Browsing Category Persistence

How Letting Go of Outcomes Helps Your Work (and why you should try it)

I’ve been struggling with my work. For the past few months I’ve struggled with feeling connected to those on the other side of my work. I see that emails get opened and the blog gets visits. But the response has been difficult to measure.

And this has been challenging for me. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why.

Am I doing something wrong?

Have I lost touch with my readers?

All of this has lead me to evaluate how I think about my work. What if my work at its core was about offering something rather than getting a response?

It’s not about how big your work gets. It’s not about how many people are interested in what you do. It’s not about how much money you make. It’s not even about getting others to participate.

It’s about you doing something that you love and offering it to the world— regardless of its reception.

Steven Pressfield on Letting Go of Outcomes

A theme in Steven Pressfield’s little book, The War of Art, is dedication to your work regardless of the outcome. He emphasizes the roll of routine and habits. He talks about how creativity is about showing up and doing the work, and not waiting for inspiration to strike.

He told a story of a book he spent years writing and the struggle he had along the way. All he did was work on it, and nothing else. But the closer he got to finishing, the harder it became. His fear and resistance became more and more intense.

Eventually the moment came when he finished the book and he felt a rush of victory wash over him.

The next morning he went to a friend’s house and told him that he’d finally finished.

The friend’s reply blew me away…

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Your Insides vs. Someone Else’s Outsides

I wanted to be a rock star in Jr. High. I also wanted to be an astronaut and a geneticist. But more than anything else, I wanted to be a rock star.

I would play guitar with my little practice amp turned up to 10 with a pillow in front of the speaker to get a better overdrive tone and try to keep my family from going crazy.

I spent hours figuring out how to play along with Weezer’s Blue Album, and the Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness. This was back in the late 90’s, before you could look up guitar tabs on the internet. (Pro tip: tune your guitar down a half step to get a better 90’s fuzz.)

Soon Jr. High gave way to High School, and High School to College. Playing rock and roll felt less and less realistic. Many of my idols at the time got their start by their late teenage years. My assumption was that I didn’t have “it”. I wasn’t going to spend my days packing out basement venues and turning my amp up to 10 (without a pillow to muffle it).

So I let that dream go.

At this point in my life, I’m ok with that. I’ve chosen other ways to spend my time— though there are some definite connections.

Some people make success seems simple and easy.We tell ourselves stories about how lucky they are to have overnight success:

  • They make some friends at an open mic and start writing songs together, and a year later they’re playing for the president. (That’s the story of The Head and the Heart.)
  • They write an ebook and their blog explodes to thousands of subscribers within a week. (That’s the story Jeff Goins often tells.)
  • They choose the perfect major in college, and get a job they love right after. Never looking back or needing to wonder what they should do next. (That’s the story of some of my college peers.)

Others, like you and me, don’t find success as easily.

We have to struggle and work hard to get what we want. We may even need to struggle and work to know what we want.

And that can be very discouraging.

I hear my self-talk say things like: “I can’t compete with that. I can’t keep up. I can’t do what they do. I can’t succeed in the same ways.”

And so I jump to conclusions: “What’s wrong with me? I’ll never make it. Why can’t I just do something right for once.”

And those words sting.

And those words are untrue.

Most of the stories we tell about the lives and journeys of others are fiction. They may include a few choice facts, but most of the story is made up…

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