an understatement.
Just recently—within the last month or so—I’ve started to feel a glimmer of confidence in the work I’m doing. Nine years. That’s how long it’s taken to just start to feel confident. To start to feel like I know what I’m doing. I say this not to undermine what I’ve accomplished so far, but as a reminder to those just getting started: if you’re serious about what you’re doing—i.e., not just for financial or vanity’s sake—your craft will take a lifetime to cultivate. Writing code, making art, baking cakes, whatever. It just takes time.
Nine years of sitting up later than you should. Nine years of wasting time on dead end solutions. Nine years of taking on work you don’t want to do to fund the stuff you do. Nine years of working so hard you hit patches of burnout that you’re not sure you can get out of. Nine years of absolute uncertainty that the ideal you have in mind isn’t a black hole. Nine years of guessing, trying, screwing up and continuing to show up no matter what.
There’s no shortcut. You have to do the work. You have to make the effort. If you’re serious about what you’re doing, you have to accept that you will never live up to your ideal; the goalpost is always moving. But, and this is key, you must promise yourself that you will never stop pursuing your ideal.
Looking back on the last several years, I can say without a doubt that I can’t imagine myself doing anything differently. All of the biggest stuff in life that I’ve had the opportunity to experience came from that one book. In a world fixated on speed and instant gratification, never underestimate what a little time, patience, and dedication will get you.