What Every Creator Secretly Craves… But Never Admits
There’s No Denying It
Any writer, designer or artist of any sort knows what I mean. Once upon a time, there was only one way to publish your work. You had to win over the gatekeepers. The gatekeeper refers to anyone who serves as a filter to prevent subpar work (in their eyes) from making it past the velvet rope before it reaches the world.
The gatekeepers were once all-powerful. Either you made it past them, or your work would be relegated to a dusty box in your attic. That’s no longer true. We can self-publish, distribute our work online. We can sell Facebook ads and drive traffic to our site without approval from any critic.
Gatekeepers have lost much of their power and some of their relevance. Despite the shift in power, gatekeepers still exist. We still seek them out — not always but some of the time. Why? Because gatekeepers fulfill a basic human desire. Do you know what that is?
Your intelligence, sophistication or level of self-awareness make no difference. If you’re human, you crave validation. It takes a lot of time, sweat and effort to produce a work of any substance. It means something when someone you respect says, I want what you made.
Your desire to create comes from a need to express yourself. You have no idea how the world will judge your output. Your audience may not even notice it at all. Over time, you may learn what people want. You see other people create stuff that feeds the hunger of their audience. It’s tempting to switch gears and mimic what more popular creators produce.
Here’s the problem with that approach.
You’re competing with others on their turf. You’re playing a game with rules built for someone else’s strengths, personality and life experience.
Follow your own path. It may seem like an uphill battle, but you’re more likely to excel in a game you create, with rules stacked in your favor.
Without external validation, it’s difficult to stay focused and driven. The perceived easy path tempts us. I’ve succumbed to this thinking in the past.
“Everyone seems to like top ten lists. I’ll just do a few of those.”
How do we escape the craving for validation and produce work that means something to us?
Here’s the bad news. You can’t escape the need for validation. It’s part of the human condition. You can convince yourself that it’s not essential to you, but you are only fooling yourself.
The best you can do is temper the desire and keep it at bay; slap it down whenever it threatens to interrupt your true mission. These are a few strategies that work for me.
Separate Art From Money Making Projects
Let’s be real. Everyone needs to make money. Sometimes you must make money from what you create, especially if you lack other sources of income. I like to make a clear delineation between money-making projects and personally meaningful projects.
If I’m writing something to make money, I’m going to follow proven strategies and tactics. If I’m writing something for art, I will accept only minimal compromises for commercial considerations. Yes, I wrote minimalcompromises, not zero compromises. I’m being realistic. There are some standards and conventions I won’t violate.
I would prefer if my artistic projects find an audience and make money. But I consider that a bonus rather than an overriding goal.
Look At The Big Picture
Who else judges themselves by the success of their last project? It’s natural. You can produce a string of success stories and then bang out a flop. We’ll focus on the disaster because of recency. It’s helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture.
What have you produced the last thirty days or previous twelve months? How many winners have you built in that span? A mentor once told me that the world forgets about all your misses and all your minor hits. They might remember your home runs. His point was that the world really doesn’t care so don’t worry about it.
You create for many reasons. You have something to say, something to share, something to give. I look at each story as a potential learning opportunity. I use it as an opportunity to crystalize my thoughts. I exploit the act of creating to sharpen my skills.
It’s helpful to review your other goals when your output disappoints.
“I learned my audience isn’t interested in this subject.”
“Writing this out helped me clarify my thoughts. Next time, I can write a more coherent analysis.”
These are small, yet meaningful victories that blunt the pain of poorly received work.
Remind Yourself Why You Don’t Seek It
If you’re like me, you didn’t start to create for commercial gain. No, you created something out of a desire to share or express. By a combination of skill, luck and timing, something you created found success. It received great feedback, accolades and made you some money. Once you tasted that success, you wanted more of it. Who wouldn’t?
Remind yourself why you started. Write down your original intention for creating. Put it somewhere conspicuous. Go back and read it every so often. Remind yourself WHY.
It’s All About Growth
It feels like you regress when you fail to match a previous success. This belief, of course, is bullshit. Here’s how I define regressing.
Producing the same thing over and over without experimentation, risk or personal growth.
Pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone is growth even if it goes unnoticed by your fans.
There’s a sense of empowerment when you decide to push the boundary, even if it means alienating those who loved your prior work. Experiments often fail, but they offer unique learning experiences. It’s helpful to set aside time for experimentation. Embrace the possibility that it will fail. Tell yourself that if it doesn’t fail, then you didn’t push hard enough. It sets you up for a no lose situation.