Updated: Jul 25, 2020
The struggle to make creative work is a race. But it’s not the kind of race that most people think it is.
I used to think the battle to create was like the Space Race, that decades-long battle between the USA and the Soviet Union to send people and things into space. Creating, though, is more like an ultramarathon across mountainous terrain.
Let’s talk for a second about how those races are similar. Both races demand that participants:
- be fiercely competitive;
- care deeply about reaching their respective goals; and
- show grit—the willingness to endure through difficulties and pain.
How are the races different?
The crucial difference is that only one requires that the racers know rocket science. Which is obvious, I suppose. But let’s pull the lens back a little bit.
If the scientists waging the Space Race did not learn the science necessary to build rockets and propel them into orbit, there was no way to finish the race, much less win it. NASA’s ability to even participate in the Space Race depended largely on their learning things that nobody knew how to do when they were standing at the starting line.
I don’t mean to discount what's required of people running 30, 50, or 100 miles up and down mountains—those runners definitely know things about diet, nutrition, and the human body that most people don't.
But a long running race isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty much the same race any 7-year-old runs against the other neighborhood kids. Run from this crack in the street to that one. First one over the line wins.
We’ve been taught to think that making creative work that matters is like the Space Race, but I’m suggesting that it looks far more like running up and down a mountain for 8 hours. In ACSAS, we talk a lot about Resistance, that force described in Steven Pressfield's The War of Art that is doing everything in its power to keep us from doing our Work. One of the favorite tricks of Resistance is to make us believe that we’re unworthy or incapable of doing our Work. Resistance wants us to believe that before we can make this, we first need that degree, that skill, or that much money sitting in a pile.
Sometimes that is the case. Sometimes there’s a rocket-science roadblock that must be solved before you can move forward further. If you want to make an online business, building a website is a critical piece of the puzzle. No website, no online business.
That said, what fledgling creatives tend to do is use our need for that website, which would be step 8 in the plan, to prevent us from taking steps 1-4. Most creative pursuits, however, require only a willingness to put in the time and effort required to make progress one step at a time. Your path to success in beating Resistance and doing your Work requires nothing more than the ability to continue putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of the finish line.
Which race do your creative pursuits feel like?
And if your creative endeavor feels like the Space Race, is that really the case?
Because more likely, your challenge is less about learning rocket science than it is about refusing to quit—even when you want to vomit on your shoes.