What’s Left After The Messy Beginning

10 years ago, if you wanted to eliminate meat from your diet, you had very few options. You could obviously go with salads, nuts and crucifers, but if you wanted a more dense source of protein, you were out of luck. And I’m talking mostly about engineered protein-rich foods. Producers were just starting to understand how to make alternative “cheese” or “meat”. There was very little research and economic activity in this area. Their initial products were mostly simplistic trials, built on top of experimental tech. Also, expensive.

The other day I went into an “eco” super store here in Valencia and, once again, I was mesmerized by the abundance, quality and affordability of meatless, protein-rich products. By the way, I’m not evangelizing a meat-free diet with this post, although I’ve been a raw vegan way before it was cool (like more than 10 years ago). I am now on an omnivorous diet, if you’re wondering, (for at least 2 years) and this is working ok for me. I chose this specific food example simply because it’s easier to illustrate my point with it.

And my point is that every beginning is messy. Every new intent to change or improve something comes with a lot of trials and errors, with costly experiments and, generally speaking, with a lot of chaos. In this specific case, as the production processes were maturing, and as the market increased, the generated products gradually improved. There was knowledge built on top of previous mistakes, and optimizations were applied. The feedback loop increased the frequency of iterations and, eventually, the market stabilized.

I think we’re seeing a very solid stabilization stage in this meat-free, protein-rich products industry. Meat-free burgers are already part of the menu of global brands, with huge distribution channels. Vegan cheese, as well as rice, nuts or soya milks are standard products. And I could go on like this for quite a while.

The bottom line is we’re over that messy beginning. And we’re just enjoying the benefits now.

Personal Messy Beginnings

The same pattern applies – at least in my experience – to any disruptive process, not necessarily to economic ones.

In personal development too, when we’re trying to generate alternative skills, or to implement new habits, we’re going through similar stages: a messy beginning, with more failures than achievements, with ridiculous attempts and a lot of discouragement. But as knowledge is gained on top of those errors, and as optimizations are applied, we’re slowly getting better. Those skills are finally worth something and those habits are eventually kicking in.

After a while, we’re over that messy beginning, and we’re just enjoying the benefits.

I think it’s useful to understand – and accept – that every beginning is messy. That we’re not supposed to get significant results, in any improvement practice we choose, very fast. And if we do get those immediate results, it usually means there’s not too much improvement added. Specifically, because we didn’t hit too many walls, because we didn’t have too many failures, we simply can’t generate enough knowledge to apply, we can’t derive any meaningful optimization. As a matter of fact, it seems to me lately that if I get better at something very fast, I’m probably deluding myself, by setting the bar (of whatever that thing I try to achieve is) way too low.

Every meaningful beginning is supposed to be messy. And part of the improvement process is to make peace with this mess. To keep it steady on the path, without complaining, knowing that, at some point, it will get better. Even when it seems it doesn’t, small progress is still made.

So, the keywords for any meaningful beginnings are not “thrill” and “enjoyment”, but mostly “discomfort” and “tolerate”. There is discomfort if you’re trying to learn to play the guitar or to run a marathon. And you need to tolerate that discomfort just the way it is. You cannot eliminate discomfort, because that’s how you improve, through discomfort.

And it’s only after the messy beginnings have played their part, after all the initial discomfort have been processed and alchemically transformed in skill or insight, that you can rejoice in thrill and enjoyment.

Because, if the messy beginning was indeed meaningful, and if you remained steady on the path, that’s all that’s left at the end of it: just thrill and enjoyment.

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