3 Lies You May Believe About Your Creative Work
Creating something and sharing it with the world is a very brave thing. Whether it’s a painting, photograph, piece of music, joke, logo, cocktail, or an app—it takes guts to make something and share it with others. And if you’re a creative, you’re likely all too familiar with all of the emotional and mental games that often come before—and alongside—this sharing of your creativity.
So I thought I’d outline a few lies you’re probably believing right now about your work; lies that you should stop listening to because they’re liars (it doesn’t make sense but it makes sense OK?).
It's not good enough.
This one’s a doozy. There’s that famous Ira Glass quote about the gap between our taste and our work. Basically, all creatives go through a phase where they want their work to be a certain thing and achieve a certain level...and it’s just not there yet. This, he says, is where a lot of people quit. But the key is to keep creating, keep doing, so that eventually your output matches with your taste. Says Glass, “It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."
Know that you may always feel that it’s not perfect. But if you let this lie hold you back, you’ll never get anywhere.
This is perhaps the most brutal part about doing the work you love: Sharing it even when you feel it’s not where you’d like it to be. For me, this looked like writing sketch comedy shows and putting them in theaters, even when I knew deep in my bones that I wished they were better, funnier or something else-er. But when I look back on some of my first shows, I realize how much I learned from them and how important they were in building this writing muscle I care so deeply about. So whatever it is you’re working on...let go of this “good enough” lie. Know that you may always feel that it’s not “there,” that it’s not perfect. And I’d venture your creative heroes still feel that way about certain projects. The hard truth is, if you let this lie hold you back, you’ll never get anywhere.
Also, the bonus of putting your work out there even before you’re 100% confident, is that you realize how much you love it just for it. That is, you’re doing the work not for applause or acclaim but because you love it, because you feel you must. And getting there is an achievement in itself.
It should be more like “theirs.”
Comparison is a bully. (And a thief.) And now that we have such access to what everyone is doing, it’s difficult to 'keep our eyes on our own paper.’ Of course, it’s great to have heroes (cough, cough Mindy Kaling, Ilana Glazer, Amy Poehler, Megan Amram, Samantha Bee), but it’s important to look at our work through its own creative lens, instead of trying to shape it into something someone else is doing.
This whopper of a lie also keeps us from seeing our work for its own merit because we’ve cast a shadow on it in the shape of what other people are doing. (Insert something here about how what you have inside of you and your own unique story is something only you can tell. Because even though it’s cliché, it’s true.)
It should always feel good.
There’s this B.S. idea out there that if you’re following your passion, it will always feel...well, like passion. In the daydream you’ve had about doing this work for a living, you’ve seen yourself just lounging around and effortlessly creating incredible, innovative works of art that get instantaneous applause and awards from critics. (Just me?) I read this great piece yesterday by Mark Manson where he discusses how absurd this idea is. He says:
“There’s no such thing as some passionate activity that you will never get tired of, never get stressed over, never complain about. It doesn’t exist. I am living my dream job (which happened by accident, by the way. I never in a million years planned on this happening; like a kid on a playground I just went and tried it), and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more.”
So it’s time to stop buying into the Big Fat Fib that tells us our beloved work will always feel easy and glorious and exciting. Because if it’s worth anything (to you, or to the world), it will require a ton of work. And a ton of doubt and late nights and ugly first drafts.
So to review: Your work is good enough, because it’s yours, and it’s OK that this doesn’t always feel good or look pretty. I’ll close with a quote by Stephen Pressfield from one of my favorite books on the topic, The War of Art. In it he says, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.”