Stop Ruining Your Dream
Have you ever tried a ceramics class as an adult?
You're handed a cold, grey lump of clay to practice on. A tutor expertly whips a lump of nothingness into a smooth and elegant cup in moments. Confidently, you take your clay and begin to roll and kneed and scrape.
Two hours later, you proudly hand the tutor what can only be described as a decorative poo. She smiles at you kindly and places it on the drying rack next to all of the other sad little lumps. You return a week later, to collect the shards of your work, which exploded in the kiln.
Sounds awful, doesn't it? All of that time spent and nothing to show for it. Except it's wonderful. Two hours quietly working with your hands with a natural material, Nina Simone on the radio, a break to drink tea and eat fancy biscuits from cups and saucers made by the tutor, totally forgetting the outside world. Going home with a wonky ashtray is just a bonus.
Most of us started off feeling that way about our creative work. It was so much fun we did it for free, in fact, we couldn't stop doing it. Then somewhere along the line you get so good at it you realise it could be a career, a dream career, and everything changes.
When you approach your creative work focusing on the goals, you lose the pleasure that comes from experiencing the process.
Your goals will forever dissolve and move whether you achieve them or not, it's like driving through a shimmering mirage on a hot day. We ask continuously "are we nearly there yet?", instead of enjoying the drive - the scenery, exciting detours, what's on the stereo, who's in the car with you: err snacks.
This isn't just a warm, fuzzy theory. A study by researchers Ayelet Fishbach and Jinhee Choi showed that people are more likely to try something when they've been sold on the benefits - in this case, flossing, origami and yoga - but they were far less likely to keep doing it than those who were focused on the experience.
Goals are important, they're just not the most inspiring source of motivation.
Tour managers are great at achieving goals. Their job is to get you from point A to B in the shortest, most efficient way possible. At the end of the tour you've travelled widely, but if you didn't get to experience anything, what did you actually achieve?
A lot of us choose to do our creative work because it's the thing we love. It's the dream. The problem is, we're often so focused on finding a way to ensure we can keep doing that work forever, we end up taking the pleasure out of it. If we can just make [...] amount, be featured in [...] publication, get regular funding from [...] organisation, work with [...] important person: then we can relax and start enjoying it.
The magical day when you've achieved enough and can start to focus on improving your environment, your health, finding better clients, your work/life balance ETC is never going to arrive on its own. You have to build on your process daily, adjusting what works and what doesn't.
If you can't answer yes to the following 10 questions, consider how you could improve something about your process today.
- Enjoy most days?
- Like who you work with?
- Have enough time for the most important things in your work and day to day life?
- Feel inspired by your environment?
- Prioritize time out to seek inspiration?
- Feel comfortable saying yes and no to opportunities?
- Experiment, even if you're not sure of a successful outcome?
- Feel motivated whether you're receiving accolades or not?
- Stay balanced, with stress at a relative minimum?
- Take holidays? *Extended work trips don't count
Is your process working for you? Are you struggling to achieve a goal because the outcome isn't enough to keep you showing up? How do you keep your working life fun and enjoyable? Let us know in the comments below.