Around this time five years ago I had peaked in a sense of jubilation as as I finished writing up my post Why Bucket Lists Are Bad.
I knew at the time, at least in my opinion, this was the best blog post I had ever put pen to paper (or at least finger to keyboard, though that doesn’t sound as good does it?)
I leaned back in my chair, feeling a sense of satisfaction watching the schedule button work away, and as a notification popped up I thought
“Well… what now?… How am I supposed to write something better than this?”
Of course, in the complete history of doubting myself, I was wrong about these beliefs. There were better posts, if one can define what better is in a medium that has not measurement.
I don’t know what I did next, maybe I kept writing, maybe the intimidation of trying to follow up on greatness scared me, but somehow I kept going until I reached this very moment, all these year later, writing with my non-dominant left hand while cradling my unsettled youngest with my right. Anything to get the words down right?
Where am I going with this uncoordinated rambling?
Well… last week I reached the next milestone of progress when I completed the post How The Wright Brothers Found Success Against All Odds.
This post has a long back story to it, being three years in the making, when I was inspired to write about the brothers’ success when I read their biography from David McCullough.
As with all research, it takes time, and even when your main source is just a 368 page paper back, it still takes a lot of energy to extract information that could lead to nothing.
This process killed my enthusiasm for a while, until I did a social media switch off in May and found I needed a distraction to avoid frantically thumbing a phone on an evening.
It was there I stumbled back on the McCullough text The Wright Brothers: The Dramatic Story-Behind-the-Story and it reminded me I still had notes from that ambitious beast I;d started working on all those years ago.
It took a lot of discipline to decide how I would focus the post down, dipping in and out as I worked on other content over the month.
With a lot of worthless content that went nowhere, I thought the project would be doomed to be shelved in a folder with all my other unfinished ideas I hold onto for a rainy day..
Something spurred me to keep going, I knew I was onto something. After a stressful couple of weeks of children not going to sleep at night or getting up too early, some men might let loose bingeing on alcohol, not this man, my vice was writing a self-improvement article about the Wright Brothers!
Although I’d promised my wife I wouldn’t be too long writing tonight, three hours later I was face deep in Wikimedia sourcing stock photos for my completed post.
When I clicked that schedule button, it transported me back in time to 2017.
“Damn… How am I supposed to do something better than this.”
As this all only happened in the last month, I do know with greater clarity what I did next.
I started writing something else, but lost enthusiasm, as in my mind I knew it wasn’t measuring up.
With it I plunged into a destructive lethargy, and all the momentum I’d built since switching off social media dwindled.
Wait that’s it?
That’s how the post ends?
No lessons learned?
No life advice?
If I had to give advice on how to deal with the intimidating prospect of never beating your personal best, do the following…
Recognise that progress ain’t always straight up
There is perhaps a false narrative that to improve is simply to take action.
“Better than yesterday”
This was an old tagline I used to use on Perfect Manifesto, but technically it isn’t correct.
You can be better than yesterday, except on the days you aren’t, you have to take a step down to build yourself up again.
Most of the day’s progress is so tiny that it doesn’t feel like we’re progressing at all.
Some stuff you do is actually worse than your norm – but at least you showed up.
The key is to be consistent.
Do it for you
As a writer you’re not always sure if people will always dig the personal favourites as much as you do.
I have had a few posts I’ve been excited to share with the world and felt disappointed to get a muted response.
And the posts that were after thoughts written in a 30 minute lunch break? Well two of them are the most popular posts from the search engine masses.
Perhaps when you pursue the passion projects so closely you get trapped in the moment, that you can’t separate and take an objective view of your masterpiece.
Something I’ve learned as a creator is to balance what is familiar and what works, with something that will scratch the artistic itch. Write one post:
- …for your audience.
- …that is intended for mainstream masses.
- …for you.
It’s ain’t always about surpassing past success
I was listening to a podcast with the author Simon Sinek. I’ve talked his work before – notable his “Find your why” theory.
Because of the overwhelming success that this idea has had on the world, Sinek discussed the pressure that he felt on himself to be able to come up with something that would surpass this achievement.
He came to the conclusion that it’s unlikely he would and he would mostly be remembered for being the Find your why guy. By taking this approach, he was able to accept his situation, and just focus on his next ideas – which is where his follow-up book Leaders Eat Last came from.
With this lesson I realised how easy it can be to get into the culture of trying to do better outshine past glory – this can create a culture of unhappiness.
The solution to this? Just get on with it and enjoy life.
Just do it
Perfection is the enemy of progress, if you’re holding back just to follow up on the high standards you built up then you’re not going to achieve anything.
A harsh reality is that one day you will reach your peak and you won’t even know it until your other efforts never match up to this success.
The answer is to just keep going, write anything down, get it posted – even if it isn’t good enough, it takes the pressure off whatever you plan to write next.
Which is precisely why this post exists.
Wishing you the best in your success.
James @Perfect Manifesto