Several years ago, about three months into our efforts to launch an app that facilitates fundraising for charities, my partners and I realized that we were going to have to dramatically alter course from our original plan and take a very different path to market. I must have sighed loudly or grimaced or both, because the most experienced member of the team smiled at me and said, “Are you okay? You don’t look like you’re having fun. This is the fun part!”
It didn’t feel like fun at that moment. It felt like we had spent a lot of time, effort and money heading in the wrong direction and that resetting would take a whole lot more—of each. But I should have known better: Starting any project, including a business, is always a creative journey. The path to success is rarely a straight line. Missteps, re-thinking and reupping are not only to be expected, but, are necessary to “get it right.” And, as my sage partner knew, if not “fun,” reengineering one’s approach can be seen as part of the excitement of turning an idea into a company or a political campaign or a movie or anything else—including, by the way, one’s life.
I say I should have known better because I had already written books and movie scripts and, in every case, editing was an invaluable part of the process. In fact, falling in love with the content one has already created and resisting needed editing can leave in limbo a creative project that has huge potential. The great novelist William Faulkner put it this way: In writing, you must kill all your darlings. Stephen Spielberg expanded on the thought: [K]ill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
Spielberg had at least partly right. One very substantial hurdle in the way of retooling your idea is ego. When we manifest the fruits of our imagination and see them in a business deck or a manuscript or an architectural rendering, we can feel legitimately proud of the concrete results. And we can feel relieved that we were able to translate them from mind to matter (whether on paper or on a computer screen). We may have gotten others—readers, investors or potential partners—to buy into what we have manifested. And that can make us feel proud and accomplished.
But there’s something else that comes into play beyond ego and pride. There’s fear. If we reverse course, if we start disassembling what has been assembled, what if it all falls to the ground? What if the core idea isn’t strong enough to withstand the second or third or fourth iteration of it?
Here’s the key to “having fun” while reimagining or editing or deconstructing your ideas or work product: Faith in the creative process itself. See, you wouldn’t be feeling that your creation could be better or could be more “true” or could be more profitable or could be more beautiful if it were not for that immeasurable force in the universe called intuition and another called inspiration. When something you create as an individual or as a group feels not quite right, that isn’t a knife to the heart of the project, it’s testimony to the vitality of it. Try, at
every point, to feel the positivity in that. The project has become a living document or idea or plan. It is calling upon you, as a child might, to help it grow stronger and stronger.
We human beings could apply the same reasoning to our lives. We’re works of art, too. And if we feel that we’re years into the wrong career or an ill-fated relationship or education that misses the mark, then that feeling is a gift from God or the universe, not a searing criticism or an attack. It means that we’re still becoming the people we were meant to be. We’re still alive. We’re still worthy of true self-regard.
So, go ahead . . . Even if you feel some fear, remind yourself to have some fun putting that next layer of paint on your metaphorical canvas, whether professionally or personally.
Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative