Some days, when I feel like I’m stuck spinning my wheels in a ditch of disillusion, I’m reminded of this famously misattributed quote:
“The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — You Pick
Whether this was said by Einstein, Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Confucius, some mystery novelist lady, Rita Mae Brown, or is simply an ancient proverb orphaned by the catacombs of quotable history is anyone’s guess. Although, the fact that we continue to use this simplistic definition despite anyone ever taking it seriously perhaps proves the very quote itself…
However, the quote continues to come to mind from time to time because occasionally, like many of you, I have days where it feels like I am becoming the very embodiment of that miscredited sentence.
I continue to sit here, day after day, wracking my brain and punching my keyboard in the hopes that this time will be the time it all falls into place.
I’ll move through the same routine, following the same patterns, feeling the same hesitations and motivations, acknowledging the same reminders for why I started doing this in the first place, rinsing the same daily doubts out of my hair, and repeating the same cycle when it’s all over.
There are plenty of motivational writers and self-help espousers that would advocate for structuring your day exactly like that:
You decide what you enjoy doing and know you could get better at, you set up your daily routine in a way that’s conducive to making progress in your area of choice, and you grind it out for days, weeks, months, and even years until you get to where you want to be.
It seems like a fairly straightforward way to get what you want.
You just do what you want to do over and over until the outside world takes notice and rewards you for your continual efforts. Easy enough, I guess.
The part they don’t tell you about, though, is the part where the thing you love to do starts to become something you don’t very much like doing.
The whole truth and nothing but part of the truth
We’re not told about the days when we can no longer distinguish between what we actually care about, what we’re merely doing out of habit, what we feel genuinely engaged with, and what has become nothing more than self-imposed duty.
We’re not told how to differentiate practice from progress. We’re meant to take those cues from whatever audience is responding to our work and gauge our personal satisfaction with ourselves off of the receptivity of strangers.
They liked it? I thought it was terrible, but I guess I must be getting better?
No responses? I loved that one, but I suppose the audience knows best, so I’ll just not write what I actually enjoy anymore…gotta follow the numbers, after all.
What started as a pursuit of authenticity and honest art becomes just another scheduled part of our day.
We convince ourselves of the necessity of the structure, and even on days we’d rather do anything else in the world, we unenthusiastically follow through on our obligations so we can continue to honor the dream.
For good reason, sure.
You can’t reach a goal without taking steps towards it, as exhausting as they may become, but someone needs to acknowledge just how similar so many of those steps can start to feel and ask the question: Is this really what it’s supposed to look like?
No one falls in “like”
In the world of arts, content creation, and more relevantly, writing online, what’s happened in the past can rarely be treated as an indication of what could possibly happen next.
We have to treat each new project, picture, song, video, or article as if it has a unique life of its own. We can’t compare every different piece of art or content we create to everything we’ve ever made before it or we’ll only be creating work in contrast to something else instead of creating it for the sake of itself.
On days when it feels like you’re digging your tires into the mud trying to make progress, you have to remember why you started doing what you’re doing in the first place.
Best case scenario, you started writing because you love to write.
Notice how I didn’t say like.
The one thing a lot of these influential motivators don’t tell you is that you don’t have to like what you’re doing to continue doing it.
So many of us creatives and artists and dreamers have it in our heads that if only we were able to do what we loved every day, our lives would feel so much more relaxing and fulfilling and just genuinely easier overall; we’d be given daily doses of unsullied joy and could say without reservation that we were finally happy.
That’s partially true.
If we were able to do the thing we loved every day, yes, there’s a pretty good chance that we’d feel more fulfilled and content than we would otherwise. However, this doesn’t take into account the fact that you can love something deeply while simultaneously not liking it very much.
Think about a family member you love but find to be a bit much after being around them for a while.
If you were asked if you loved them, you’d undoubtedly say yes, of course, you do. If you were then asked if you wanted to spend the week with them, or the entire month, or, God forbid, live with them, your response might sound a bit like, ……uuhhhmm…is, like, a few days an option? Not this weekend, though. Maybe next? Or, um, Christmas is coming up, can we just wait to see each other then?
This familial sentiment might sound entirely too relatable, but people don’t seem to realize that you can start to feel the exact same way about the work you love to do.
Pursuing the thing you love in the hopes that it will one day support you financially means there is no putting it off until Christmas. It means despite your deep love of the craft, there will come a time when it all feels like a job you want to call in sick from. It’ll feel heavier than it did when you first started, like an unacknowledged resentment building over time until you eventually start actively disliking the thing you once felt nothing but excitement for.
Some people might confuse this dislike for hate, or even take it as a sign that they should quit or that they were wrong to have taken this path in the first place. Really, they just need someone to tell them that it’s okay to love something and not like it. There are no rules against it.
It’s okay to love how you look and feel while not liking going to the gym or working out at all. It’s okay to love writing but not like forcing words out of your brain every single day. It’s okay to love telling stories or giving advice and also not like waking up earlier than you’d prefer just to be able to do it.
There are going to be days that blur together and weeks that all feel the same. There may even be months where you can’t seem to find the motivation you used to have for what you’re doing, despite knowing that deep down you love doing it more than anything.
There are going to be periods of time that feel as if you’ve made literally zero progress towards “making it,” however you define that.
None of that matters.
The only thing that does is that you continue creating what you’re capable of creating whether you feel the passion for it or not.
Reaching your goals or being acknowledged or compensated for your work isn’t about feeling the joy of creation every single day. It isn’t about being able to live within an eternal honeymoon period with your art as you wake up every day overflowing with a boundless exuberance for life.
It’s just about continuing to take action despite how hard your eyes are rolling about it.
It’s about clocking in for a job you created for yourself.
It’s about sitting down and moving your fingers against the wishes of your brain.
You don’t need other people to validate your love for your work. You don’t need to take every criticism and negative comment as scientific evidence proving that your occasional dislike of the process warrants sacrificing the pursuit in its entirety.
You don’t need to like the repetitive and sometimes monotonous process of doing the thing you wholeheartedly love.
In fact, you can do what you love without liking it very much at all.
And honestly, you should be grateful for the opportunity.
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