We love starting over. It wipes the messy slate of our past clean, and lets us start fresh. We can put on a new face, a new attitude, a new effort. It seems like we can create a whole new identity when we do a new article, book, or website.
Soon enough, that new effort is overwhelmed by the old ideas fueling the effort–the old us. Alcoholics Anonymous figured this out years ago when they said, “If you are a drunk in Cleveland, moving to Peoria for a fresh start isn’t the answer. You’ll be a drunk in Peoria, too.” It’s a wise saying, although a
tough one. (AA never pretended to have easy answers.)
When I went to Catholic school (I’m not a Catholic, but that’s another story), I loved seeing my friends go to confession. They’d say their prayers and their sins were wiped away. Poof! Just like that, they were brand new and sin free. Unfortunately, the old habits didn’t vanish, and my guess is that the same sins got repeated in the confessional time after time. And since there were different priests, no one really noticed or cared, and little personal growth resulted.
And that’s the danger of new projects. They seem free of the past baggage, but they are not free of us. We show up with our past, and relive it because it’s familiar. In a few days that new project looks like the old us. If we don’t like the old us, we’ll hate the new project, too.
I have friends who are start-up junkies. Addicted to new beginnings, these eager people will start up a company with the fervor of Ron Popeil selling the Veg-O-Matic. But they aren’t good at running a company, which seem tedious and boring, so they dash off to do another start-up, leaving the clean-up team to handle the rest.
The phrase I hear most often when people find out I’m writing another book is, “Oh, if you need some creative ideas, let me know. I’m really creative!” When I ask if they would help with some research, checking some facts, I get turned down. “Oh, no, my skills are creative ones!” I never say it to them, but creativity is not defined by one brilliant ideas. Creativity means showing up every day to do the hard work. The book I am writing is hard work. It’s satisfying, and I enjoy it, but it’s not fun and doesn’t involve sitting in Starbucks drinking coffee and writing. My editor has often reminded me that books aren’t written, they are re-written. I often think of this at midnight, when I’m re-writing.
Creative work is hard. We want to give up, we hate what we’ve done in the past, we want to do something fun and new. Yet what gets the work done is moving steadily ahead, when it’s not fun and not new. The secret to creativity is determination and persistence. Learning from your mistakes and getting up every time you fall is what the real creativity looks like.
--Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She watches her clients start a lot of new projects for many different reasons. Sometimes they figure out why.