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Permission to Continue

When Bruce Chatwin first began to write he was not particularly good. He persevered. He churned out pieces on migrant workers and couturiers and the Great Wall of China. He showed each one to Francis Wyndham of the Sunday Times magazine. Wyndham “encouraged and criticised and edited.” [Bruce Chatwin; Anatomy of Restlessness].

However, the greatest gift that he passed on to the struggling Chatwin was “permission to continue.”

I love this phrase.

Almost everything we attempt is rubbish at first. Almost everything worth doing well is difficult. And that is why the permission to continue is such a brilliant concept. It helps dampen the fear of failing. It encourages you to just get started. You’ll never be brilliant unless you begin.

For example, if you want to be a photographer you don’t need to wait until -magically- you somehow receive a thunderbolt gift of talent and a fiendishly expensive Leica camera. You need to start today. To take photographs with whatever camera you can get your hands on. To take them as well as you can and not to be discouraged or ashamed that you are not an instant Bresson. You just need to begin. Take some photos. Start a Flickr account. (The first pic I ever uploaded on Flickr seems, retrospectively, far too boring to have bothered with. The crucial thing was that it got me going). Embrace, and learn from, people’s comments and feedback. Give yourself the permission to continue, and little by little you will improve.

Whatever you dream of doing there is only one thing to do: begin. Begin today. Take the first tiny step. And then persevere. Do not get discouraged.

Give yourself the permission to continue.

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  1. Such a good way of looking at anything you start up. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great advice. Ira Glass of This American Life fame has similar words of encouragement:

    “What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

    But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

    It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    More on this excellent video:



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