Consistency: The Antidote to Perfectionism
Creativity is hard. It’s even harder when we are trying to find our creative voice, wondering at every moment whether we even have an ounce of creative juices flowing in our bloodstream or if we’re just trying to live in our own fantasyland. It’s a scary thought. It is very difficult to figure out whether this is truly who we are or if it’s simply who we wish we were. Those who don’t figure it out find themselves in a huge miserable hole in their forties. That’s a tough place to be in and not where I want to be.
But at the same time, I think it is important to get through this phase. The phase of constant self-doubt that turns our stomach upside down, not knowing when it would end. We don’t really know what we’ll find on the other side. Success, or failure? It’s impossible to know unless we take that risk. We have to play the game, and if we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. We could of course simply not play the game and just sit on the sidelines as spectators. There’s no shame in that. But as the years go by, will we not feel a growing sense of unease about being just a spectator? We know we want to play the game. We know we have to play the game because if we don’t, we’ll just become an 80-year-old filled with regret. The only thing stopping us is the fear of failure. What if we play the game and the comfortable life we’ve currently built is taken away from us? Dreams require sacrifices. I suppose that’s the price we pay for dreaming with our eyes open. Oh if only we were content dreaming with our eyes closed. If only…
But back to my original predicament. What if we are playing the wrong game? Some failure is inevitable along the way as we put our 10,000 hours into our craft, but when to give up? I assume there’s some mystical failure threshold that once we hit, we’re supposed to quit. But we shouldn’t give up. Ever? But we should if we are bad at what we do. But what if we could improve as we keep putting in the hours? What if we are bad beyond redeemable? Should we not give up then? What if we give up too soon? What if all we had to do was hit the rock one more time with our hammer and we would’ve hit the gold but we give up right before that last hit? What a tragedy that would be.
I think about Ryan Holiday who published his first book when he was 25 and has published one book almost every year ever since. And then I think about Steven Pressfield who started writing in his twenties but published his first book in his fifties, going through many different jobs to pay the bills. What if Pressfield quit when he was 50? We wouldn’t have The War of Art.
It’s difficult to keep going when no one pays any attention to us. Although in some sense it is also a relief because we evade the constant scrutiny of the world since no one is paying any attention to us anyway, except maybe our mother.
Cal Newport debunks the passion hypothesis and says following passion is a fool’s errand. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, tells us to follow our passion and escape the dogma. They’re both successful in their respective fields. So, who is right?
There’s a lot of advice out there. Some things work for some people and some things don’t, but they work for other people. I guess there are no shortcuts. No safety nets. The only way to live life is to actually live it, instead of constantly strategizing our next move. The only way forward is through the Dip, as Seth Godin talks about in his book, The Dip.
These are all the things I’m currently thinking about, as I ponder whether I have any talent whatsoever or not when it comes to creative writing. All my fears and insecurities cranked up to max. So here’s my conclusion, or just a feeble attempt at a conclusion: There’s no easy way to find out if I have any talent or skill at writing. But the only way to find out is to actually do it. Not caring too much about the quality. Not chasing the paralyzing perfection. But focussing instead on consistency. The Australian writer and Youtuber Christy Anne Jones writes about perfectionism, “Perfectionism is the manifestation of the harrowing fear that we may never actually ever be good enough”. I think that’s a beautiful way to put it. It is my belief that consistency is the antidote to perfectionism. There will be criticism along the way. Not everyone will like what I have to give. Not everyone will understand my point of view and what I’m trying to say. As the photographer, filmmaker, and Youtuber Peter McKinnon puts it, “It’s a lot easier to criticize than it is to create”.
I could, of course, be wrong. But I am willing to find out. In the meantime, all I have to do is, as Nike’s slogan goes, “Just do it”.