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Ship It

It's in the welcoming paragraph to my blog, so I figured the concept of shipping deserves its own post. What does it mean to ship?

Shipping in a sentence means to simply think up an idea, then push it out into the world. It can apply to anything, be it a sales call, movie, EP, a piece of software, or even a blog post. Seth Godin, who's an expert on the creative process, introduced me to the term.

He emphasizes that shipping can apply to any art, but more importantly your art can be anything. Whether you're into painting, entrepreneurship, coding, or career counseling, anything can be art. Art is simply "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination," and nowhere in there does it say it has to involve an instrument or a set of acrylics. Have you ever had a genuinely good experience or laugh with a waitress or any other service worker? They were practicing art. Most jobs come with a manual, but the real art is created from whatever goes beyond the instructions, it's how you're able to figure out how to do what hasn't been written down, and once you've done that, to ship it.

Seth Godin discusses valuing the deadline nearly as much as the art, because without deadlines it may never ship. What good is a gift that hasn't been shared with others? Da Vinci put it this way:

Art is never finished, only abandoned.

At some point, you have to leave the canvas. You have to stop putting the finishing touches on a project and ship it out the door so that you can work on the next big idea. When the first iPhone shipped, users couldn't copy and paste. There was no app store. You couldn't even change your background. Despite all that, it shipped and changed the world. The Apple team "abandoned" their now flagship product earlier than they probably would've liked, and it still had customers waiting in lines that wrapped around the block to get one. Your work works the exact same way: shipping it is almost as important if not more important than creating it.

The only purpose of starting is to finish.

-Seth Godin

So why don't we ship? Surely you've had a creative idea at some point in your life, even as a joke. An idea for a book, a business, or a fitness goal. You might've even started it, or started a few. The fact is, the number of drafts and untitled documents out there far exceed the number of things that ever get published. This is a result of what Seth calls The Resistance.

The Resistance is that voice in your brain that demands comfort.

It's the feeling you get as you're leaving the comfort zone to do anything worth doing. It's your lizard brain telling you to hunker down because there might be predators nearby. To blend into the crowd because you might be ostracized otherwise. The lizard brain focuses entirely on survival, and it's unfortunately a part of every decision we make. The rest of your grey matter is what allows you to be creative, but when it's time to act it's never as loud as the screeching of the lizard.

"See, I told you it would never work."

"You should have listened to me. You really blew it."

"I knew you shouldn't have done that."

We hear phrases like this from within our own head than we ever do from the outside world, and that's your lizard brain at work. It prevents you from shipping to protect you from criticism, so it must be overcome in order to share your art. Don't let it win.

The lizard brain's response might be first, but it doesn't have to be last. Our fear response is the quickest, because that's what protects us from actual danger. However if you can interrogate the thought and determine that there's no real danger, you can ship. Next time you catch yourself having this negative self talk once you've had an idea, question it. Don't just let it take over what you're doing, see if it actually holds up to scrutiny. If it doesn't then you've got a gift that needs sharing.

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