True to The Lean Startup principles, I’m conducting a retrospective to report what I’ve learned in the first six-week cycle of this humble effort to develop something useful. Here’s Lesson #4:

Rock climbing is like anything; you start small. You have to gain some fundamental skills and learn your initial limitations. There are shortcuts but they’re not worth it. So you start with boulders long before you go to mountains.  

But it’s so frustrating. You see other people climbing with ease; some are naturals. Their success can weaken your confidence. Then there are photos of people on the same mountaintops you’re trying to reach and it makes your effort feel less special. You clearly won’t be the first to get there. Others can already say “been there, done that.”

So why bother? Why go tomorrow and try to summit a measly little boulder again?

Lesson #4 is that I’ve found remarkable resiliency in the distinction between improvement and validation. Validation is nice. Every now and then, someone reaches out and says thanks for a post; they hit a “Like” button or send a message. It’s really great. 

But the first six week’s have taught me that a focus on improvement is the only way to continue. I have to move to the next boulder even when no one applauds it, even as others have scaled far greater heights. 

We all know this but knowledge doesn’t make the self-doubt go away.

So really, this might be more of a leadership lesson than anything to do with a creative endeavor. In fact, it’s the best lesson of its kind that I’ve ever experienced. Want to learn how to be a leader? Spend a couple hundred bucks on a wordpress site and try sharing something worthwhile. Climb that boulder.

You will find yourself frequently being mediocre in public. And you will occasionally find yourself being something better than mediocre. But not always.

There will be moments when you think no one cares. They do. Or if they don’t, you might just need to keep working until they do. There’s a taller boulder ahead. And another.

You can’t climb a mountain the first time out. You can’t be eternally validated on your first try. But you can improve. Every humble boulder you conquer shortens the distance to the summit. 

Again, I don’t know why but this is a lesson I have to learn repeatedly.

The endeavors that suffer premature failure seem to be the ones where we forget this, lose patience, trade improvement for validation as the measure of success, and thus invalidate ourselves.

So long as there is improvement, real improvement, the climb will continue.

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash