How to avoid failing before you even begin
On my recent trip to Panama, I visited the Biomuseo, an incredibly colorful place that tells the story of Panama's biodiversity and how it has impacted the rest of the world. Driving by, you can't miss the building even if you tried. It screams with beautifully strong primary hues of blue, red, and yellow.
But what I loved the most about the Biomuseo is the drastic change as soon as you step inside. It's almost as if the loud colors of the outside lower their voice to a whisper as you step inside to soft tones of grey. Walking up the steps and into the atrium, I was overcome with calm.
This is how most of us want to live. So often, though, we fall short.
"The talks leading up to yours poured energy outward. It's time to bring some of that energy inward."
This is what the Biomuseo does. It throws energy out into the world with its colorful architecture, but once you step inside all the energy is redirected to setting the stage for the museum's experience.
When it comes to our own lives, we want to have all this energy going on around us—fits of laughter, fun trips to the beach, bursts of creativity—at the same time as we want inner peace—happiness, relaxation, tranquility. But we lack the ability to manage that energy.
We struggle to redirect some of our energy within and create the inner sanctum we desire.
This creates a huge problem for us in the future—especially if you're a maker. Here's why...
Setting yourself up for failure
We live in an age of "follow your passion", right? From all angles, we're pushed to make something of our own, whether its a startup, art, or something in between. But at the same time as we're being pressured to create (which isn't a bad thing!), we're leaving something really important behind...
I've noticed in my own life that this problem of pouring energy outward instead of inward is especially tragic when I'm making. Whether I'm writing a book, starting a company, or preparing for a talk, I have a tendency to get lost in the creating, the ideating, the formulating, and I stop taking care of what's happening inside.
This happened to me just last week in Panama! And again two days ago when I was brainstorming my super-duper next project. :-) More about that later...
The friends I've talked to have all told me they go through the same thing. They also get wrapped up putting everything into what happens *out there* and forget what's *in here*.
Why does this happen?
There's one element I think we tend to forget when we're working our creative butts off...
As we create and make, are we really sure what it will entail? Think about it. How often do we think about *exactly* what our projects will require of you every step of the way? And, most importantly, what happens when you don’t think that through?
The following quote says it all. (Yes, it's a long one, but well worth it!):
“In every affair consider what precedes and follows, and then undertake it. Otherwise you will begin with spirit; but not having thought of the consequences, when some of them appear you will shamefully desist. ‘I would conquer at the Olympic Games.’ But consider what precedes and follows, and then, if it is for your advantage, engage in the affair. You must conform to rules, submit to a diet, refrain from dainties, exercise your body, whether you choose it or not, at a stated hour, in heat and cold; you must drink no cold water nor sometimes even wine. In a word, you must give yourself up to your master, as to a physician. Then, in the combat, you may be thrown into a ditch, dislocate your arm, turn your ankle, swallow dust, be whipped, and, after all, lose the victory. When you have evaluated all this, if your inclination still holds, then go to war.” — Epictetus
In short: make sure you're truly willing to go through everything it takes to make your project work before you start.
That’s where most people fall short.
They want to create X thing, they get excited about it, they validate if the numbers make sense, and they get down to business. Fast forward a few months (in some cases a few years), and they're knee-deep in anxiety and burnout.
Take me for example.
Those of you who’ve been reading me for from the start (back in 2010), know that my wildest dream is to be the next Oprah. Why don’t I start creating things that may lead me to that goal, then? Simple: I don't want what that will entail.
Would I need to be away from my family more than I’m comfortable with? Most likely.
Would creating get in the way of other things I value, like exercising, having a flexible schedule, and maintaining friendships? You better believe it.
If I get significant traction, would I suffer from unworthiness or “imposter syndrome"? Chances are high.
The pains of following that dream are bigger than the pleasures of achieving it. The costs outweighs the benefits. So what do I do? I keep still. I don’t start.
Be clear on what sacrifices you're willing (or unwilling) to make to create your art.
The Oprah example is just one, of course! There are many projects (like this blog) that I *am* willing to undertake. And I'm working on my next one. :-)
If you find that you *are* willing to undertake a project and everything it entails, you'll need tools to help deal with the low moments. Let's take a look at a few things that may help.
Bring on the tools
There's a buzzword that keeps coming up whenever I talk about this with friends: "resilience." But I'm not sure that's quite the answer, at least in my own life.
By definition, resilience is "the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe." And while it's true that, in a perfect world, we'd all have this capacity ... it still sounds a bit miserable. Weathering a storm doesn't just have to mean coming out alive—it can also mean feeling peace throughout the entire thing.
So, what about "naiveté"? By definition, naiveté is "the lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment." And I know that sounds like a terrible thing—the word "lack" is a bad starting point! BUT I think there's more to naiveté than it seems.
Popular screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (behind the movies Se7en and Fight Club, maybe you've heard of them?!) puts it this way:
"One of the most important things for any writer is to be constantly refilling their reserve of naiveté. If I weren’t as wholeheartedly naive now as I was on my first day leaving film school that I was going to achieve something in the world of screenwriting, then I wouldn’t still be doing it. It’s like selective memory. If you can’t tamp down the bad experiences you’ve had writing—and they’re numerous—almost actively forget them and refueling your optimism each time, then you’ll just stop… I’m as optimistic about writing now as I was at the beginning — which is completely delusional. Embracing delusion is really important. They say the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” But if you’re not doing that in Hollywood, you’ll never survive. It’s only the person who has the determination to keep saying “yes” in the face of all those “no’s” that will make it."
Sorry for the second long quote, but it was also worth it, right? :-)
The key to keep chugging along amidst all the ups and downs? Get that dirt off your shoulder.
Being resilient won't help you if you look like you've just survived the beating of your life. But if you let successes AND failures roll off your back like water, what's to stop you from achieving the peace of mind you so desire?
(For more tools, check out my post on mindfulness.)
Shall we go into battle?
No matter which way you spin it, to make an informed decision, you should know the backstage of creating something you care about. There will be long hours, varying amounts of money, and an intense emotional rollercoaster.
This isn't to discourage you, it's to prepare you. If you're ready to go into battle, I'm with you.
You can't master creativity until you master peace of mind, as well.
PS. About that new project of mine...
Before you go, I wanted to talk to you about what I've been working on: a podcast. I'm currently smack-dab in the process of going through this very post, thinking through exactly what the project would entail in the long-run and whether I'm up for it. But I'd love to know...
If you'd be interested in listening to my podcast, head over here and let me know? :-)