Saturday, April 30, 2011

Staring down a brick wall?

As I explained in the last two posts, to get started on creative work, you need to believe both "I can get this done" and "This will make a difference."

Basically, this means picking a goal that's small enough that you can actually complete it, but important enough that you'll have some enthusiasm for the effort.
Bad news! Those two categories don't always overlap.
Sometimes, I have found myself in an unlucky place where everything that's big enough to matter seems too big for me to tackle today. And everything I can imagine actually getting done today seems so small, it makes me say "what's the point?"
For example, suppose I'm inspired to create some great music that's more or less like the best work of Yes or Genesis. But what I can realistically achieve right now sounds more like rough demos from the roommate of some guy in the local AC/DC tribute band.
Or suppose I have a great idea for a novel. But I know if I sit down and try to start writing, the results will be such poor storytelling that I'll just end up throwing the pages away.

Have you ever been in a situation like this, where the gap between your wishes and your talents seems insurmountably large? It's discouraging! The result is that I do nothing at all. I waste the whole day, and then I feel guilty about it.
Success coaches tell you you can pursue any goal, no matter how large. The theory is that you can break the goal down into pieces, and then break the pieces into pieces, until your reach the level where each piece is small enough that you can tackle it. Frankly, that approach is wrong, and it doesn't work in real life. They missed a key fact: each of those pieces needs to be significant enough on its own that you'll feel it makes a difference to complete it. If tiny piece #1 doesn't pass that test, then you'll be locked out of the creative state of mind, and you won't be able to make any progress at all.
Don't hack your dream into pieces. That's not how real-world successes are made.

If you can think of a piece of your big goal that you can handle today, even it it's a small piece, then go ahead and get started.
But some goals are just too big. Sometimes you have to say, "This is a worthy goal, but clearly it's something I'm not ready for yet." (How do you know you're not ready? Because you're not taking action on that goal!)

What you might look for instead is a goal that you can believe in — something that at least puts you in a stronger position to consider taking on your bigger goal.
For example, I might put that novel aside and sign up for a fiction writing class. By doing the class assignments, I'll improve my writing skills and perhaps become the kind of writer who can realistically tackle big projects like the novel I'm thinking about.

You're a creative person, so apply your creativity to your career strategy. If you find that you're not moving forward, don't keep bruising yourself against an unyielding brick wall.

Who says you have to proceed on a straight-line path to your goal? That doesn't even sound creative! It might turn out that the shortest distance between your two points is some kind of crazy fractal n-dimensional Celtic spiral. Do something that you can do today, even if it might seem like a crazy whim, an irrational side trip. Trust your muse to lead you down the right path, and you'll find yourself in a better spot tomorrow.

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