The Bar

Often, before we start a new creative project, we get stuck, unable to move forward because we feel disgusted at how far we seem to fall short of where we want to be.

It’s easy to lament the distance we need to travel, the effort we would need to invest in order to be any good. We look at the stories of those we look up to, and see how they started when they were children, how they worked for years before they were even adults, how they practiced for 8 hours a day at their craft. It seems to us that the path to mastery is simply outside of the realm of possibilities for us. We compare ourselves to them and we realize we’ll never get there.

We’ve set the bar too high.

If we are to have any hope of doing our creative work, we need to give ourselves permission to set the bar for ourselves. If we’re just beginning, it’s going to be a lot lower than what we might want it to be. That’s fine. Our work doesn’t have to be any good, we need to simply get started. Without getting in and doing the work, there is no art.

Bad work always comes before good work. Write a lot of bad fiction, draw a lot of bad pictures, make a lot of bad films. Develop a feel for the doing of it.

The surprising thing is that by lowering expectations, by focusing on getting the engine running, we’re actually creating the necessary action to do the work we want to be doing. We’re pushing ourselves outside of the comfort zone of merely imagining who we could be and actually facing the reality of our abilities in this moment.

Once we are able to see our current state through the practice of doing the work, we can start to see where we might make improvements, where we can learn. We can start to think about quality when we have the foundation of doing the work to build upon.

Once we’re doing the work, and seeing where we need to make adjustments, raising the bar becomes natural. In order to enter into a state of flow, we need to challenge ourselves so that we’re at our edge of our abilities.

There is a natural raising of the bar when we’re working and truly engaged with our work. Raising the bar isn’t some standard that we’re held to because of some external authority, but a natural inclination to grow and see what we are capable of.

It’s not that it’s easy from here on out, but there is a naturalness to the effort. The motivation comes from somewhere deep inside rather than from our heads.

In order to reach that place of naturalness though, we need to take charge of the raising and lowering of the bar for ourselves. Make it our own, and match it to our own abilities and current state of being, rather than allowing it to be set by our society or our expectations of what we should be.