Have you ever been in the middle of a project only to discover that you have completely lost your enthusiasm for it and now it seems you’re just going through the motions?
So how do you know when you should continue working on a project, and when you should just cut your losses and let it go?
It’s not easy to figure out the answer to this question, because almost every creative project hits a creative lull at some point. We all have those days where everything we do seems pointless, and whatever we’re currently working on is not good enough. So the question is not really whether or not we have felt like this, but what do we do about it when it happens?
That of course depends on who you ask…
There seems to be two schools of thought on whether it’s better to stick with a project no matter what until it’s finished, or if it’s better to just move on to something else.
On one side you have the put-your-head-down-and-just-keep-going crowd, and on the other side you have the if-it’s-not-working-try-something-else group.
Those who tell us that we should continue no matter what remind us of the virtues of consistency, follow-through, and perseverance. They talk about how “real artists ship” and those who don’t stick with it are a bunch of slackers who obviously aren’t serious about their creative work. They tell us that we simply need to focus and push through “the dip” until we finally reach the other side where we can bask in the glow of our accomplishment.
Then again, there are some other very smart folks out there, like Einstein himself, who tell us that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. They preach the virtues of efficiency, productivity, and knowing when to cut your losses. They tell us when a project just isn’t working anymore, it’s better to move on and not waste any more time and energy on it.
I don’t know about you but I’m constantly struggling with this issue myself.
One week I’ll be convinced that I need to stick with my latest project that seems to be stalling out and see it to the end. The next week, I’ll tell myself that I just need to move on because I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the project and I’m simply going through the motions. But then I’ll realize that’s exactly what whiny slackers say and a truly awesome person would stick with it until it’s finished. Then again, that’s exactly how stubborn idiots think, while smart people know when to cut their losses and move on.
So then what’s the right answer?
The truth is there isn’t one right answer because either one of these could potentially be the right thing to do depending on the situation.
If anything, the real trap here is believing that one of these is always the right answer.
In other words, it’s not any better to blindly stick with a project no matter what, then it is to constantly jump from one project to the next. There is no one size fits all solution here. Sometimes it’s better to keep going and see where things lead, and sometimes it’s better to just admit when something is not working and move on.
The trick of course is having the wisdom to know the difference.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wow, that was a pretty crappy and unhelpful answer Skinny dude.” And although it’s true that I don’t have some secret formula you can use to find the correct path in any given situation, I do have an idea where you might want to look for answers. . .
If you lived through the 90’s, you may remember a famous episode of Seinfeld called “The Opposite” where George suddenly decides to go against his instincts and do the opposite based on Jerry’s theory that “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
In other words, doing the opposite of what you feel like doing, may end up being the right thing to do in that particular situation.
So if you’re usually the type of person who constantly jumps from one project to the next, you might want to consider sticking with your current project a little longer and see what happens.
On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who can be a bit stubborn and sees giving up as a sign of weakness, then you may want to take another look at the value of cutting your losses and moving on when something isn’t working.
Let’s face it, it’s human nature to want to take the easy way out and we generally avoid doing anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. The author Joseph Campbell once said that “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
So when we feel like bailing on a certain project it might meant that there’s something important there we are afraid of confronting, or maybe we’re digging too close to an old emotional wound. On the other hand, if we insist on sticking with a particular project no matter what, maybe it’s because it’s more comfortable to go through the motions and feel like we’re doing something than it is to plunge into the unknown of our next project.
There’s a reason we feel the way we do, and because of that, we have to recognize that our first instinct may not always be our best option. We might find ourselves traveling down an uncomfortable and unfamiliar path in order to get to where we want to be. Sometimes that may mean sticking with a certain project, and sometimes we may need to let it go.
Either way, we’ll likely discover something important about ourselves along the way.
Do you find yourself constantly jumping from one project to the next or do you usually force yourself to finish what you started?
Have you ever abandoned a project and later regretted it, or have you kept working a certain project and then wished you hadn’t wasted your time?
Does any of this really have anything to do with good decision making, or is it all just part of the creative learning process?
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.