Thursday, May 01, 2014

Relieving the Pressure of Perfection and Accomplishment

If you read the obituaries of successful creators, you’ll notice an interesting pattern in the way friends and family members describe their legacy.

One obituary I read was about a woman named Hong, who had authored more than thirty books, many of which were bestsellers. When she reflected on the arc of her career, she said that the whole body of work just felt like one long book.

One obituary I read was about a man named John, an award winning abstract painter, whose tapestries appeared in both private and corporate collections around the world, and whose tribute said his body of work was one long hymn of spiritual affirmation.

One obituary I read was about a man named Tagore, a social reformer, singer, painter, and international spokesperson, whose life's work was thought to be one long prayer for human dignity, world peace, and the cultural understanding.

For prolific creators, there is no finish line. Our body of work is the sum total of everything we create and contribute and affect and impact.

We’re done when we’re dead.

I’m reminded of a memorable scene in one of my favorite movies, The Social Network, which portrays the founders of Facebook, their struggle as a tech startup the resulting lawsuits. In a heated argument about the future of their revolutionary website, Zuckerberg says to his partner:

“We don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be. All we know that it’s cool, and that’s a priceless asset I’m not giving it up. When will it be finished? It won’t be finished, that’s the point. The way fashion’s never finished. I’m talking about the idea of it, and I’m saying it’s never finished.”

Mark removed the construct of finishing from his creative process. The specter of completion never stifled him from starting. And that allowed him to become not only a prolific software designer and entrepreneur, but also one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world.

And so, once we come to that realization, we’ll never create the same way again. By removing that sword of obligation from hanging over our heads, we relieve the pressure of perfection and accomplishment. And we learn to trust the process of creating, not just what the creating produces, so we can blow the ceiling off anything resembling a limitation.

You're never finished.

So why not start?