The best advice I've ever heard regarding success is simply

Finish what you start

The simplicity is deceiving; sticking with something to the end, however that's defined, is very hard to do. Most people quit shortly after they start, when the initial burst of progress that accompanies a new endeavor fades and is replaced by a long, slow slog.

The biggest challenge is that progress isn't linear. This is a well-understood phenomenon, often referred to as the valley of despair.


One year ago, I began to seriously look at Clojure, and started having the aspiration of using it in my day job. At the time, I was writing Caché as a business intelligence developer at Epic and feeling very unhappy at my job, especially at the use of old, niche technology that wasn't teaching me anything new. For months, I wasn't sure I would be able to make the switch to software development, let alone in Clojure. I knew very little about popular technologies, from cloud computing to machine learning, and knew only the basics of web development.

It is my great fortune that, when under stress, I have a tendency to rise to the challenge. I took Cousera courses on web development; I practiced interview questions with friends; I attended Clojure/west and met the great Clojure community. Six months later I interviewed with and received an offer from Funding Circle.

Looking back, I probably fell victim to a familiar mindset of overestimating challenges. When challenges appear overwhelming, it can be difficult to get started. Yet, once the initial foot-dragging is overcome, working harder than I "need" to is often an advantage: I end up learning a lot more than I would otherwise.

So how can I best make use of a fresh set of 365 days? A few words of advice to myself:

  • Get started now, no matter how big the challenge
  • Take both accomplishments and setbacks in context
  • Expect long stretches of (seemingly) no progress, i.e. the valley of despair. Keep moving during such times.
  • You don't have complete control over outcomes, but you do have control over your time. Don't waste time.
  • Plan
    • If you value your time, planning becomes an itch to scratch
    • Planning shorter periods (a week, a month) is easier than planning longer periods
  • Finish what you start

None of these are "resolutions", per se. Resolutions are about outcomes, and people usually fail to achieve them because they haven't changed their mindset and processes from the past year; as such, they follow the same processes and expect a different outcome.

Changing mindset and processes is much harder than desiring an outcome. It is especially vulnerable to long stretches of (seemingly) no progress: the time frame is a lifetime. So, what's a better time to get started than now?