On the Pain of Creative Work
Creative work is hard as hell.
If you’re a writer, entrepreneur, or anyone else challenging and pushing boundaries (read: instigator), you know what I’m talking about.
In fact, creative work is probably the hardest work there is – something only those bold enough to create can appreciate.
But what makes creative work so hard?
1. Creative work is uncertain
Doing creative work means we can fail at any point.
All the hard work we do this week, this month or this year could end up being for nothing. No reward. No payout. No bonus.
In the beginning, most bootstrappers work 80 hour weeks and make sweat shop wages. To make matters worse, the majority of startups fail. And for the aspiring writer? The landscape is even bleaker…
2. Creative work is exhausting
Creative work requires us to be on point every hour of every day.
If we’re not doing our best work, if we’re not going as hard as we can, if we’re not constantly pushing the boundaries, then we’re at risk of being overshadowed by someone who’s willing to hustle harder. The fear is this: any moment we fail to capitalize on is a moment that could have been our tipping point – the thing that allows us to break out of obscurity.
Worse yet, the only thing more exhausting than putting our mind, body and soul into a project, day after day, is the anxiety we experience from the thought of wasting time or losing ground…
3. Creative work is lonely
For most of us, creating something from scratch requires long periods of time devoted to working in solitude.
This requires a great deal of self-imposed isolation – something that inevitably becomes lonely over a period of time. This isolation is made even more painful when the few times we do interact with other people they don’t “get” what we’re doing.
The only thing lonelier than working in isolation is working beside people who don’t get what you’re doing.
Finding the Strength to Continue
Face it, if you do creative work, at some point the uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness will make you want to quit.
I can’t tell you how many times a week (a day?) I want to throw in the towel and walk away.
This is the inner creative war we each have to fight if we want to do great work.
It’s at times like this, when things get darkest, you need to remember what’s important.
- Remember, you didn’t sign up for consistency, safety, or security – that wasn’t part of the deal. You signed up for the thrill (and payoff) of the big win. And sometimes that means taking big losses. Everyone falls and everyone fails. That’s the easy part. Only those with courage rise again, dust themselves off, and enter the fray once more. Be courageous. Keep doing the work.
- Remember the power you have as the underdog, the creative insurgent, and the unpredictable instigator. While big companies worry about maintaining the status quo, you have the opportunity to disrupt everything. Accept this opportunity gladly. Take action boldly.
- Remember the power of compounding interest. A small action today doesn’t mean much. A years worth of small actions could change your life.
- Remember, it’s not about the money – it’s about the experience of the journey and the opportunity for growth along the way. Sometimes (most times), the experience and education is worth way more than the money anyway. Work hard. Learn a lot. Enjoy the journey. The money will come.
- Remember, your power isn’t based on the tangible assets you own, but the creative assets you develop. You might start with “nothing,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t create everything. Start with what inspires you. Build/Design/Create that first. Over time, the cumulative results of your effort will stand like a brilliant empire of creative work. This is your life’s work. This is what matters.
- Remember, even if the first hundred attempts don’t work, you only truly fail if you stop trying. But also remember that you will inevitably fail if you don’t learn from your mistakes. Trial and error works only if you measure the trials and learn from the errors. What I’m trying to say is if you’re re-routing, stop. Focus on what’s important and keep tweaking, testing, and experimenting until it works.
- Remember, it’s not worth doing if you don’t enjoy it. That doesn’t mean you should quit when the writing gets painful (it will), or when the business takes a dive (it might) – these things are the headaches we accept as artists and entrepreneurs. I’m talking about a deeper, core enjoyment – the kind you get from doing worthwhile work. If, at the end of the day, you’re miserable with the work you do and the life you’re living – change it. We have one life – a shorter life than you can possibly imagine. You may have another 30 years left or you might be gone tomorrow. Why spend even one second NOT doing something worthwhile?
But most of all, remember this:
The rest of the world probably won’t get why you do what you do.
But you didn’t do it for them, did you?
Do the work. Do YOUR work. And do it for the happy few who want what you create.
Serve those people.
Ignore everyone else.
They’re not worth a second of your time anyway.
Creative work is hard…
But here’s the thing: life is hard.
Any course of action you choose in life will be hard – hard because you chose to enter the trenches, fight the creative fight, and do work that matters, or hard because you chose to avoid the trenches, insolate yourself from challenging, impactful work, and accept what life throws at you.
I’m sorry, but there’s no happy medium, no painless compromise.
These are the only two options.
So what will you choose?
Call me a ruffian, but I’ll choose the former.
I hope you do the same.
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