The Struggle Is the Work

The other night I was complaining to my husband about my frustrations with the creative process. I told him that working on this website feels like I’m driving toward a destination I can clearly see, but on a road covered in fog. He simply nodded and said, “Yep.”

Well then.

I had been wallowing in my confusion for weeks thinking the source was my own inadequacy, so I wasn’t expecting anyone else to understand how I felt. My husband went on to tell me that this was exactly the feeling he had when he was building his own company years before.

That’s the funny thing about the creative process. Even though we know the journey of making anything from scratch will be messy and fraught with false-starts and iterations, we still feel surprised when these feelings occur. The intellectual understanding that the creative process is rarely a straight line does little to ease our anxiety when the confusion occurs.

A few days after talking to my husband about this, I brought up the topic with a friend who’s going through her own messy path of creativity. From the outside looking in, I could see how her road was bumpy but clearly moving forward. I could see her successes and why each iteration toward where she’s going now was necessary, but she felt like she was taking too long to get where she needed to go. Trying to ease worries, I told her this:

Remember that the foggy drive IS the work. It’s not the path before the work. It is the work.

The thing about giving advice is that sometimes we need to take it ourselves. As I texted this to my friend, she immediately punted it back to me and said I needed to write about it. And she was right — but I also needed to remember it for myself.

I think many of us get into the habit of thinking we’ll wrestle with an idea and then get to the work of acting on the idea. The problem is believing that these two things are separate and linear. They’re not.

As soon as we engage with an idea, we’ll wrestle with it until the day it’s complete. Some of us might even wrestle with it afterward, which can lead us to either refuse to call our work complete or to never be happy with what we’ve put out into the world. But the thing to remember is this:

The struggle is a crucial part of the process, and it doesn’t occur before or after, but during.

Some of the best advice my husband ever gave me was when he told me to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” This was to help me deal with working at a small startup for the first time, transitioning out of the world of corporate work and all its outlined bureaucracy to a world where you build a parachute as you jump out of a plane. Turns out, this advice is useful for creative endeavors, too.

So, if you find yourself in an intense arm wrestle with your work, or if you’re iterating on a project yet again, remember this advice. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but that’s okay. Get comfortable with the discomfort and remember that the struggle won’t end before your work can begin. The struggle will be with you every step of the way. And that’s exactly as it should be.

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash