I sharpen my sword, but rarely fight

No, this article is not about making political deals while holding a big club, nor is it about intimidation, nor about "measure twice, cut once". It's the opposite.

I want to talk about the detriment of "sharpening" my sword, and rarely fighting. To put this analogy more close to home for me, "I prepare, but rarely do" in the case of my life.

For the past four or five years, I've spent most of my energy cultivating the perfect environment for myself. It's been my dream to be where I am, to feel free to do as I wish, and to act on my feelings.

It all started in my teenage, rebellious years where my actions reflected on my parents and family, and where the strict school environment tried to mold me in some way that I did not fit into. When I left high school and entered college, I told myself, "Enough, I have to move out". Nothing against my parents, I just needed to be responsible for myself, and no one else.

My dream, then, had been to create a luscious moist soil to seed and sow with whatever ideas and efforts I wanted to. I moved in with a very encouraging person (and later married this wonderful lady), I got a job that allowed me to invest a substantial start cash into whatever hobby I chose, and I organized my life to allow me as much free time as I could have. I ended up where I am today, a comparatively leisurely life.

The problem is that I have adopted this "prepare! prepare! prepare!" mantra so deeply that I no longer "do". Or at least, I don't do as much as I would like to.

What it means is that while I do read articles and tutorials teaching me the things I want to learn, I never practice or "do". Just recently did I actually revive my (public) Github repositories in order to create the tools I've desperately needed.

I measured a 100 times, and still do, before taking a step. I sharpen my sword but am afraid to battle for the things I believe in.

It's not sharp enough - Me

A more apt example is my wish to learn C#, ASP.NET, XNA, and Game Development. I've watched countless tutorials, learned countless of concepts but that is akin to studying Art Theory but never picking up the brush. In the end, I'm halfway through one javascript game tutorial, one that I started two weeks ago. I'd rather spend 5 hours reading on the topic rather than 1 hour finishing the tutorial and playing around with the final product in order to learn from practice, rather than from "books".

Honestly, there is no real reason for my anxiety to start a project, and finish it. I'm just so used to doing the boilerplate for my life that this is where I thrive the most.

But the weird thing is

The weird thing is that at work, I'm nothing like that. Sure, I fluctuate in work output, but I always get from A to B. I don't measure a 100 times, I measure 1-2 and cut. If I mess up, I get a new piece of wood (and metaphorically speaking, the programming world has an infinite amount of new pieces of wood). I sharpen my sword quickly and if it doesn't cleave well, I go back and sharpen it some more, but not before I have slain a few foes. My boilerplate coding time is minimum, and my result is minimal as well. At that stage, I move to the iterative phase. My small product gains features, warrants a refactor (and gets it), and grows into a mature beast.

To keep up with the metaphor, I sharpen my sword and enter the battlefield until I can fight no more, recast my tool in Valyrian steel, and become a master swordsman in the process.

The main thing I took away from analyzing that process was that "minimum" part. Part of being "minimal" is taking away the unnecessary and burdensome. It's about starting small. The MVP is the startup's best chance for succeeding, for instance. It's the same in life.

If I wanted to scale Mount Everest, it won't do me much good spending 10 years learning how to pack and what the right way to walk is. It's better to start at the bottom and go camp out at the local state park. That's not to say that I should leave my tent and boots at home.

My latest accomplishments

I wanted to, as a way to end on a positive note, list a few things where I've managed to (finally) subscribe to this "minimal" method:

  • Launched programming proverbs, an idea I've had for years.
  • Created Tseczka-CSS Framework, a CSS framework for my personal projects (ie. boilerplate css).
  • Almost finished the Tseczka Wordpress Theme refactor. It's a WP starter theme that I developed in '11, updated in '12 and have been using without a real update.
  • Started Popstar CMS, a node CMS to use as a docs/blogging platform for new products/ideas. I'll be writing a parser for my programming proverbs.

I'd love to hear about others' accomplishments as well, so feel free to comment!


There are lots of things I do outside of development and honestly, that should have been the focus here but my programming is a very exemplary and concrete example of this "sharpen/don't do" behavior. I am the same way with my book writing, with socializing, with self-improvement, and just...well, everything.

To discuss: Please check HN.