It’s eleven thirty on a Friday night and you’re still nudging keyframes on the stupid motion graphic sequence that’s been dogging you all day. You just about have it, a careful match-dissolve that makes a logo appear to fit seamlessly into the live action plate behind it. But something’s not quite right. You’re tapping it this way, twiddling it that way, hunched over your computer, eyes burning, back stiff, hands curled like a dried monkey paw around your input device. What’s bugging you? Is it the shadow around the text? The color correction? The timing?
Whatever it is, you’re not releasing this thing until it’s ready, totally right, absolutely and completely perfected. You can’t stand delivering mediocrity, and as a result you’re stuck here, working at eleven thirty on a Friday night.
Your friends and family struggle to understand. They know you’ve been working on this project for a long time, talking about it for even longer. They know it matters to you, understand it intellectually. But really? Is it that big of a deal that it needs to take every last ounce of energy you have?
Watch the Olympics and you’ll see the same phenomenon expressed through world class athleticism. To reach a singular day of competition, the best athletes focus on every…single…moment….of their training. What they eat, how the sleep, how their equipment fits and performs down to the last stitch: they sweat the details. This thing that’s been driving them for years does not let go simply because they want a break. If they want to compete, there’s no other way than to embrace the demon and continue.
Sometimes we don’t even know we’re in the demon’s embrace. Something drives some of us, doesn’t let us go, pokes us when we try to sleep, and we are bereft if we cannot soothe the beast with offerings of labor and focus. Successful entrepreneurs understand this as deeply as committed dancers and painters and moviemakers. Serious scientists understand this deeply, too.
I don’t know a dedicated creative person who doesn’t sometimes wish for surcease from these demons. The desire to put in a normal day’s work, clock out, go home, chillax!…isn’t crazy. In fact, it’s natural. It’s easier to wish for simpler things, to not need to launch a business, to not need to find a better way to process industrial waste, to not need to finish writing that novel. Some people happily call it quits after a normal day’s work.
But just ask any creative person you know: does that sound like a normal day?
Ironically, it is often because of this small sampling of a larger population that new ideas ever emerge in the first place. The result of wrestling with demons is that sometimes a new concerto comes to life, or a revolutionary way for editing genes as if it were little more than a pile of computer code. The demons know that their great hold on creatives is the lure of a desirable pursuit. But they cast an even deeper, more potent spell. The demons also know it’s not the goal that holds creatives in thrall. It’s the pursuit itself.
It’s eleven thirty on a Friday night. If there be demons lurking, allow yourself this small comfort: at least you’re not alone.