Skip to main content

A short story about showing your work (and this website)

David D Lawson on · 5 min read

After reading Austin Kleon’s brilliant novel “Show your Work” I’ve been itching to get this website out in the open.

If you’re not familiar, his book is a reflection of how much we have to gain as both individuals and as a society by sharing what we create with our fellow human beings.

It’s also about how we have just as much, if not more, to lose by keeping our work to ourselves.

Each and every one of us has something to bring to the table. Whether it’s because of the unique circumstances in which we were raised, or the seemingly random way our neurons decided to wire at birth, we all have a unique take on things which, when shared, can potentially inform or inspire others.

We might even attract some people who can potentially learn from or appreciate our unique perspective.

While on some level I’ve always known this to be true, there’s always something that’s held me back. When you put your work out in the open, you open yourself up to criticism. And criticism is hard to take. A mean comment from a stranger on the internet is one thing, but having a person you admire and respect tell you that your work is substandard is pretty soul crushing.

Austin’s book helped me come to grips with the fact that this is part of the process. It’s part of the journey. And it’s something that we all have to go through if we want to get better at what we do.

The trick is changing your mentality.

If that person you admire actually took the time out of their day to give you feedback, embrace it. Learn from it. And use it to improve your work.

And that’s where things get interesting.

Careful and considered creation that is published online is a process that’s beautifully summed up in Kleon’s book, as well as his prequel “Steal Like an Artist”.

He argues that all work is ultimately stolen by apprentices who are trying to replicate the work of the “heroes” that they admire.

In the process of trying to replicate, they typically fail. But in that failure, they discover something even more valuable: their own unique approach to the work.

They understand where they shine, and where they fall short.

For me, this idea hits home. It’s something I can relate to on a fundamental level, and I’m sure many of you can too.

It’s an idea that inspired me to create this website and start publishing my own thoughts, musings, successes and failures.

Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time. Andy Baio

Well, in all honestly, it’s not just this idea.

There’s another brilliant piece of content that I came across recently — an article called “The Release Ratio” by Lawrence Yeo.

If you’re a constant consumer of educational and informative content, like myself, I’d go as far as to call this a mandatory read (don’t worry, it won’t take you more than ten minutes).

As someone who has spent my entire life consuming content, seeing this diagram sum up my personal Release Ratio (the rate of creating content around what we learn VS releasing our own) struck a cord:

The release ratio for most people, according to Lawrence Yeo Image credit: MoreToThat

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve learned a lot from the content that I’ve consumed. And many of the things I’ve learned, I’ve put into practice in my daily life through my work and my own personal development.

But there’s another element to this process which I have so far neglected; sharing the interpretation, the implementation, the successes, and the failures.

Well, if you are reading this, I guess it’s time to update the chart:

Release Ratio: 0.01

There’s one final point I’d like to touch on before closing this out. It’s not just the criticism that held me back from sharing my work so far. There’s also something far more clichéd.

I’m a perfectionist. I also suffer from chronic FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). It’s a lethal combination that has had me start countless projects, realize the amount of work that’s required to get them to a point where I’m happy to share them with the world, and then get distracted by the latest shiny thing that’s caught my attention.

James Clear, the author of the now world-renowned book “Atomic Habits”, always seems to have the right quote at the right time. And this one from his latest newsletter is no exception:

Finish something. Anything. Stop researching, planning, and preparing to do the work and just do the work. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad it is. You don’t need to set the world on fire with your first try. You just need to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to produce something. There are no artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, or scientists who became great by half-finishing their work. Stop debating what you should make and just make something.

This website is pretty bad, at the time of writing. It’s missing some foundational features which I never thought I could have launched without just a few years ago, and the design was hatched together without too much thought or planning. But finished is better than perfect, and I plan to make this an iterative process over the following months and years.

Plus, having something subpar out in the open with your name on it is a good source of motivation for continuing to invest time and energy to make it perfect, right?