We are tasked, as higher-thinking beings, to find a calling in life. Thanks to social media, we are also constantly reminded that there's someone somewhere who at 8 raised a million for charity, at 10 got a masters in biochem, at 18 published a novel, or at the very least graduated college right into the waiting arms of Promising Future, Inc.
Not only must we find a calling, but also excel in it. In creative endeavors, I often find myself dejected by the seemingly endless stream of beautiful work being churned out in the Factory of Effortless Aesthetics, populated with talented youngsters that can whip out a timeless logo out for $200 (see Carolyn Davidson's Nike swoosh). It's hard not to scroll down page after page of Pinterest logos with the sinking sensation that indicates your own insignificance.
Couple this with artist's block at the start of a new project, and you've got a recipe for an existential crisis. Don't get me wrong, I'm confident in my design abilities. But as any creative can understand, the spark is occasionally dampened by an insidious feeling of inferiority.
To borrow a Frost-ism, here is where two roads diverge: One leads to the maw of a lethargic bear ready to swallow you into its self-loathing stomach for a nice hibernation, the other to a cheery gnome who is happy to light a fire under your posterior that inspires you to give your all to every project no matter how small because it's got your name on it. The discomfort of unfamiliarity, of finding an easy night's sleep only at the mercy of my own conscience, has thrown me down the latter road and given fuel to my friendly neighborhood gnome. Oftentimes the fear of creating subpar work is the very thing that holds you back from trying new things and discovering your creative voice. Your taste got you into the field, but harnessing your hunger to improve will allow you a permanent residence.
You might have found your fire already - but hopefully if you haven't, this might help. My gnome's got Ira Glass to thank for its miserable existence in close proximity to my rear end.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” - Ira Glass