I have toyed with the concepts of this post in various forms for a day or two, and this is probably the best way to organize these ideas.
I’m making a game. I work in the company of game makers. The game I make must be at least as good as theirs.
I’m writing a novel. I am surrounded by writers. I must write something as good as what they write.
I’m running a business. I have many friends, colleagues and associates who also run businesses. My business must be run like theirs in order to have success like theirs.
Do any of those ideas resonate with you? These are the professional thoughts that plague me, though to figure out my personal thoughts, just swap out business-y things for issues about loneliness, heartache and fear, and it’s really not rocket science to see that I’ve got a lot going on in my head.
I come to my desk every day hopeful that I can accomplish great things. I come to my desk and read my email and look at Twitter, and see my friends’ talking about things they’re doing or that they have plans for, and I’m happy for them. But sometimes, when I’m not involved in those things directly, I feel pangs of “Why aren’t I doing that?” or “Why/How can they be able to do that and I’m over here with my own problem? I bet he/she/they don’t have to deal with my sort of problem anymore.”
And then I get more critical, more self-flagellating. I remember this success someone else had, or that success somebody had. Or I find out someone’s getting married, and someone’s else’s kid is a teenager now, and it’s all very hard to wrap my head around. Because I’m still here, at this desk, with my problems, and with my feelings, and all that success seems many parsecs away for me. Like I’ll never get there, or if I do, there won’t be a lot of success available for me, or it’ll be fleeting or I’ll screw it up or the minute I succeed that’s the day aliens show up on Earth and my moment in the spotlight will flicker out, and I’ll stay ignored, even if I do something tremendous.
So I throw myself hard into the production. I write thousands of words a day. I think about what I’m going to write the next day until my head hurts. I push myself to make whatever I’m doing the best thing anyone’s ever seen, and I don’t tolerate anything less than that while I’m making it. Criticism destroys me. Suggestions cripple me. Feedback, however well intentioned, however supportive, knocks over the house of cards I’ve built while I’m doing 110% to make something perfect.
Because in my head, “good enough” sounds like I just scraped by. “Good enough” is the land of almost-did-as-good-a-job-as-someone-else. “Good enough” is the pat on the head right before someone moves right past you towards something “perfect”.
“Perfect” is exactly where I want to be. It’s the Shangri-La, the Utopia, the forbidden doughnut. It’s what I want, it’s what I crave, it’s what I can’t stop trying to chase down. Being perfect is the only way I’m going to measure up to those around me, right? My friends run companies that make money, produce material, have huge audiences, write books that are raved about, get opportunities to work in film and television, and what am I? I’m the guy who write things on the internet, and the guy who occasionally makes a video. I’m the guy who puts words on paper, deletes paragraphs like they’re on fire and then rewrites them, certain that what I’m doing is going to be laughed right off.
And I worry. And I panic that I’m worrying. And when I don’t write, for whatever reason, be it stress or other plans crop up, or I get distracted by other things, I kick myself hard because when I’m not working on MY things, I’m failing. I’m slipping farther away from perfect. It’s a race, and perfect is leagues ahead of me, and I’ve got cement in my pockets and weights on my legs, and the next part of the race is uphill. I might not get there.
So then I don’t write, because I won’t get there. Because my ideas aren’t as good as what one person did. Or what another person is doing. Or what someone else plans to do. I enter a cycle that looks like this:
This thing I’m making / thing I’m doing isn’t as good as what other people do –> I should just work harder, right –> Work harder and still not be good enough? –> Maybe I just need a new idea –> Get really excited about new idea –> This thing I’m making / thing I’m doing isn’t as good as what other people do etc etc
And it doesn’t break unless I walk away from things for “a while” – hours, or days, or months or even years. And sometimes when I do go back, I’m not sure I can pick up right where I left off.
All of this sounding familiar to you? All of this sound like you could be saying it, maybe right now, or maybe you did yesterday? Or maybe you’ll say it later today?
I don’t have the sole right answer for you, and I’m sorry. I can rah-rah your face off, but look, we’ve all had people pump us up and then we feel encouraged but also obligated to do a good job, as we’re now aware of the people supporting us, and we can’t let them down. (Can we?) But here’s what I can tell you.
- The only person in charge of your success, is you. Not your company. Not your business partner(s). Not the fan base large or small. You are in charge of YOU.
- If you want to change anything, change it. You want to grow that audience? You can. You want to write today? You can. You want to try and see if someone attractive will talk to you today? Go for it. What you do is YOUR DECISION.
- The more you think about the gap between where you are and where you want to be, the more “reasons” you’ll invent to keep you where you are, because making those changes, taking those steps forward, is scary, and it’s a lot easier to stay where you are and bitch about it than appear vulnerable or possibly fail.
- Yeah, you might fail. You might not.
- Nobody starts off as a bestseller. Nobody starts with an rabid fanbase. Nothing starts big. It’s all one step at a time. One step. Not two. Not five. Just one.
- All those posts about wildly successful entrepeneurs? Those galleries of images about celebrities and overnight success? I’m pretty sure they didn’t come out of the womb like that. It took talent, time, training to get there. Anybody who promises you a quicker path to success that doesn’t seem to focus on the work is just selling bullshit by the pound on sale with coupons.
- Yeah, life’s hard. We have loads of responsibilities and bills and obligations that take us away from those projects and ideas we could be working on. But that’s not their fault. It’s not your kids’ fault they want to spend time with you. It’s not your landlord’s fault he wants your rent check. It’s not your bank’s fault for wanting you to pay your mortgage. And it’s not your day-job’s fault that you have to go to it so that you can do those things, or spend time with the family.
- Making good art (a story, a game, a painting, a recipe, a love note, a whatever) means you need commitment, love and discipline. Commitment to see the idea all the way through, love to keep the idea interesting and discipline to keep you working all the way to the end.
- Seriously, if people can get recognition for standing around on television and showing off their lifestyle, I’m pretty sure you can some praise and gold stars for actually doing something.
- Fuck “good enough” and double-fuck “perfect”. Make something you’re proud of, make it the best you can. Get help when you need it. Challenge yourself, not because it’ll make a better thing that will sell better, because you’ll learn something and be able to make a better thing next time. Everything has flaws, things the creator would change when they look back on it, and things that could be done differently. It’s not good enough, it’s good. And good is an awesome thing to be.
It is my fondest wish and hope that today, you keep doing whatever you’re doing to make awesome things. If you haven’t started, this is a pretty cool time to start. If you’re coming back to it after a break, welcome back. If you’re scared, say so, but let’s be scared together and let’s make our stuff anyway. I can’t always say I love myself or that I’m feeling like I’m good at what I do, but there are flashes when I know, when I remember, that I am pretty good at this stuff, and it’s okay to be impressed by your own work. But I keep doing it anyway. One step at a time.