Metaphorically Holding My Breath to Be Productive

Synopsis: When I’m working on challenging/tedious projects, I need adequate external motivation to charge up my creative engine. Without it, I have to use ineffective methods, and progression is far slower than I would prefer. In this post, I break-down how my creativity, desire for connection, and expectations are possibly connected.

My Internet stopped working last Thursday. I had noticed an Xfinity cable truck outside my condo building, optimistically thinking, “Oh, they must be fixing something.” When I got home, the truck had disappeared along with my Internet connection. Although I cobbled together connectivity, the reduction of internet access has made me aware of just how distracted I’ve been. I found myself trying to hit the Net constantly for the tiniest of impulses. This has been going on for weeks, and I’m not happy about it.

I have a couple of theories. The old one is that I don’t like working on chores that don’t deliver immediate results, even when I know that this is a necesary part of creative work. The new theory comes from noticing what websites I was trying to visit: they were all social websites, which to me indicates that I’m seeking some kind of group connection. I’ve been participating more heavily in the Apple II Enthusiasts and WildStar Character Role-Playing communities, the former because it reminds me of the good ‘ole days of learning everything I could about microcomputers, and the latter because it’s about improvisational storytelling in groups. It’s feeding a yearning I have for a type of fellowship.

I seem to have two conflicting desires: being among like-minded creative people and doing work. The work I believe I should be doing, however, tends to require more isolation rather than socialization. I also have this mental image of being a rugged individualist bootstrapping himself into life-sustaining profitability through sheer grit and intelligence. That I haven’t been able to completely succeed at this is a little depressing, particularly when I don’t have many other rugged individualists around me to talk to on a daily basis.

So…what’s the way out?

My default thinking for years is that it would be wonderful to combine both community and my work into one approach. I think it is theoreticallly possible, but I haven’t figured it out the right mix of inputs and outputs that make Dave Seah the Systematic Producer of Cool Stuff a reality.

I’ve come to believe that I lack very little internal motivation. I’m always more driven when someone else expresses some need or I see a way to create a better experience that can be shared with other people. One way to think about it is that other people are the “oxygen” that feeds the “fire” of creativity. Without those two conditions, I end up binge-watching all the seasons of Archer in one sitting.

Given the lack of that metaphorical oxygen, I’m drawing upon reserves that I can generate without it. Exhibit A is this blog entry, which is helping me uncover insights that are enough to power me through a day or two of work. My inner manager would be far happier if I was doing difficult programming work that I could sell instead of mapping the intricacies of my navel orifice, but without the external supply of socially-driven purpose and shared mission, this is what has to happen. Even more problematic is that doing the difficult work requires depriving myself of “social oxygen” even more so I can shut-out the world and write that code. My lizard brain doesn’t want to do it. It wants to breathe and run around free!

So if I can get past the lack of “social-creative” oxygen and generate a tiny burst of enthusiasm for work, I have to then HOLD MY BREATH and dive even deeper into the inky blackness of working by myself, because that’s what I need to do. Then while I’m down there working, I have to also accept that doing all the work by myself will NEVER be as fast or efficient as I want it. That’s my “inner manager” raising that issue, because all he has to do is point at what he wants and then wait to judge it. It occurs to me that I should apply Fast, Good, Cheap: Pick 2 to myself. It’s good and cheap that are my preferences; fast isn’t even on the table anymore.

Hm. If this analysis is true, then perhaps my expectations should be scaled accordingly:

  • Not going to be fast. Nope.
  • I’m going to get very little done with my personal game programming project and my stationery business because of the lack of the right form of social oxygen, which isn’t just ANY social interaction; they are connections related to my project aspirations.
  • Given the lack of social-creative oxygen, I have to learn how to “hold my breath” so I can dive even further into isolation, which is where the hard work is done.

If I’m smart, I will direct what little energy I have toward securing a reliable source of social-creative oxygen. Until then, I am essentially operating in oxygen deprivation mode or creative survival mode until the situation changes for the better.

So given the situation, I need to come up with some kind of plan that not only includes the “what”, but also the “why” and “how” that connects the plan with the goal of acquiring a supply of social-creative juice. A parallel strategy is to figure out how to make do with the little I have, which is more of a conventional productivity approach. Yet another parallel strategy would be to invest more money into my projects; hiring people with the right expertise to shift my project management triangle from “Good and Cheap” to “Good and Fast”.