Why your work never seems good enough

Posted on Aug 15, 2020

I’ve been spending some time thinking about how much of my time actually goes into a given task. Be it a writing piece or a hobby project, I’ve come to realize that I’ve ruminated more on the outcome of the work or the subsequent perception of the work. This post just to give some structure to what I feel and what I have come to understand.

They say that as soon as an author writes down the opening line of his/her story, they’ve already killed a hundred possibilities that the story could have been. When you’re working on something that you had in mind, there is a slow creeping feeling that you’re chipping away at the grace and the potential of the idea and now reducing it to an insincere imitation of said idea. I guess, for the most part, I resonate with this notion because I have felt this countless times, and I’ve taken to sweeping it under the rug and told myself I’ll compensate with something better, but with better understanding, I’ve come to realize it is a microcosm of smaller troubles.

In the past, I’ve never paid much attention but it’s better late than never.

Process is personal

I’ve tackled these issues completely by sheer belief. Now every thought I have, I tell myself it’s deep and meaningful, culminating in artistic masterpieces. Work doesn’t feel like daunting anymore and I’ve been nominated for the Noble peace prize. Thank you for coming to my TED talk - This is how half the nonsense on the self-help section of the internet sounds like, floating at an average of three to six inches from reality.

It also means that I’d be lying if I said that I am completely free from self-doubt or the fear of peer rejection. What I have observed is that understanding the thin line that separates “work” from “process” helps. It helps to ease some burdens on the mind. Work is subjected to an audience and after the scrutiny, it may be upheld as exemplary or tossed out as trash. But that’s the thing about it and you have to accept there is no control over what others may judge.

Not the process though, it’s got be personal. The process can be personal to you. It can be personal to, say, a team of 2-3 people. By personal, I don’t mean it’s reflection of your character but personal as in, it’s a tool that feels just right in your hand. What works for you or your group may not work for others. This I’ve found very useful because in some sense it takes into account the sense of indivduality, and I can stop myself from making blanket assumptions about best practices. It makes me take everything with a grain salt.

Here, I choose to focus on being receptive to the ebb and flow of my processes and learn from its shortcomings, then improve on it or swap it out all together (if I’m in the early stages). To adapt is to struggle and sometimes, you’ll have unlearn things. It’s exceptionally hard and heartbreaking to switch to a contrarian option, and we spend more time into trying to cling onto it. It’s almost as if confirmation bias is wired into us. That’s why making a process has to be personal with the right ideals in mind, because an early mistake is not so costly.

Process is key, that’s something I’ve kept reminding myself quite lately.

Conscious practice is actually pretty useful.

Some people are just naturally gifted at certain things, and comparison of our outcome to theirs is a painful and unfruitful endeavor. So stop doing that and start making time for yourself on reflection and what went wrong the last time. Other people can give feedback about your work, but feedback about the process is rare. Being mindful of things we practice lends us exactly this invaluable feedback. We can get more of this feedback, by doing more of the work. Just by practising mindfully.

I love this piece from Art and Fear which illustrates the point I’m trying to make -

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class, he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot —albeit a perfect one —to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes —the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Ideating something for weeks and relishing about the perfect strokes that you’re going to make when the time comes, but in reality, you haven’t even gotten off the couch. This just aims to serve the vicious cycle of toxic positivity and it does nothing because it translates to nothing. Because when the times come to do the actual thing, you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore, and there lies a wide chasm between imagination and output.

The gap may be daunting but at least we can see it. We can try to fix what’s in front of us. That’s the plunge we’ll have to take, to see the best of ourselves comes to fruition.

“No one should deny the danger of the descent, but it can be risked. No one need to risk it, but it is certain that someone will. And let those who go down the sunset way do so with open eyes, for it is a sacrifice which daunts even the gods. Yet every descent is followed by an ascent; the vanishing shapes are shaped anew, and a truth is valid in the end only if it suffers change and bears new witness in new images, in new tongues, like a new wine that is put into new bottles.” - Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation