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Why We're Such Poor Appreciators of Our Own Work

Here is a delightful two-minute film from Derek Sivers which discusses why we often fail to fully appreciate our own work. It also explains why it's a bad idea to compare your work with that of a famous person.  Comparisons are perfectionist, but comparing yourself to someone famous is especially problematic because of what you're not seeing:

  • derek sivers 2Their process, which is often longer and more laborious than we assume. (See this piece on a New Yorker cartoon that took six years to complete!)
  • The years, and sometimes decades, of training and experience it took them to get to the point where they could create the work we admire.
  • Their “failures,” which are probably more serious and numerous than we imagine. (Isaac Bashevis Singer called the wastebasket “the writer's best friend.”)

You're also not seeing the financial, familial, or other lucky breaks that may have aided their success.

Sivers's video also hints at the futility of striving for “originality” or wishing you had “talent.” Perfectionists often perceive themselves as lacking these qualities, but they're really beside the point. What counts is doing the work and letting it take you where it wants to go. In other words, talent and originality aren't the foundation of good work so much as the yield of it.

Does this mean that every piece has the potential to be a winner? Of course not! But you can't force it. Forcing is inimical to the creative process. Or, as Flaubert put it, in the quotation I probably cite more often than any other, “Success must be a consequence, never a goal.”

Many thanks to Ben Seeley for bringing the Sivers video to my attention!


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