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Permission To Be Lousy

Permission To Be Lousy

I remember clearly the day that Ira Glass from This American Life told me it was ok to be lousy:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I remember reading that quote and feeling a simultaneous sense of freedom and determination. 

If you’re a person who embarks on creative work of any kind, then you’ve felt the disappointment of your end product failing in every way, shape or form to resemble what you had hoped. I’ve felt this many times while sitting down to write songs. It’s feels like someone has gagged and tied you up and you're trying to murmur through the duct tape over your mouth. You have an idea but just can’t seem to get it out the way you want.

So what do you do when you’re starting out in whatever craft you’re called to and your output doesn’t match the skill level you intend? Here are three things I’m currently practicing to push through that point.

1. Keep Going

What’s both encouraging and daunting is that in order to get past the point of bad work you have to keep doing bad work. You have to keep showing up, sitting down, and working. You have to continue to churn out content and live with the feeling of “I can do better”. But as you continue, the gap that Mr. Glass references above starts to shrink and you get better and better. You have to keep going.

2. Find a Sounding Board

I have a few people that get to hear almost every song that I write. They give me honest feedback and let me know what they think. Sometimes they love a song and other times they don’t. The point is,  you need a sounding board to help you see the reality of the quality of your work. This will help keep your eyes fixed on reality rather than living in your perception of the quality of your work. A lot of times other people can see this much better than we can.

3. Learn From Those Better Than You

It’s a gift to get time around people who are better than you. It’s an opportunity to observe and learn and walk away with something to challenge you. I used to approach these times with the desire to impress and almost always walked away sorely disappointed. Now I look at these moments as a rare opportunity to soak up as much as I can to help me get better. Try to find people who are better than you at what you’re doing and get around them. Ask questions and listen carefully. At the very least, listen to interviews or podcasts and search out lessons and takeaways.

It can be frustrating to not deliver a result that you believe you are capable of. But I hope you are also encouraged to know it is normal and it’s something you can get past if you keep going, find a sounding board, and learn from those better than you.

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