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The Creator’s Curse: Why your latest project will eventually make you miserable

The Creator’s Curse: Why your latest project will eventually make you miserable

You have a great new idea for a creative project that’ll move your business forward.

It feels exciting and sexy. You’re pumped, because part of you thinks this’ll be the best thing ever.

You know it’ll be hard to actually build your thing, but you dive in anyway because that’s what you do. You’re an entrepreneur. You create. You know you can do it – you believe in yourself. As you should.

You’re happy because you’re starting, and you have everything to look forward to.

Unfortunately, by the time this project is done, you’re going to be frustrated. If not downright miserable. The thing you’ve created – that used to hold so much promise – won’t be nearly as bright and shiny as you hoped. It’ll feel barely adequate. You’ll be disappointed in yourself. You might even feel as if you half-assed it.

Again.

The good news? This cycle that you’re experiencing isn’t real. It’s all in your head. There’s a weird set of psychological biases in play, making you miserable. And you’re not alone. Turns out every business owner struggles with The Creator’s Curse…

The curse of learning as you go

If there’s one thing I’m always ranting about, it’s that entrepreneurship is a journey along – and up – a learning curve. Starting your own business is the ultimate commitment to personal development. Just by sticking at it, you’re going to relentlessly build capabilities in all sorts of areas you otherwise wouldn’t.

Whatever you’re creating, you learn about as you go. The act of building something enrolls you in the school of life, hard knocks and street smarts.

The more you create, the more you know.

You start with a plan to create something amazing – something that’ll stretch your ability, as it stands, to finish. Then you do finish it, but you’ve improved throughout the process. You got better as you built.
Now you look at that thing that once seemed so ambitious, and realize you’re capable of more.
So you make more. You start the next thing. Again and again. Forever.

This is the creator’s curse.

Every project you work on accelerates your growth – as a person – to a place where your skills supersede the original scope of the project.

Every time you think you’re “finished”, they’ll always be more to do – because the more you learn, the more precise your definition of “truly finished” becomes.

The grim reality of the creator’s curse is that you’ll never be ecstatic about anything you create. You’ll always be painfully aware of how much better you – and the things you create – can be.

The creator’s curse may be exact that for you, it’s a blessing for everyone else.


The grateful beneficiaries of your curse

While you’re chasing the ever raising bar of your expectations, you’re producing a body of work that’s incrementally improving at a remarkable rate. We the people, your customers and fans, are grateful.

The visionary creators – entrepreneurs and artists every one – who’ve lived whole lifetimes cycling through the creative curse, have literally changed the planet.

Your pain is – literally – your customer’s gain.

I wouldn’t be the Shrink for Entrepreneurs if I wrapped this article up by saying: “That’s just the way it is. Suck it up and keep creating!”

You can never escape the cycle of self-growth superseding your projects. You’re always going to be better, smarter and more ambitious tomorrow than you are today.

But you don’t have to be miserable.

How to break the curse

There’s a one step tactic to producing great, creative work and being happy at the same time:

Remember how far you’ve come.

The creator’s curse breeds painful dissatisfaction because it revolves around the gap between what you’ve recently become capable of, and what you just finished.

When you look back – far back – you reconnect yourself with how far you’ve come as an entrepreneur and creator. You can appreciate the soaring arc of improvement that spans your career, your output and your skill set.


Most of all, when you look back, you can reconnect with the positive impact your work made even back then.

This last part is the true secret: By keeping a swipe file handy of customer testimonials, positive feedback, reviews and more… you can stay mentally plugged into the value you’ve created. The swipe file is important, because you won’t naturally default to remembering this stuff – you need the cue.

Even though you now know you can do much better, you can be happy and satisfied in the knowledge that your old work did make a big difference.

A while back, I had video interviews with some of my clients recorded… thinking that it’d be a great sales tool. Little did I know that I’d come to appreciate it for something else entirely: The video serves as my reminder.

When I’m learning new psychology and wondering how I ever did therapy without knowing what I *just learned*, I take a look back at that video. It reminds me that, back then, even when I knew none of the cool stuff I’ve learned in the last year, I was nevertheless kicking ass and taking names. And my customers loved me for it.

Remember how far you’ve come. When you do, it thoroughly reframes your perception of your growth and improvement.

The truth is, you WERE making an impact back then. And now you’re significantly smarter and more awesome. So now you’re making even more impact. And that can only be a good thing.

The creator’s curse might just be a blessing in disguise.

What can you do to remind yourself of how far you’ve come?

19 Comments

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  1. Peter, wow, you do a really good job of pegging things I have on my mind. I appreciate the tips re. how to beat the curse.

    These feelings, in fact, for better or worse, have caused me to drop a lot of the projects I’ve started. After putting in entirely too much work, of course. Given that situation, I sometimes go back, look at my old ideas and think “gee, I should have kept moving with that.” In fact, I do re-take on old projects like this from time to time. I find that to be something of a curse beater too.

    Mike

    1. Hey Mike!

      Dropping projects is one of the worst side effects of the curse and something that must be resisted. I think knowledge of the curse means you should choose projects very carefully, but be ready for the dynamic when it strikes. Don’t half ass two things, whole ass one thing. etc.

      Glad this piece hit the spot for you 🙂

  2. Once again you hit the nail on the head… its like you have this little crystal ball looking into my brain. I am in the midst of this “GREAT NEXT IDEA/PROJECT” that is kicking my ass. I really want to launch the concept sooner than later, but I am struggling with even getting the Focus Survey out!!! But I keep plugging along, I have done so much work on it…NO WAY I am letting it go! Thanks for the reminder, I know its feeling half-assed right now… but I will learn a huge amount from it. And as Dorey Says, I will “keep on swimming, keep on swimming!” And yes, its the journey not just the final outcome…I coached a client today regarding this topic. My question to her was, “is she in a JOB or building a wonderful CAREER?” There is a huge difference, and I think being an entrepreneur is the next step or level to Career, because it not only is the work you do, but the life you live. That is a big difference.

    Thanks Peter!! Your my Hero!!! (Sigh, deep breath and move on to the projects at hand, released of some of my misery.)

    1. Hey Wendie!

      My crystal ball just looks into entrepreneurial minds in general – the truth is we’re not all that different! These types of complexes are almost universal. The good news is that when we have the same problems, we can share solutions.

  3. Hey Peter,

    thanks for dropping another value bomb 🙂
    Your blog is so high quality compared to much of the generic stuff out there.

    As a teenager I was organizing concerts. From 13-20. Every year, always with the same people. Best. School. Ever.
    But every single time right after every concert we were like “Ok, this sucks. What now?”

    For years people told me I “suffer” under perfectionism. Whatever^^
    What is the relationship between the creators curse and perfectionism?

    For me, perfectionism gets in the way before shipping, and the creator’s curse after shipping. But doesn’t it all belong together? Are they perhaps the same? It’s one journey in the end, where we try to thrive. Can I conquer perfectionism with the same strategies?

    Thanks a lot!
    Steffen

    1. Hey Steffen,

      Great distinction – I think you’re right, perfectionism comes as you’re building. The creator’s curse kicks in right in the last ~5% of finishing.

      I think the cure for procrastination is learning the value of agile/lean philosophies, and creating sandbox type relationships with customer groups so that you can start to condition yourself to believe that shipping less-than-perfect is okay.

      Great comment. Thanks for adding to the dialogue!

  4. Hey Peter,

    thanks for your feedback.

    I am not the biggest fan of lean philosophies, though. The lean approach sounds so “smart”. It makes perfect sense. Very rational. And it often misses everything else.

    If you build another generic app, lean is fine. Customer development, problem solving. But sometimes people should just do something cool. Something totally nuts. Something remarkable.

    Going (too) Lean often takes the magic away.

    It’s this “Henry Ford… they want faster horses” thing.
    Or take Apple, again:
    “Our whole role in life is to give you something you didn’t know you wanted and then, once you get it, you can’t imagine your life without it.”

    Sorry for going off-topic. But I couldn’t resist 🙂 The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

    1. Apple has an infrastructure that supports perfectionism and turns it into a super profitable business.

      Meanwhile, if your great product/business idea is staying in your basement because your perfectionism won’t let it go further… jumping into one of the discussed methodologies makes a lot of sense.

      I rarely advise early stage start up clients to manage their business in the same way the most valuable company on the planet does. 😉

  5. Good point 🙂

    I am just saying people should
    A) develop a better relationship with themselves (with your help;-))
    B) be brave enough to trust their gut at the important moments. That’s an art.

    Lean won’t change the world for the better.

    Maybe I am looking at the broader topic of “creating” here. Not just at early stage startups.

  6. I totally identify with this too.

    I would say that sometimes we DO need to cut the rope and kill off some of our creations that were ill thought out… continuing with a company/product/project just because we’ve invested X time or Y dollars isn’t a good reason to continue. Ignoring your gut and hoping that by pushing through, the brilliant but unsustainable idea will bear fruit can be bad.

  7. At the start of 2014 I went through my emails and calendar to look back at the year that had passed by. It was really rewarding to see what I’d accomplished in that time and was a reminder to not give up on projects.

    Thanks for the post, I’m highly susceptible to the creator’s curse and have many half baked projects and ideas that never made it further than my notebook.

    All the best

    David

  8. This definitely hit home for me. Your words have been a gentle reminder to look at my swipe file more often: maybe once every month (or more) instead of every year. It’s still a struggle to determine if you’re really finishing because it’s really done or if you did just half-ass it. Then I go back to my swipe file to find the answer. Mine is not just the testimonials, but also the pieces of work from 5 years ago, or even last week. Comparing my work with myself (instead of with others) is a better indication of progress by leaps and bounds. It hasn’t been a habit for me to keep looking at that file, but sooner or later it will be second nature. Thanks again, Peter, for your words of wisdom.

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