I read 99u’s advice compilation recently: Manage Your Day to Day: Build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mind.
(Ironically, for a book about focus, it gave me symptoms of ADD. It was so frantically energetic, full of different voices and snackable bits of advice…)
But, in it, Seth Godin talked about the fact that cultivating a daily practice is a necessary prerequisite to achieving great things. Here’s a bit of his advice. I think it’s apt, as we get a week in to the #50DayWellnessChallenge and find ourselves asking: “does it really matter if I skip a day or two? Who’s going to know?”
Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with their own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken.
The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.
There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place—in doing these things, they are professionalizing their art.
The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.
The practice is the big part. The reason you might be having trouble with your practice in the long run – if you were capable of building a practice in the short run – is nearly always because you are afraid. The fear, the resistance, is very insidious. It doesn’t leave a lot of fingerprints, but the person who manages to make a movie short that blows everyone away but can’t raise enough cash to make a feature film, the person who gets a little freelance work here and there but can’t figure out how to turn it into a full-time gig – that person is practicing self-sabotage.
These people sabotage themselves because the alternative is to put themselves in the world as someone who knows what they are doing. They are afraid that if they do that, they will be seen as a fraud. It’s incredibly difficult to stand up at a board meeting or a conference or just in front of your peers and say, “I know how to do this. Here is my work. It took me a year. It’s great.”
This is hard to do for two reasons: (1) it opens you to criticism, and (2) it puts you into the world as someone who knows what you are doing, which means tomorrow you also have to know what you are doing, and you have just signed up for a lifetime of knowing what you are doing.
It’s much easier to whine and sabotage yourself and blame the client, the system, the economy. This is what you hide from – the noise in your head that says you are not good enough, that says it is not perfect, that says it could have been better.
Godin is a marketing guru and he’s writing to people who try to be creative for a living. But I think there’s some parallels there.