Quitting at Half-Time and the Erosion of Self-Esteem

I come up with lots of ideas and projects.
Sometimes my mind explodes with a grandiose idea that in the naked light of day just doesn’t stack up.
Or maybe I get into it, and realize:
Hey- this idea isn’t so great after all.
This isn’t my passion.
This doesn’t fit into my goals.
This is too crazy.
This isn’t that original.

The list goes on.
Some of the best advice I ever got was to immediately and whole-heartedly drop these half-hearted projects.
Let them go completely and never look back.

In the past, I often let them linger in my mind.
For years they would fester,
frustrating me and making me feel subconsciously bad about the important work I wasn’t doing.

The most important thing for me now early on is to log the idea and then quickly dismiss the ones I don’t plan to pursue entirely. This clears mental room for the projects I DO want to pursue. And I can chase those with reckless abandon.

Something I have noticed is,
the deeper you get into a half-hearted project,
the harder it is to extricate yourself from it.
Soon enough, there are expectations involved;
your own and possibly other collaborators you’ve brought along with you.
If you turn your back on the project mid-way, it’s not just yourself you’re letting down,
it’s those other people too.
That puts you in a difficult position:
you must either stick with the project you don’t love and waste your own time,
or give it up, knowing you have wasted others.

Giving up on projects halfway is a practice I don’t like to keep.
An unfinished project has a corrosive effect on one’s self-esteem.
It makes you feel like a failure.
It makes you question your own judgment.
Over time, you may even wonder whether you are capable of completing anything at all!

The more projects you walk away from mid-way,
the more it destroys your confidence.
Soon, others will lose confidence in you also.
They will see you trying things, and giving up all the time,
and they themselves will hesitate to follow your lead,
or get excited for you,
since it seems like a waste of time and energy for them to do so.

To avoid this effect, I recommend evaluating projects by the COMMIT OR QUIT method I have outlined in the previous post.

This often requires you wait til you have enough information about the project to make such an assessment.

Starting projects quietly seems like a good idea. More on this in the next post…

The Ghost of Unfinished Business

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Lonely Ghost by Leah Johnston

Many legends exist where the undead come back to haunt the living because they’ve left behind some “unfinished business” from their life before.

The idea that we must “finish business” is obviously a pretty powerful force if we fear our mortal souls may not rest until we do it.

A desire so powerful should certainly be paid attention to before it’s too late.

Like a familiar song cut off in the middle, it is my belief that we secretly long for resolution in all aspects of our lives.

As far as I can tell, there are two possible conclusions to any project that bring about this feeling of resolution:
1) completing the task
2) quitting the task, fully and wholeheartedly

To do the first is the most rewarding.

But this isn’t always preferable, especially if the task turns out to be something not to be worth doing at all. Completing an unimportant task may feel satisfying, but ultimately it is a complete waste of time and energy.

In these cases, it is better to jump as quickly as possible to choice #2. (More on this in the next post). Once a task is identified to be unworthy, commit to quitting it, and don’t ever look back.

But before we consider these two outcomes, we should consider whether the entire project is worth starting at all. Quitting before we begin can save us a lot of grief in the long run.

For the worst thi​ng we can do, is start a task and then abandon it and avoid making a decision. Then, the project enters the realm of unfinished, which will haunt us incessantly, like a ghost.

The Limitless Spring

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We are used to thinking in terms of finite resources
There’s only so much
food, water, plants, oil,
time, and energy to go around
Best we conserve it
before we run out.

But unlike most everything else
Our creativity is limitless
Go to the well
and your bucket will always come up full
(and if it isn’t, just wait a while,
til it rains, and it will be so)
in fact, I would argue
that the more we use our creativity
the more it yields
the more ideas we ask for
the more ideas come
the more we search our minds for creative solutions
the more we find them
In this sense, it is more like a limitless spring
always ready to burst forth with innovation
The only time
We can’t access its gifts
is when we stop up the source
when our own negative beliefs, demons, distractions
Clog up the opening and get in the way
To flow is only natural for the spring
and all we need to do receive it
Is simply get out of its way

Sacred Space

I’ve noticed a lot of people have sacred time slots carved into their every day lives.

For some, this comes in the form of prayer or meditation.

For others, it’s undisrupted time spent with spouses or children.

My grandmother and my father both had a similar sacred practice: in the early morning before anyone else had woken, they quietly arose and sat in their bathrobes for an hour or so, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. When I would try to talk to either of them during this morning ritual, I would immediately get the sense that I was intruding on something very private. This was their sacred space, minus the religious part. But it was a spiritual practice just the same.

I’m not a spiritual person, nor a morning one, so I’ve noticed a lack of these quiet moments in my own life. During the course of the day, there is so little time to simply do what I want, without the disruption of people, text messages, phone calls, emails or errands. I am completely devoid of sacred time devoted wholly to introspection.

It’s something I’ve started consciously building into my days.

Introspection is so imperative to the artist, but sometimes so difficult to access because the world is designed to keep us constantly entertained and outwardly focused. Without creating these quiet corners for our minds, we risk never accessing our best ideas or deepest insights.

For the last week, I’ve been creating a sacred two hour period every night leading into bed time. I use this time to do meditative things, like write these blog posts, read my favorite book, reflect on my goals, and then slowly, get ready for bed.

I usually hate going to bed because I am a night owl, and the idea of slowing down long enough to sleep feels like an​ unwanted inconvenience. But for some reason, transforming this portion of my evening into a long luxurious process puts me just in the right mood to sleep when the time comes.

I’m currently loving these sacred corners of my day, so much so that I’m contemplating building them into my morning as well. I don’t know if these practices fall to pieces when one gets busy- but I’m hoping I can maintain them as the year ebbs on and my work picks up. Lord knows, we could all use more introspection in our lives. Myself more than anyone!

Action Before Belief

“Believe and you can achieve”
“Believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything!”

I think those are two sentiments that we should consider reversing:
“achieve and you can believe”

Belief in yourself is not essential.
It’s more important what you do
Consistently and repeatedly.
Your repeated actions create a momentum which will gradually build your confidence
After you’ve acted enough you will not feel defeated anymore. You will believe in yourself.

Confidence is a natural consequence of action. Even if we don’t fully “believe” in ourselves at the start of a task, we will certainly believe in ourselves once we have completed it. Our confidence grows in proportion to our accomplishments.

Few of us are gifted with the confidence of blind faith in ourselves
Sometimes there’s no way around the fact we need to see it to believe it.
Therefore, action may precede belief for most of us.
You may need to achieve before you fully believe in yourself.

If you want something, don’t wait for a surge of confidence to get you going. Simply start taking steps toward it. Do it repeatedly, every day, over the course of several months. Watch slowly as your life changes as a result. By the time you have accomplished your goal, you will no choice but to believe in yourself. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

Tug of war: Validation versus Perfectionism

I’m not one of those people who let’s go of things easily.

No. I drive people crazy wanting to continually fix and tweak things, even after time has run out. Hell, I drive myself crazy. but that doesn’t seem to stop me from doing it.

For example, I’ll often post a photograph online and then notice and error and go back and fix it, over and over, a dozen or more times. I do this, heedless of the fact audience has already seen it/doesn’t notice/doesn’t care.

I recognize that this is the same perfectionism that inhibits many artists from sharing their work in the first place.

I think the reason my perfectionism hasn’t completely debilitated me is that my need for validation usually wins this tug of war.

I release my imperfect work eventually because of the positive adrenaline rush I get from sharing it. That feeling dwarfs my perfectionistic need to endlessly hold onto things.

The positive rush of sharing is something I became familiar with back in 2009 when I started sharing my photographs online with the flickr community. The immediacy of this creation-sharing process became addictive- and afterwards, I was never able to fully retreat back into the vicious cycle of my perfectionism again. The desire to share had become as strong as, or even stronger than, my desire to create. It added to my life the second half of the loop I had previously been unable to close.

If you are suffering from debilitating perfectionism and are unable to finish your project, try a scrappy exercise in imperfection; like daily blogging (ahem) or regular, uncomfortable sharing of your work-in-progresses. It will help flex your ‘letting-go muscles’, and will allow you to experience the positive endorphins that come from connecting with an audience. This may embolden you to overcome your perfectionism enough to let go of the work that needs to be finished and move on to the next one.

After all, what is this blog but a counter-attack on my own perfectionism? There’s no way for me to be perfect when I’m blogging in the public eye every day.

Typos, here I come.

Uncharted Waters

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“If you are sailing into uncharted waters, expect there will be rough seas along the way. But take heart in the knowledge you are on your way to a new world.”

Storm clouds are heaving on the horizon. It’s that fleeting moment before the sky opens up, when everything feels just on the verge. Do now or regret forever.

I pull on my red dress and grab my camera and tripod. I run out towards the ocean, shouting to my sister who is playing frisbee with her boyfriend on the sand bar.

“Stand in for me while I find focus?”

“Ok” she says, dropping the frisbee. “How bout I just take the picture?”

I plunk the tripod down in the mud. The sky is looking angry now.

“You better hurry,” she warns as I attempt to fix the exposure.

I tell her to wade out deeper in the water. She stands impatiently squinting at the sky, while I figure out focus marks. We swap places and I realize I’ve lost the mark- where exactly was she standing? Shit. She goes back, I refocus, this time I walk out to her before she moves and take her place.

Now it’s raining. Snap snap snap, she pushes the shutter and I fall back into a variety of dramatic poses.

“You’re all blurry!” she cries. Stupid me, rushing. The shutter speed is too slow. She can’t capture my motion when I move quickly. I have to hold my poses longer.

Now it’s really starting to rain.

“Just a few more poses!” I say, clutching my dress.

“Ok…” she says dubiously.

The thunder crackles. Snap snap snap.

“Done!” I yell, tossing her one of my props which lands in a distant patch of ocean and starts drifting the other away.

My sister rolls her eyes. “I’ll grab that, you get the camera.”

We grab, we run. Along the beach towards the bank. Now we are covered in rain. We run up the stairs towards the cottage, the storm nipping angry at our heels

We arrive on the porch as the sky opens up. Monsoon disaster. We throw shut the doors as the rain screams down. The wind picks up the neighbour’s basketball net and drops it onto my sister’s boyfriend’s car.

“Better call your insurance.” my sister says.

Good storm.