“When things get so bad that you feel there isn’t any way out it is helpful to work. Work is almost everything. It would be nice to distinguish useful work from mere labor expended, but perhaps that is part of work itself — to find the difference.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
When you’re in the early stages of a creative process, or — on a more macro level — in the early stages of your career, it can be painful. It is for me, and I’d venture to bet it is for you too, at least now and then.
A typical day may look like going to your workspace, tending to your craft for as long as humanly possible, and then, of course, doing the other half of the work when your creativity wanes and you need to change it up. The other half, as Chase Jarvis talks about, includes attending events and workshops, reaching out to influencers in your field that inspire you, and actively absorbing other creators’ pieces in order to find inspiration and/or a possible collaborator.
In other words, you’re on. Always. But that’s not the painful part. That’s what you want. You want to be doing these things because they’re exciting. They’re what being a writer/painter/entrepreneur looks like. The hard part? The self-doubt, that in spite of all you’re doing it’ll never be enough. The fear that maybe you’re not doing things just right. The terror that you may be wasting your time on something that will never amount to anything. The underlying dread that you’ve been duped by your own optimism into thinking you can make it. That’s hard.
What’s harder is realizing that there’s no going back. You’ve seen how exciting life can be pursuing this foggy, obscure path and you realize doing anything other than this will make you feel useless, if not entirely existential. So you must find a way. You must learn to trudge through the trenches for however long it takes because however difficult, you love your craft.
This might sound like the most hypocritical, bizarre line of thinking. How can you refer to what you love as a source of pain? Isn’t that selfish? Then you go down that rabbit hole. How dare you complain or feel pain related to your craft, when you’ve fought your whole life to be in this very place, pursuing this very thing? So what if it’s not easy? How could you expect it to be? Or maybe you always knew it wouldn’t be, but your pain threshold is much lower than you expected and you feel ashamed about that.
Well, as Fitzgerald said, the only way through all this — if you’ve already stretched your legs, meditated, or tried whatever it is you try in such cases — is to work. Sit down, at your desk, and let it pour out in your medium of choice. And yes, you’ll likely produce a lot of subpar work in the process. And, ouch, you’ll have to throw a lot of that out. But does that mean you should avoid creating? Does that mean your time is being wasted? Really? Hello no.
We can’t spin gold all the time. And I’d argue that we wouldn’t want to either. As Tchaikovsky so eloquently puts it, “Even bliss itself becomes wearisome if it is never broken or interrupted.” Maybe that’s the most important thing to remember. That we shouldn’t long for utter happiness all the time. That’s not only unrealistic, but tedious. We grow through our pain so we should cherish it. Or, as Oscar Wilde puts it (much more poetically), we shouldn’t confine ourselves to seeking exclusively sweet, pleasurable fruits, as there are other, bitter fruits to be tasted, and they are just as nourishing.