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Everything Great Was Once Not

by | Process

Have you ever felt paralyzed because you just weren’t sure that your current work on a specific project would be good enough? Has that ever caused you to abandon a project in mid-flow because you knew it wouldn’t stack up against the competition or meet some standard that you were trying to hit?

The path to great work is littered with the remnants of abandoned projects and half-baked concepts that were never fully mined for their potential. It seems that everyone I meet has a project or two in their drawer that they never quite got around to finishing because – at some point – they doubted its viability.

It’s true that not every project should be seen through to the end, but it’s equally true that we must be cautious not to hit the abort button too early in the mission. We must be alert to the dangers of expectation escalation, (one of the assassins of creativity, discussed in chapter three), and its effects on our engagement. We need to constantly remind ourselves of one thing:

Everything that you think is great was once only good.

And before that, it may have even been mediocre or worse. Very few creative works are born into the world in pristine perfection. Most are the result of blood, sweat, toil, and tears and days, weeks, or months of refinement.

Intuition is crucial to the creative process, but we must learn to prune self-aware intuition from excessive self-doubt and criticism. The fear of “I’ll never measure up” or “others will think this is inferior” can cause us to ignore our deeper instincts and will eventually lead to more severe creative block. We must learn to stick with the process even when we are uncertain of the long-term results.

As creative pros, we often don’t have the luxury of working until satisfied on a project. At the same time, we need to learn to mitigate the subterranean pressure to compare our in-process work with the completed work of our peers or heroes. We need to remember that the good work we’re doing may just have the potential to be great.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. mr. sami

    Inspiring article !


  2. Dave Mariano

    This is my daily fight right now. The funny thing is, after starting (finally), it’s kind of fun. I’m learning to enjoy the process because every step I take I get closer to my art. The art that only I can make. I get to know myself better. And THAT is fun and feels great! Thanks for the inspiration, Todd. Keep up the great work.

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