(last edited on February 15, 2023 at 12:26 pm)
On Friday I thought I had a pretty handle on how to change my outlook on my current personal goals, shifting from the strategy of using my sense of identity as a benchmark in favor of establishing and choosing roles. The neat thing about Roles is that there’s an implicit connection to other people based on shared interest. That seems more positive than using Identity, which for me tends to invite comparison and judgement based on shared value. Identity will always be important, but the addition of Role will help me from turning overly introspective. I think between ROLE and IDENTITY, I will have better balance.
As I woke up today, though, I was struck by a familiar feeling of being bored and unmotivated despite having quite a lot of things that I could do. So for today’s writing, I’m going to ponder the factors behind my creative lethargy.
Levels of Desired Achievement
I’ve been thinking a lot about IDENTITY and ROLES because they are related to finding more ways to interact with people and do interesting things; in other words, to alleviate the feeling of boredom and give myself some purpose. Years of pushing on my personal goals by myself have fatigued me, and I sometimes wonder if I’m dangerously close to becoming that crazy old man who yells at everyone. I don’t want to become that! And yet, I can feel that there’s part of me that is so tired of pushing on these goals that I just want to give up. The alternative to having these goals, though, is to be bored and pathetic! Ugh! It’s almost amusing.
So let me flip this around a bit and think about what interests and motivates me in terms of “levels”:
LEVEL 1 – Anything that is seems like a elevated positive experience catches my eye. Specifically, achievements in video games and cooking seem to draw my immediate attention; these are the least-effortful on my part because it’s easy to try a new game or find something to eat.
LEVEL 2 – A little more difficult is researching questions that are related to creative excellence and experience. This usually happens after I experience something and have formed an initial opinion about it. The following question I almost always has is “what makes this so good” or “what could make this better”. I like to know how an experience is put together, and this is probably why I have gravitated toward fields like design and programming.
LEVEL 3 – The most difficult is creating my own positive experience for others to share. This involves putting what I’ve learned into practice, often having to learn on-the-fly while managing uncertainties about process. I want to be doing MORE of this, because this is how one creates interesting work of an elevated level.
LEVEL 4 – The highest level of actualization, of which I have dreamed but never achieved, is to create/join a community of like-minded positive creative entrepreneurs who feed off our collective energies. It’s kind of a nebulous goal, but I think it is achievable once I hit LEVEL 3.
I think that my malaise stems from the lack of people to share my interests with. When my cousin Brian was visiting, it was fun to have someone else around who shared my interest in cooking and related experiences. Now that he’s returned to California, I’m slipping back into the old isolation again. This is why I’m thinking that I have to increase my efforts to do SOMETHING to share what I’m doing with others, even though I suspect that what I’m doing is of limited appeal. The only way to find out, though, is to try SOMETHING to see what happens in the grand Dave-style tradition of experimental screwing around. Right now, though, my energy reserve are quite low because I’m burned out.
Epic Reboot or Adjust Expectations?
I have a tendency to look for “big projects” to try to jumpstart my enthusiasm, and these sometimes work. However, they have never been steady lifelong changes. I am easily bored of the “same old thing” and seek variety in my daily experiences. However, everything productive I’ve done with nothing but my own compulsion to motivate me. While I have done noteworthy feats of engineering and organization, these endeavors are fueled by having commitments to other people and my desire to do a good job. However, I wouldn’t say the work itself has been fun in its own right. I wish I could perform noteworthy feats AND have a good time doing it.
It may be that I need to adjust my expectations. While I have sought the BIG KABOOM as the preferred way to make change through epic commitments, I am starting to think that this just is not sustainable for an army of just me. My 2024 goals, for example, are all pretty ambitious and will likely require hundreds of hours of learning and chore-like work to get to the “good parts”. Declaring war on my laziness and trying to will myself to be more productive seems unlikely to work.
A few adjustments I can make to my expectations come to mind:
Share and compile progress, no matter how small, and post it publicly. I don’t do this because I think my un-proofread thoughts are not a good value for people who are in a hurry to learn or be entertained. But such thoughts are self-defeating for people like me. I think the mindfulness from such sharing, however, may be good for my long-term creative health.
Pursue minor achievements as creative continuity. By this, I mean maintaining the very minimum progress in day-to-day steps rather than epic crunches. This is sustainable for a solo practitioner, and maybe it is the way that other people work. For the creative work I do, throwing more continuous hours of concentration at a problem doesn’t make the work go any faster since I seem to need the time to reflect. Empirically I seem to have at most two major reflection/synthesis opportunities to work on novel solutions before I need a break. I don’t like being limited like this, but it may be my reality to work with.
I guess I’ll see how I feel after I take a nap!
Thanks for sharing your ideas here. I feel a kinship of experience, as I attempt to push forward my own creative pursuits in isolation. I also do great work, for my “real job” but I have passions that generally lie elsewhere. For those things I am passionate about, I make progress in bursts and then defeat and then go through a bout of apathy before picking up the pieces again. I agree that telling someone else about your goals, planning reasonable steps (and telling about them), and finding a place of joy that may have NOTHING TO DO with these goals are all essential to staying a well-adjusted person. Keep it up.
Jess, thanks for sharing your experience! It’s good to hear that I’m not alone in wondering what the heck is going on. I wish I didn’t have the bouts of apathy and defeat, but maybe they’re normal and I don’t have to be so concerned about them.
Dave – Did you see Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal cartoon on breathing? I think it is the newest one. It’s R rated, but you may enjoy yet another perspective on making progress in creative endeavors. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/creativity