Learn Your ABCs: The Agony and Beauty of Creation

6 Lessons I Learned Through One Week After Hitting “Publish”

Creation is a whirlwind

“Pain plus reflection equals progress.” –Ray Dalio

If you are a painter, a dancer, a comedian, actor, singer, or fellow writer, you know how hard it is, how humbling it is, how overwhelming it can be to put your work out to the world for the very first time. Once you do, however, you begin to value the agony and beauty of creation.

For me, given that I’ve never been one to express myself much, let alone at length on the interwebs, publishing this blog last week was one of those particularly nerve-racking moments. But hey, the nerves, the doubt, the uncertainty… it’s all part of the process, right?

If you’re looking for the secret to success, it is undoubtedly in hitting “publish”. It’s in going live. It’s in shipping your creation. It’s in “action!” There’s a magic hidden in this swift and defining moment that cannot be experienced at any other time. Not only will you feel more confident in your abilities, no matter how crappy your creation may be, but you will form a baseline upon which you can improve. Use that baseline each and every day, set new baselines, raise the bar, and you will improve, guaranteed. Over a long enough period of time, you will become great.

But you must bring courage and consistency to the table. Be willing to look stupid. Be prepared to be ridiculed. Be open to vulnerability. And do it every single day. Or else the equation falls apart.

Ask yourself:

What if Steve Jobs second guessed himself?

What if Henry Ford listened to his detractors?

What if Elon Musk allows his feelings to be hurt?

What if any of them stopped showing up? Stopped innovating?

Life would certainly be very different.

So here are some of the lessons and observations I came away with over the past week of online creation to help you understand the value of action. I think it will be useful in many ways for me to reflect upon, for creators to empathize with, and for future creators to gather inspiration from. (And yes, I love ending my sentences with prepositions. Break “rules”, it’s fun!)

For those of you who have yet to take the plunge into public self-expression, this post is for you.

The ego is a complex being

Over the years, I thought I had mastered the art of ego suppression. But the act of creating something and putting it out to the world hit the reset button on that in a hurry.

Whether it is ego dissolution you’re after, or ego inflation, one thing is for certain: the ego is a difficult beast to contain. Most of the time we get caught up in narrow-minded self-concern, eager to find comfort, distraction, and procrastination. We worry of what people think of us, and live in fear of what someone might say. All of this in the service of, you guessed it, the ego.

With the rest of our time, we focus on pounding our chest, flexing our muscles, tooting our horns, just to cover those insecurities. There’s very little middle ground, no matter how much you might think you can portray even-headedness. And the cycle continues.

This is a small, claustrophobic world to live in. The tunnel-vision of your own life breeds selfishness, pompousness, arrogance, and crippling fear, among many other extremes. It can become a toxic wasteland if you’re not careful.

But there is an effective solution. That small, claustrophobic world can most effectively be avoided through focusing on the big picture, the greater good, expanding your awareness, and dropping the boundaries so often put between you and the world.

There is a fine line between inflating the ego and deflating it. On one hand, putting your creation out there makes you proud and eager to show off, and on the other hand, it can have the potential be humiliating and defeating. So if you feel any of that, just simply step back. Enjoy the forest, not just the trees.

Put blinders on

Racehorses are made to wear blinders on race day so they are forced to focus only on what is ahead, nothing else. Looking to either side can prove to be catastrophic for their hopes to win and for their health. Like a racehorse, you must put blinders on in order to maintain focus.

The internet, for all of its amazing features, is frought with distraction and toxicity. In the public realm, especially on social media, you will find yourself repeatedly sucked in traps all day long if you allow it.

Get sucked too far in to a rabbit hole you don’t want to enter, it could take hours to regain focus.

Read too many people bragging and flexing, and you will always feel like you’re running way behind them, when in reality, you might be way ahead.

But how would you ever know? And why does it really matter?

What you are doing is beneficial for you and those who find value in your creation. Ignore society. Focus on what matters.

What’s in my head and what ends up on your screen don’t always match up

I do my best thinking in the shower or as I lay in bed at night. The ideas I come up with are amazing! There are so many! I sometimes have to jump up and write them down!

And then I get to my desk in the morning, venture to expand on these awesome ideas, put them into a pretty format, put a beautiful picture on it, revise it, and hit “publish”. All is well in the world, and even better with my work out there for all to read.

And then…

I go back to reread what I posted, sometimes a day or two later. Without fail, I always find something I wish I could have worded better, rearranged, clarified, or left out altogether.

This is all part of the process. Be willing to look foolish.

Imperfection before inaction.

You will only learn by doing

And by doing, I mean setting up an impenetrable daily routine, focusing on priorities, accomplishing your objectives, and hitting “publish.” Ruthlessly.

I’ve spent most of my life sitting on ideas, thinking about pros and cons, strategizing, imagining what might happen, etc. I’ve been told on many occasions that I overthink things. So I decided, instead of denying it and brushing off such criticism, maybe there is some value to be found in it. So in recent years I’ve prioritized cultivating the habit of doing—a bias for action.

I’ve never learned anything through inaction, except that it is safer. I’ve never learned anything through overthinking, except maybe how crazy my imagination can get. Life can be 99.9% inaction and thinking, but all it takes are those few moments of boldness.

There are billions of wonderful ideas that go to the grave with people every single day. Realize this and waste no more time. Put your idea or creation out there. See what doesn’t work and discard. See what works and double down. Life is too damn short to live confined in your own head. Learn by doing.

It doesn’t matter how many people don’t get it. What matters are the ones who do.

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1

No matter how much negative feedback you get, you must train yourself to expect it from the outset. Setting your expectations in this way, like Marcus Aurelius, will help guard against any off-the-cuff, emotional reactions you may have in the moment.

Your time is precious. Don’t spend it fighting unwinnable battles. Don’t spend it swimming in negativity. Block the sources of pessimism, mercilessly. Let others fight their own insecurities while you focus on helping and providing value to those who appreciate it.

The internet is the future, whether you like it or not

This might have been more effectively said 20-30 years ago. But the essence of that statement is still not widely understood. We’ve become accustomed to using the internet for consumption. We toil in the physical realm and play in the digital realm. I’m on a mission to convince you to flip that around.

If you pivot towards working in the digital realm, you open your professional life up to unimaginable potential and possibility. Instead of linking your income to time, you link it to value. Your potential customer base expands from a few hundred in your town to five billion (and growing by the day) in all 24 time zones.

If you pivot towards play in the physical realm, you open your personal life up to deeper and more meaningful connection. You begin to build a healthier lifestyle, both physically and socially.

Flip the script and it’s a win-win. Use the internet to your advantage, not to your decay. The sooner you come to this realization, the more well-positioned you will be in handling an uncertain future.

Lessons in Creation

These lessons in creation I’ve learned over the past week are invaluable. And these are just the ones that made it on to the page. Understand that they can only really be understood through taking action and executing your ideas. If you are in the midst of a creative endeavor, or on the cusp of beginning your own creative journey, I hope these lessons help you navigate.

Learn your ABCs, and above all, learn to accept your ABCs. There is agony and beauty in every creation.

With this appreciation, you can begin to provide much needed value for the world.

We need it.

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