Episode 16: An Alternative Engine for Creative Motivation

Creatives tend to identify more deeply with their work than others. We also face artistic angst, and seem to have a deeper appetite for meaning in our work, than other kinds of professionals. All of these tendencies can conspire to demotivate us. But there is one thing we can do to maintain motivation in our work…
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Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?

Over the past few weeks we’ve taken a deep look inside the creative’s inner relationship to our work. We recognized that we tend to identify more deeply with our work than others, that artist angst can cause us to strive too hard for perfection, and that we have a deeper appetite for meaning in our work relative to other professions. All of these tendencies can conspire to demotivate us as we try to establish our practices.

But these inclinations can be overcome. And simply becoming self aware of how these common traits are at play is one step in the right direction. But there is one more thing that we can do, to enable us to maintain motivation in our work.

We can swap out the engine of impact with the simple pursuit of goodness. Let me say that again—we can swap out the engine of impact with the simple pursuit of goodness. Let’s unpack this idea by first considering meaningfulness based on impact. One problem we face right away is that such effects are extremely hard to quantify. But let’s suppose you could potentially count how many people were helped, or how much your client’s businesses have been improved through your work.

If we could measure meaning by impact, we might be in for an existential crisis. What if the quantitative impact is less than we hoped? Or, even if we exceeded our expectations, what happens when we change our scale? If we measure our impact against the big picture?

In the grand scheme of things our lives are pretty short when measured across the whole of human history on planet Earth. And let’s not forget that our entire planet is just a speck in the expanse of the universe. Our sun is just one star among a billion in our galaxy. And if we were to examine just one small pea-sized sector of the night sky—if we could fix a telescope there—it would reveal 11,000 points of light in that one small spot. Each one, not a single star, but an entire galaxy. 11,000 galaxies, each with a billion stars in one tiny segment of the night sky.

And so no matter how much impact we might be able to measure, it can seem microscopic when viewed against the whole of human existence. Very few of us will make the highlight reels of history, and even those who do are quickly forgotten. And so measuring meaning by impact will always be vulnerable to scale.

But there is an alternative. We can swap out the engine of impact with the simple pursuit of goodness. Whereas impact is a quantitative measure, goodness is a qualitative attribute. And so the relative size of something good does not change its essential property of being good. When you do something good, it’s goodness is not reducible to a head count, or geographic reach.

So when you go into the studio or sit at your computer to work, as you start to feel the tug of angst, or the ambition for meaning rise, you can hit the pause button and remember that to bring beauty into the world, to be productive, and create is a good unto itself. And to run a professional practice that serves others, and helps them in their own efforts is likewise a fundamentally good activity. Recalling this motivation can help you be content, regardless of the degree of impact your work may or may not have.

When we focus more on the certainty of goodness rather than the elusive motive of impact—even ordinary, mundane tasks such as maintaining your books, or executing your marketing plan, can contribute to your motivation. A task does not have to make a massive impact to be a good and productive activity. And when your motivation recognizes the innate value of goodness in your work, you can enjoy the process, be grateful for the profound privilege it is to be a creator and a maker. Then we can keep each task and each project within the bounds of what it really is, good producing beneficial activity—and not have it burdened with unnecessary angst, personal validation, or measurable impact in the world.

Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.