Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment. —Dale Carnegie
Most days, the right-brained business-oriented lines of thinking don’t necessarily mesh well with the left-brained creative directions we want to take. This morning was the exception, though, as I watched a video of Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of Eurasia Group, giving advice to his 20-year-old self. One of the first and most important things he says, and something I’m certainly going to incorporate into my compendium of advice, is this:
Most things don’t work— who cares? … Most things you try, most things I’ve tried, haven’t worked! And even when they do work it’s only because you tried them eight different ways and then finally someone says, “Okay kid, go away, I’ll give you a buck.” You have to not allow failure to affect your sense of self.
If there were ever a piece of advice necessary for every creative person I know, it is that last sentence: “You have to not allow failure to affect your sense of self.” Write that down. Etch those words on your brain. This is something you need to know merely know, but to understand and feel at your deepest levels of being.
Frustration is so very common for creatives because we do try things so many different ways so many different times and the vast majority of those times we fall flat on our faces. While we’re hopefully smart enough to not keep trying the exact same thing over and over when it doesn’t work, trying different things one after another and still not finding what works leads to a level of frustration that has many of us ready to bang our heads against walls.
Perhaps this is why creative people so often go insane, or, at least, are perceived as such. Repeated failure wears down our self-confidence. We like to think we know what we’re doing. When standing before a client we have to present ourselves as though we know what we’re doing. But when it comes to the actual act of creating something new, something different, something we’ve never done before, the greater portion of our efforts don’t work. They might come close, but if we’re not satisfied with the outcome, or if the client isn’t satisfied with the outcome, we feel we have failed.
There are actually many points of frustration for creatives. People don’t always take us or our ideas seriously. Not everyone looks at what we do as work. Because being creative often means long periods of contemplating, thinking, mulling over options and their potential outcomes in our minds, non-creative people often get the impression we’re not actually doing anything. Creative people, including Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, understand the benefit of a nap, but to our non-creative friends we’re just being lazy. So, they interrupt us, ask us, or perhaps insist upon us, to do different things that have a greater appearance of productivity. All these things lead to huge amounts of frustration.
Resources, or a lack thereof, are also a frequent point of frustration. For example, let’s say I have a concept that requires 30 yards of chiffon; not tulle, mind you, because tulle and chiffon have different opacity levels, reflect light in different ways, and require different support systems and methods of stitching. The concept might be wonderful, but where am I going to find 30 yards of chiffon around Indianapolis and even if I do find it how am I suppose to pay for such an expensive material? Even when materials and resources are not especially expensive, they can be difficult to find or one may simply not have the knowledge base and tools to work with them appropriately.
Our frustration levels eventually become disabling. After so many failures, we give up. Why keep wasting our time, we think. There’s always someone pushing us to, “go out and get a real job.” After all, we still have to pay bills, buy food, keep a roof over our heads. Creativity doesn’t always pay the best and the gas company won’t accept your latest painting as payment.
How do we cope with such frustration? How do we keep going until something does finally work? Some drink until the pain goes away. Folks in creative states such as Washington and Colorado smoke until the haze in the air matches the haze in their minds, and sometimes in that haze they find clarity. Everyone has their own way of coping, but unfortunately, not all those mechanisms are positive. When our sense of self has been defeated we lash out, we say stupid things, we do stupid things, we behave in ways we later regret, we do things that ultimately are counterproductive to being creative. We grow all the more frustrated.
I can’t prescribe a solution for you. We each have to wrestle our own frustrations, our own demons, and find what works for us. Maybe it’s long walks. Maybe it’s traveling and taking in new scenery. Maybe it’s spending time with someone who understands. Whatever it is, we have to find that thing, that solution to our frustration, before it drives us mad. Take comfort in knowing that we all share in these frustrations, even if one runs a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Frustration is part of the human existence.
Not everything you may do today will work. That’s okay. You’re being creative. You’re trying, and the solution will come. Until then, keep trying. Survive. Continue.