Your Tools Aren’t the Problem

But you can stop believing they are and start getting things done

When I used to try something new, I’d make a lot of silly little demands to myself. What felt like real obstacles to getting started were really just imaginary barriers I’d created to protect myself or give myself leeway if what I did wasn’t very good. More often than not, it would lead to not trying something or not giving myself enough time to actually get any better.

Writing and programming are two endeavours that always needed something before I’d be able to get to work. The phrase, “if I just had (blank), I could get started” was a common utterance. However, no matter how often I actually got the item that filled that blank space, there would be another item to take it’s place.

With writing, it was always having a proper place to create.

I can’t write on the train, I’ll never be able to focus! How can I possibly focus with my child nearby? There’s no way using my mobile device to write a story can work, it’s too small and it cramps my thinking.

These were actual phrases I have said to myself over the years that kept me from writing. I convinced myself that good artists had some advantage that I didn’t and that was why I couldn’t write. What I was really doing was making excuses, because I was afraid to put my authentic writing into a piece and share it with the world. Which really is a terrifying thing to do. But when people respond positively to you on a page, it’s one of the most gratifying things that can happen.

There is a beautifully drawn comic inspired by a quote from Stephen King. When Stephen King was a young writer, he dreamed about having the kind of desk you see when you think of a successful person. He was fortunate (and hard working) enough to own this dream desk. But it took getting sober to realize that the desk wasn’t making him a better writer. In fact, the tool he dreamed so much about, was isolating him from the thing that truly mattered most, his family. After ditching the desk and redecorating his office into a more comfortable living space, he placed a much smaller desk in the corner. “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around”. This part of the quote has stuck with me for many years.

Programming is a challenge I have said for years that I wanted to take on, but always found an excuse not to get started. First, it was not having an external monitor. I mean, what kind of plebe programs without an external monitor? There was a time where I almost convinced myself I’d need a second monitor if I really wanted to be a programmer, but luckily my delusions didn’t go that far.

Then came the fear of not messing up my computer because I didn’t know what I was doing. This has some basis in reality, as I can easily flash back to times where my younger brother crippled our home computer trying to learn how to manipulate it in ways only a programmer can. But I solved that problem with a new tool, a raspberry pi.

Does an external monitor make the task of programming easier? Sure. Does having a raspberry pi alleviate any worry about screwing up my full-time computer? Definitely. But you don’t need either of these tools to program! And now I have these tools at my disposable and guess what? I still don’t sit down to practice programming. Which led me to another realization about my obsession with tools. Even with all the tools in my arsenal, I still don’t make any time to start programming. So what that really says, to me, is that I don’t have a tool problem, but a desire problem. And no number of fancy tools can solve that issue.

There is a freedom in realizing that if you think you need something to get started, you probably just aren’t that interested in doing it to begin with. As a person who considers themselves a Jack of All Trades but Master of None, it’s a freeing feeling to stop convincing myself I need one more tool to get started on something, when I really just don’t have a strong enough desire to do it.

Programming doesn’t seem to be in the cards, but writing is a task I’ve realized I enjoy doing no matter what tools are at my disposal. As a matter of fact, I sit here now, on the train, trying to finish editing this piece that was written on the kitchen table, with noisy children’s toys being joyfully played with nearby. It has become painfully obvious that the tools were never the issue, it was only the fear of being a failure.

The idea that you need a certain toolset to create is a myth. If you find that you think you can only do something with more tools, take a hard look at if it’s an endeavour you really want to take on. Once you get started on something you really enjoy doing, you’re going to find the tools you thought you needed are no longer important. The work you are doing is important enough that you’ll find a way to use any tool you already have.

I cannot wait to see what beautiful things you create.

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