Sometimes, reassurance is useless. Othertimes, it’s counterproductive and lulls us into inaction.
But there are times when reassurance can be irreplaceably helpful. Reassurance can help when it comes from someone who isn’t being generic and flaky about it and isn’t letting you off the hook of doing your best work. It can help us to stay courageous in times of uncertainty, or at times when we feel invisible, or at times when we wonder if we’re good enough. “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt,” said Sylvia Plath.
So this post is for you, if you want (or need)
You’re doing the right thing. If you’re creating something that fits a larger arc of something you love, you’re fighting the good fight. Even if no one wants your work. You are doing something that matters, something only you can do.
It’s ok to hide some of your work. No need to feel bad about making work you’re not proud of…as long as you don’t stop there. In the past three years I’ve completed four picture book manuscripts, three of which I’ve banished to the deep recesses of my files because I am so dissatisfied with them. I’m sure every creative out there has a comparable story of feeling frustrated at themselves for not impressing themselves. Good, bury it, if it helps you move on. Because…
You’re getting better, even if you don’t think so. You just can’t see it. It’s like how you could never see yourself growing taller as a kid. Look at your work from three years ago. Ten years ago. See a difference now? You can only trust that as long as you’re trying, you’re somehow doing better and better work.
If you’re passionate about your work, you’ll get through. The only thing that can reliably get you through a challenging, chaotic, confusing time in your career is your stubborn passion for the subject. Love will see you through. It will patiently, stubbornly keep you company. If you fail and it’s still there, know that everything is going to be ok, because your passion will help you to pick yourself up and try again and again.
Changing your mind doesn’t mean you’re going backward. If you’re realizing that you don’t want to be in the field you’re in, that’s wonderful. You have to see what’s not a fit, in order to move closer to the lifestyle you wish for. Release yourself from a shoe that doesn’t fit. If you don’t know what’s next, walk barefoot for a while. Be brave. You can do it.
Take a rest when you need one. I once heard someone describe grad school as a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie, and it’s an apt description for whatever work you do. Either you have to digest faster or eat slower. I vote for eating slower. My mother, a very wise lady, often says to me, “Remember to take a rest so that you can run farther later.” If you feel like you’re about to burn out, clear out the space you need in your life to make a plan you’re excited to pursue. Go on a self-prescribed sabbatical. It’s an investment. Mental health is as much a form of health as physical health. Invest in your entire wellbeing so that you can perform at your best.
Someone looks up to you. You might not know it, or know what they look up to you for. You might feel like no one sees you, ever. But Confucius wrote something that roughly translates to, “There are always others who are greater and those who are lesser.” For any skill ladder you can think of, there is always going to be someone who would look up to the way you do something. Just don’t stand still.
You are enough. It can be immeasurably frustrating to feel like you’re not making enough progress fast enough. But pause and zoom out. If you’re working as hard as you sustainably can (and you’re the only person who can determine this), then if you speed up, you’re headed into unsustainable mode and something will suffer. So, seek ways to be more efficient, seek ways to hone your scheduling and focus your tasks, and seek ways to grow your skills. But do not heap recriminations upon yourself for not knowing how to handle everything already. If you’re already pushing yourself as hard as you sustainably can, you’ll soon figure out how to handle more.
Do your best work with what you have. Refuse to settle. Serve what you love, and work as hard as you sustainably can. And, enjoy every pie. There will be more good ones ahead.