Five Questions to Ask if You’re Not Enjoying Your Creative Work

Creativity can, and should, be an incredible source of fulfillment, meaning, and joy—and so, if you’re not enjoying your creative work, something might be wrong. If so, try answering these five questions:

1) Do I really want to be doing this? Sometimes we take on creative projects for the wrong reasons, like ego or to impress others.

2) Am I being perfectionist? Many perfectionist attitudes and characteristics will kill your joy in your work, including:

  • Overemphasizing product over process. (Process is what you’re actually doing, so if you’re deprecating or diminishing that, you’re deprecating the work itself.)
  • Defining success narrowly and unrealistically. (“Everything except an A is a huge failure.”)
  • Relentless comparisons and envy.
  • Pathologizing, which is when you see ordinary obstacles and problems as evidence you’re unfit to do the work.
  • Negativity: devaluing your skills and achievements.
  • Trying to use harsh self-talk and other punishments as a motivator/corrective. (“Trying” because it doesn’t work, and in the long run, only makes you more fearful of, and alienated around, your work.)

3) Am I working effectively? Do you actually know the best practices for doing your work, or are you winging it? (Perhaps based on shallow media coverage.) Hint: if you haven’t studied under a great teacher, done an apprenticeship, or otherwise worked with at least one great mentor, you probably aren’t working as effectively as you could be. Relatedly…

4) Are my outcomes commensurate with my efforts? I don’t primarily mean the commercial outcomes, like getting your book published or selling many copies of it—although if those are your goals, then yes, you’d want to evaluate those, too—but, more holistically: are you generating the quality and quantity of work one would reasonably expect, given your efforts, investments, and sacrifices? 

If you aren’t, that would naturally be very discouraging.

Again, the problem is probably isolation and/or a lack of mentorship. Which brings us to…

5) Am I part of a great community? Contrary to the persistent myth of “the lone genius in the attic,” creativity and achievement almost always happen when you’re part of a vibrant community setting. You often don’t need a large crowd to support your creative efforts:  just two or three savvy and compassionate buddies can be enough.

And at least one great mentor.

Work on projects you truly want to be working on, be nonperfectionist and effective, and find your creative communities, and you’ll reclaim your satisfaction, fulfillment, inspiration, and, yes, joy in your work.

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