What to Do When You Hit a Wall

Declan Wilson

Photo: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash

I’m sure we could take one of those personality tests to uncover what makes us so different.

I’m sure someone into astrology could read our sign or look at our palms and give us all the answers.

But even knowing whether we’re an LMNOP or Neptune is in retrograde still won’t solve our biggest problem:

We can’t stay interested in one thing long enough to see things through.

I apologize to anyone who’s a fan of personality tests or enthusiastic about astrology, I didn’t mean to drag you into this small rant. It’s just, I can’t seem to stay focused on a few things.

I want to do everything.

And because I want to do everything, I can’t seem to do anything. It’s the curse of the creative.

The Wall

Earlier this year I made a commitment to make Medium my career. I even wrote about it publicly to make sure I hold myself to it.

Like other creative ambitions, I knew this one would follow a similar pattern:

  • Start off really excited
  • Slowly become tedious
  • Hit a wall

I’m staring at the wall.

This isn’t my first encounter with the Wall (yes, I’m capitalizing it now).

A few years ago, after struggling to build a business on my own, I decided I’d become a YouTuber instead. I ambitiously set out to vlog every day of my life for a year.

I made it to day 280 before burning out. Not a small feat, but again the Wall.

In real life you can do two things when faced with a Wall: you can turn back or go around it.

But in an analogy, you can do much more: you can scale it with one of those old-timey grappling hooks, you can blast through it, you can dig underneath it…

I’m getting carried away, the point is when we face the Wall we face two questions:

  1. What’s on the other side?
  2. How hard am I willing to work to get to the other side?

The first question carries with it the fear of the unknown. What if the other side of the Wall doesn’t have what we’re looking for? What if we scale it only to be disappointed by what we find?

The second question jumpstarts the calculations. How much effort do we want to put into this endeavor? Do we have enough time? Can we really do this?

In my own case, I eventually overthink everything and turn away from the Wall, only to chase some other creative whim until I hit another Wall.

I’ve followed the same pattern for the past 12 years.

Ask better questions

We can either wallow (get it wall-ow) or we can take action. I prefer to take action.

The best thing we can do when we find ourselves facing a Wall is to admit there is a Wall.

Every Friday morning I hop on a phone call with

Alexander, Todd, and Kyle and we talk about our Walls. We’ve been doing this every week for the past four years. Having a strong group of people to share your Walls is essential. Find them.

Basically we look at those two questions above but retrofitted with better phrasing:

  1. What is the benefit of climbing the Wall?
  2. What is the cost of climbing the Wall?

It’s a cost-benefit analysis from there. But it’s important to understand what to include in the cost.

Yes, pursing any creative endeavor will cost you time and energy. However, what is the opportunity cost of chasing one thing over other things?

Recently I had the idea of writing a fiction novel. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve had an idea that I’ve been able to keep in the back of my head, but now this idea won’t leave me alone. It wants to be born.

But I don’t want another YouTube burnout situation. I need to first look at this from a cost-benefit standpoint.

Writing a novel takes a lot of time and effort. The cost of writing a book would mean my online writing and freelancing business would suffer. Is it worth it?

I don’t know. However, I do know I’m looking at this the right way. Instead of running away from a Wall I’m asking the right questions.

Wrap up

As creatives, we are blessed and cursed. Our minds fill with ideas and possibilities, but we’re always left facing the same questions: Which idea do I pick? What’s on the other side? What is the cost?

We blame ourselves when we can’t seem to stay interested in one thing long enough to see it through. But maybe we just aren’t asking the right questions.

As romantic as it sounds to abandon everything to chase a whim, we creatives must still look at things from a practical angle. What are we sacrificing for our pursuits?

Next time you come to a Wall, don’t be afraid. Find your people, ask better questions, then make a decision.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD

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