Try not giving a fuck about the things you give the most fucks about. Seriously. If you can even half-way pull it off, you might be surprised by what happens.
I’m not talking about “giving zero fucks” in the terms of “OH EM GEE I’ve lost sight of all my priorities and am ready to get my #spiral on! YAY!” I’m talking about letting go of those fucks that are holding you back from whatever flickering potential you are chasing down. Everyone is chasing something and letting go of what others think is the most important step toward being able to achieve your goals.
We all have a way of getting in our own heads. We get caught up with the what-ifs that keep us from getting to the what-nows. For any endeavor you are passionate about, whether it’s your career or a personal creative pursuit, it is important to take risks. Unfortunately, these necessary risks are still, by nature, risky; and risky is scary.
This special kind of fear comes from a self-imposed mandate for approval from whatever stakeholders to which we report; the gatekeepers of praise. These people keep us shaking in our little space boots, dreading what they will think and searching for their approval to gage the worth of our own work.
At least that’s how it is for me. One of my most petulant daily struggles is getting out of my own head about whatever project I am working on. In order to create a final product with a singular, authentic vision, it’s somewhat essential to have a singular, authentic vision to begin with; rather than a concept is clouded from trying to please others.
For the work that I do, there are lots of stakeholders and gatekeepers. Though I’m currently in a position where I am essentially my own boss, there are still clients, collaborators, editors and the eventual viewer/reader- all swimming around in the back of my brain. More often than not, my work will go off without a hitch and is well received. But there are times when a project will bounce back, and when it does it burns like a red rubber dodge ball to the face in gym class.
The initial sting from a project that misses the mark will go away; everyone has their hits and misses. The real trouble is the next project that you start in on, the one where you begin to question everything. In an effort to avoid another negative kickback, you can find yourself trying to force your work into some abstract idea of perfection. This is a futile waste of time and energy.
Sometimes, this anxiety can start when I am mid-draft on something. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hours of unfinished video edits, thousands of pages of essays and scripts, and dozens of designs are sitting in a dead-idea-dump on my hard drive. These are projects where I had a spark off of that first initial idea. I manage to get well into the work, fueled by a premise that I thought was a sure fire success. Then suddenly, I skid into a Jersey barrier, spin out in a 360, and finally come to dead stop facing the wrong way on I95.
Days and weeks of my life have been spent on work that will never see the light of day because mid way through, suddenly my brain clicked over to “nobody is going to like this, this is the worst idea ever, people won’t understand it, it’s going nowhere, it’s not making sense, what the fuck was I thinking” mode. This spiral is especially splendid when I have a cranky client on my hands and I have to explain why we are going in a totally different direction mid-way through our timeline. Joy of joys.
Other times, panic can set in once something is in finished form but not yet released. There is no greater terror than when this happens on a film or video project and there is absolutely nothing that can be done. The monstrously expensive, vastly detailed and time-consuming nature of film and video work makes it the ultimate “measure twice, cut once” medium. Luckily, this type of freak-out is usually short lived, as once the final product is out of your hands it can be much easier to let go. Even if your fears are justified and you were right about the work being poorly received, there’s not much you can do but move on to the next venture.
But the worst; I mean the absolute cruelest way that the people-please-heebie-jeebies can catch you, is when you have a good idea but haven’t yet started in on the work. I’m not talking about writers block. I’m talking about having a fully formed idea, with sentences and paragraphs written in your memory, but being afraid to put them on paper because maybe, just maybe, they are dog shit.
This one can be a tricky beast to deal with. There have been stretches when I’ve found myself with a notebook full of ideas, all the time in the world to bring them to life and absolutely nothing to show for it. This isn’t procrastination. This is sitting at a desk for hours on end, staring at notes, trying to determine the legitimacy and value of each singular scribble.
When you get to this point, there is only way you will ever get any work done. Whether the next undertaking may be your masterpiece or another dud project, you won’t get anywhere unless you stop caring what other people are going to think and focus on pleasing yourself. This is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned in my adult life.
As far as quality is concerned, who gives a shit what the so-called gatekeepers think? Really, what matters is doing work that you can be proud of. You’re the expert on your idea, whatever it may be, and you’re in charge of making it the best goddamn whatever in the history of whatevers. You are the one who will be represented by the work you produce, so you must be your own primary source of motivation for putting in the work to make it the best fucking thing it can be.
Don’t be influenced by what the nameless crowds of praise-dealers might think. Not everyone has to like everything. Some people will love everything you put out; others will tear down every project you stick your name on. Fuck them both.
Don’t listen, just put on those horse-blinders and move on to the next idea. Go out and make something that you can step back, look at and truly be proud to have your name on.
Letting go of the fear of what other people think will allow you to focus on the core of your idea. You will be able to see its innate strength and pinpoint its weaknesses at the heart of its inspiration, rather than getting caught up in the fuss and frills of trying to please all of the people all of the time. Block out all the white noise and start with what you believe to be a resilient and essential premise. You will end up with a grand creation that you can be proud of, merely because it was built upon an uninfluenced spark that came right out of your soul.