One of the reasons why many of us take ages and maybe even fail altogether to follow our passion – write that novel, start our own business, create a social enterprise, get fit – is that we expect to everything to be in place from the start. We tell ourselves: we need to go on that Creative Writing MA first in order to write our book or do more and more market research or go and buy a new pair of trainers… No, writer and creative artist Yang-May Ooi says, we need to start before we are ready.

Start Before You Are Ready

We can never know everything we need to know or have all the skills we need to have at the beginning of any venture, whether it is writing a book or building a business. We learn from the doing. We build experience from our mistakes and the messes we make along the way. So if we don’t ever begin until we have that learning and experience, we won’t ever go through the process of learning and experiencing. It’s the proverbial chicken and egg…

So we have to start before we are ready.


Just have a go, experiment, play

Start typing away at your story. Get cracking with laying out the plot and characters on bits of paper. By all means read books, go on courses and learn from others. But don’t use those as an excuse for not starting.

Do a little trial run of your business, even if it is from your kitchen table or garage. That’s where most of the great businesses started. Many of the Silicon Valley tech tycoons like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started their businesses in their garages. Start small. It’s an experiment. Accept that you may not initially make any profit – and that you may possibly lose your initial investment. So decide how much you are prepared to risk for this one small trial and then go for it.

Head out round the block in those old trainers. Go at a pace that is medically appropriate for your fitness level. You’ve already burnt some calories just by doing that, worked your heart and lungs and muscles. Do it again tomorrow. And again till you get round to getting that new pair of running shoes. In fact, I would guess that the more you get on with this exercise habit, the more fired up you’ll be to head to the sports shop to get that new kit.

Make a mess of things. Fail. Your first efforts at writing may be crap. Your first batch of cupcakes from. your kitchen table might not sell. Your first efforts round the block are bound to be slow.


My own messes and failures

Here are some examples from my own experiences:

I started many novels when I was in my twenties. I even started one when I was thirteen. They were not very good and remain unfinished messes in that proverbial drawer. But over time, I learnt my craft and my first published novel The Flame Tree came out when I was 33 as part of a two book deal with Hodder & Stoughton. But it was not the first novel I wrote. Today, I’ve just published my fourth book with more in the pipeline.

In the early days of social media, I was fascinated by this new medium and wrote a popular cross-cultural blog, Fusion View.  I put it about that I would be happy to advise individuals and small businesses how to use social media for pleasure and for their business. And a new little business was born, ZenGuide Social Media Consultancy, which I ran for a couple of years but over the long term  I realised I couldn’t compete with the PR agencies and specialists who could offer their wider communications expertise alongside social media advice. But what I learnt remains with me today – my multimedia content creation skills, my understanding of the needs of small businesses, my training skills.

buy it On the exercise front, I was plump and unfit from sitting in front of the computer all day and one day, set off on a slow plod round the park in a heav old pair of tracksuit bottoms and worn out trainers. It was painful and exhausting but it felt great to have worked up a sweat and blown off some steam. I was spurred on to get some new gear and before long, I was building up to a 5k fun run. These days, I’m still a slow runner compared to other people but going pretty fast by my standards and run 5k to 10k regularly.

Learning from doing

So just start whatever your hopes and dreams might be – and however your first efforts go, you’ll have learnt something from that experience. Take a step back, review what went well, what didn’t. How might you do things differently the next time? Make a plan for that next time and then get on with it. Repeat till you gain mastery – and that will be when you will see the results of what you dreamt of creating or achieving.



runners from (COM) thanks to Guy Dickinson



Author: Yang-May Ooi

Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre & family memoir), The Anxiety Advantage and Creative Conversations (podcasts). ¦

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