Creative Contentment - Is It possible?
Have you ever had that moment where you ordered something in the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant and received the order and it was missing something?
You’ve received your meal and driven away. You stop momentarily on your way out of the restaurant’s parking lot to reach in and grab a nugget to munch on as you make the 10 minute drive back to work.
It’s at that moment the day explodes.
There’s only 10 nuggets in the box.
But you ordered 12.
You specifically remember ordering 12.
They don’t even sell nuggets in increments of 10.
How did this happen?
And what’s more, what do you do now?
You look behind you. Maybe you could back up….. No, that won’t work because you’re too far past the window.
You look around the parking lot thinking maybe you could just run in quickly and retrieve the missing nuggets but there are no empty parking spaces and you catch sight of the inside of the restaurant and it’s a madhouse in there. Additionally, 4 different groups of people are on their way into the restaurant with each group containing at least 4 small children. That’s not going to work either.
You look back at the even longer drive-thru line now. It took you a little less than 20 minutes to make it through the first time. Who knows how long it would take now?
You start to sweat.
Your stomach begins to growl even louder.
What would you do?
You have to go back right? I mean what kind of person leaves good nuggets behind?
What do you do when you have a crystal clear expectation of the finish line but when it’s all said and done and you reach the end point, it’s just not fully what you thought it would be?
Do you drive off with the project as is?
Or do you tuck it back in the bag and start around again hoping to catch what you felt like was missing the first time?
If you chose the latter, then you run the risk of missing out on all the goodness of the 10 steaming hot nuggets sitting right there in front of you. Those nuggets need love too. And let’s not even talk about the fries. There’s a whole meal here that could be enjoyed, digested, and assimilated, however, if we focus only on what’s missing... what should have been…. then we can never truly be satisfied with what we actually have.
This applies to so much in our lives but especially to our creative work. And let’s face it, we’re all creators in one way or another. I’ve always known I was a “creative person” however, there have been intervals of my life where I was not actively creating things. And whenever I start back creating after a hiatus it feels like the first time all over again. Nothing feels quite good enough. I may have 10 nuggets but I reeeaalllllyyyyy wanted those 12.
So what can help us to actually keep on creating even when we have a strong suspicion it could come up short? Here are a couple of things.
There’s something about being around other creators that makes you want to sit down (or get up depending on what you’re doing) and start creating something. Finding a strong and vibrant creative community has been super helpful and encouraging when it comes to the creative practice… with the key word being practice. When you see other people starting projects feeling just as unsure as yourself, it helps you to realize that this is just a part of the imperfect creative process.
We know that creating constantly and consistently is key to improving our craft. But in order to actually get my mind in the mood for creativity I need to execute my pre-create routine. This is a series of small activities I do Every. Single. Time. I sit down to create. If I don’t then I spend an hour looking at email, sifting through the 10 tabs open on my browser, perusing Spotify for the perfect playlist (I always get an itch to want to hear something new everytime I sit down.) etc. The precious time I had to create has now dwindled away thanks to my squirrel mind.
So to combat this soul depleting practice, I created a Pre-Create routine for myself. It includes a specific drink, usually a water bottle or sometimes a cup of hot tea. I pop a Zand’s Elderberry Zinc throat lozenge in my mouth, and turn on one of 4 carefully curated Spotify playlists specifically for my creative mood that day. Sometimes I want to hear songs with words but most of the time I prefer instrumental beats because it allows me to hear my own thoughts with the amazing background sounds of someone else’s creativity at work.
As soon as I sit down at my desk I start this routine and it literally has changed the way I work because my body and mind know it’s time to get cracking creatively. So, because my mind and heart are prepped, I just get to work and see what happens. This is not a wild and exciting routine but it’s one I look forward to executing everyday and it just makes me feel good, like really good. And I can tell my creativity muscles are getting stronger. I can feel it. You’ll feel it too, the more you do it consistently.
Fill your notebook with all the projects and thoughts and ideas you have as they come up. The more you write them down, the more new ones will show up. Once you have a notebook or journal full of ideas and thoughts you’ll realize that you have so much exciting stuff to get into that it doesn’t matter if this piece ends up a little less than you imagined. It won’t matter as much because you know you have another great idea to execute tomorrow or next week.
Approach Your Work With Fun As The Goal
What would it feel like to sit down and start your work with the thought, “It doesn’t matter how this turns out, I’m just going to have fun.” That thought is totally averse to everything perfectionists hold dear.
When we sit down to create, our standards are often so high and our expectations so lofty that it is possible to discourage and freeze our creativity before we even get going.
The focus should be on the process itself and not the result.
When we focus on the result it sucks the joy out of creating and allows stress to choke us. Whereas when we focus on the process and make having fun our goal, we free ourselves up to get in our flow zone. We allow ourselves the freedom to mess up, the space to be imperfect, and the room to explore and dive deeper without fear.
With this approach you take the pressure off each piece to be GREAT.
Acknowledge And Celebrate Your Progress
Even if you only get a little bit done…
Even if it didn’t turn out quite like you imagined….
Take a moment and sit in that feeling of accomplishment.
Does that mean you shouldn’t try to improve in your craft? Absolutely not. But striving for perfection should not negate the brilliance that’s already been created. Acknowledging the effort you put in allows you to feel good about yourself and your work. It also allows you to feel encouraged enough to keep going.
So, look for ways you can improve just like a chef would if they tasted their food and realized it was missing something. They wouldn’t toss out the whole pot but maybe just add a little more of this or a sprinkle of that. And maybe this dish won’t be as good as the last one or the next one, that’s totally okay.
Just keep cooking. That’s how you experience creative satisfaction.
Oh and if you were wondering what I did that day at the restaurant….. I got back into the drive-thru line to rescue my 2 missing nuggets.
About 10 minutes into sitting there, I had eaten all my fries as well as the 10 nuggets I had.
They were good and I felt satisfied.
So, I got out of the line and went on with my day.
Satisfaction and contentment over perfection… It works for creativity too.