When I shared my thoughts on overcoming creative blocks, I declared that the solution to the problem was simple: stop asking how to do something, and just do it instead.
Simple, yes. But not at all easy.
What’s easy is to ask, how are you supposed to do something if you don’t know how to do it?
I’d challenge you on this, and say that I believe you do know how to do that thing you’re struggling with. You know how to do the work you long to do. Consider that we don’t get stuck on whether or not we know how.
We get stuck because we really, really don’t want to do bad work.
The trouble is, that fear will stop you from ever doing anything. The only way to get to good work is to do a lot of work that is, frankly, shitty.
Great Work Can’t Happen Before Bad Work
We all do a lot of work that is absolutely awful before we ever approach work that is good.
Even when we get to good, sometimes the pain of mediocrity can stop us from progressing further. Because we have to spend thousands and thousands of hours doing average, just-okay, that’s-not-so-bad work before we ever have a prayer of crossing over into the realm of great work.
Most of us won’t ever get there because we don’t want to deal with the process of doing shitty work (and again, that’s just to get to the point where you can do years of pretty decent, not-so-awful work).
Most of us want to fly right over all that pain, shame, suffering, and embarrassment that comes with creating something and realizing, wow, this is not as good as I wanted it to be.The secret to great work? Lots and lots of bad work first. Click To Tweet
How We Get Really Stuck: We Focus on the Great Work of Others
Casey Neistat is a creator who really, really inspired me this year. He does film and has a platform based on countless hours of footage on YouTube.
When I first found him, I spent a few hours watching his videos. I was so engaged with them, and so motivated to go out and create. What really captured my attention was the fact that there was nothing super fancy or extraordinary about most of Casey’s videos (many of which are part of a daily vlog series that he started).
From a technical standpoint, anyone could go out and get the same equipment and record the same quality footage.
From a storytelling standpoint, countless other people could film 8 to 10 minutes of their lives everyday and probably have more bizarre or unique or “special” stories to share.
That’s not to knock Casey, who to me is a fantastically creative and talented human. It means that he’s not going base jumping everyday. He’s not constantly recording in exclusive places the rest of us could never access. He’s just sharing his thoughts and snippets of his everyday life, and sometimes that looks like going out to brunch with his wife, daughter, and in-laws.
You could easily watch Casey’s films and think, I can go and do that. And you might try, and realize that you totally suck at this, and then never pick up a camera or try anything creative ever again.
The difference between someone like Casey Neistat and someone who has a creative spark within them who wants to do great work but never gets there is that Casey spent years honing his craft.
He started out doing what was undoubtedly shitty work. And then he spent even more time doing work that was alright, just okay, pretty good. He got his 10,000 hours.
Someone who has a creative spark within them may have the same level of talent and skill as creators we recognize as great. But unless they fall in love with the process of doing a lot of work, most of which will be not good, they will never reach that sphere of greatness.Want to do great work? Fall in love with the process of that work. Click To Tweet
To Do Great Work, Fall in Love with the Process
As for myself, I firmly believe I’m still in the years of doing shitty work. Although I’ve always felt called and compelled to be a writer, I’ve only been actively practicing it for a few years.
I have a long, long way to go. And I’m okay with that.
Creativity and the pursuit of great work is not about an outcome or an end result or a goal. Sure, you can have dreams and goals and things you want to accomplish.
But if outcomes and end results are the only factors that drive you, you’ll never be satisfied. And I doubt you’ll ever do great work.
That sounds harsh, I know — but I’m speaking just as much to myself as I am to you, because this is a lesson I still struggle to really get.
I want to leap out into the world as a fully-formed artistic and creative genius. Don’t we all? I’d love to be praised and rewarded for my incredible work, to be a recognized Writer with a capital W.
I want the result. It’s easy to be fond of results.
It’s tough to fall in love with the grind of sitting down to write, every day, with the knowledge that most of the creative work you do will feel like fodder for your trash can.
If I ever want to do great work, I need to recognize that ideas about “success” are like moving goal posts. No matter what level of achievement I reach, there will always be a new, bigger, better goal farther out — a new, bigger, better result to acquire.
The idea of success is something that can only be endlessly chased, never caught.
I do want to do great work, and that means accepting that I will never be done. What I can strive for, however, is to be someone who shows up and is not afraid of doing mediocre work for a long, long time.
I want to do great work, and so I will be someone who loves the work itself and not anything else. Not the outcome, not the results, not even visible progress as I improve in my craft.
I will be someone who loves the process of creating, making, and doing, and not the products that come from that process.
Because that is what it takes to do great work.