At the start of my PhD, I had a conversation with Max Willsey in which he told me that an empty Emacs buffer was one of the most exciting things for him. A chance to start completely new.

At the time, I couldn’t relate. I found starting new projects daunting; there were so many ways forward, so many design decisions to make, so many lines of code to get written. On top of that, I had just not started that many new projects.

Recently, I remembered that conversation with Max, and realized I’m no longer scared of the empty buffer. I see it now as he did then: a chance to start something completely new. I still feel that it also calls to mind many future sleepless nights, hard problems to solve, and annoying decisions to make. It’s no longer daunting to me, however, as I have confidence in the value of my ideas and my ability to implement them.

How afraid are you to start from a blank slate? Perhaps that’s a good indicator of your progress in your PhD, or in whatever you do. It perhaps also suggests a way for you to get more comfortable and confident: start things from scratch, even if you’ll throw them away. Get to know your tools, and you’ll feel like a true user of them.