The Myth of Inspiration and Passion

Inspiration and passion are a designers’ daily bread. Without them we crumble, wither and are reduced to mere pixels pushing hacks. But the problem with passion and inspiration is they’re fleeting. They come and they go. So the question you need to ask yourself is this: what happens when your passion and your inspiration run out? What do you do with that project you’ve been working on for the last 4 months when it no longer excites you?

If you have ever struggled to get a project finished then you know the pain and frustration I’m talking about. You know all too well that life gets in the way and the passion that was once your driving force can so easily fade away. So you start to look for the next design high, that next f*ck ye! moment.

Young girl spreading hands with joy and inspiration facing the sun
Image Source: Joy and Inspiration via Shutterstock.

The masters had their muses…

If it were as simple as working when the muse sang then we’d all be artists but we’re not artists responding to the call of the muse, we’re designers and we live according to some constant realities. Food costs money. Rent can’t be fulled from thin air. The long and short of it is we have to work whether we’re inspired or not. In a perfect world we’d only take on work that excites us, but in the real world we’re not always afforded that luxury. Even if a project does initially have our design juices flowing, there’s no guarantee that in 8 weeks time the excitement will still be there.

A wise designer once said: “there are no great clients or projects, only great designers”. What does that mean, exactly? I think it means we must strive to make the best of even the most mundane projects.

That’s easy to say while I sit here writing on a Saturday morning but it’s something that I’ve come to realise as true the further down the freelance path I wander.

Personal Goals keep you moving forward

This year I had two objectives. One was to launch a SaaS app and the other was to write a book. Beyond that, anything went. They may seem like fairy tale goals but I was, and am determined to take a slight detour in my design career. These were personal goals, aimed at keeping me motivated and finding another way forward as a designer.

How many people do you know who have started to write a book or bootstrap a product? A lot, I bet. The trouble with these kinds of ventures is that most fade out after a short while. The initial buzz and passion disappears and we move on to shiny new objects. How we love shiny new objects!

I can hold my hand up and say, “I’ve done this.” And not only once or twice. Several times. I’ve binned countless projects and even a couple of started-but-never finished books.

Hands up who’s tried to write a book, blog, or diary in their adult lives? Anyone? For those of you brave enough to raise your hands – how many finished that book, or continue to blog or write a diary? I can see a lot of hands disappearing…

It’s tough, right? Things get in the way and, of course, a slowdown in the inspiration department doesn’t help either. The problem is that inspiration and passion alone aren’t enough to get us from start to finish.

From inspiration to necessity

Designing and launching my SaaS app was relatively easy. From concept to launch it took about 6 weeks, maybe a little longer. I never had time to really lose sight of the end goal, which was simply launching the app. It’s now, long after the initial inspiration struck me, that the real battle begins. I need to maintain the discipline to keep pushing forward. I need to keep promoting, to keep improving the service. I need to keep writing blog posts. It can be tough. The initial inspiration and passion has moved on and become something else, something tangibly different. Inspiration has morphed into necessity. I need to make this work.

Turn up, regardless

So, if the initial passion has withered away, why do I keep at it? Do I care any less about my project? No, I don’t think so. I keep at it because I haven’t lost sight of my original goals. I had clear, defined goals that were written down and even printed out (they’re still on my desk somewhere). So, each day, I continue to turn up, plug in and get excited about the possibilities of what could happen. The initial passion that drove me towards my goals has been replaced with a desire to reach my goals. The fact that I don’t want to sit down and push on doesn’t enter into it. The fact is, I have to turn up, regardless.

Work even if you don’t want to

Working only when inspired is for the rockstar. But note how many of them cease to work when they don’t have to. Ultimately, all of us want to get paid. We want to launch our product(s) and we want to succeed. Think of it like this: would you want to be inspired twenty four hours a day? I don’t think so. You’d never sleep. Moreover, if all we ever had were great ideas, how would we spot a bad one?

We don’t get paid to be inspired, we get paid to deliver

There is a sad truth here, and it only really pertains to client work, but it is worth mentioning. When push comes to shove, a client doesn’t care whether you’re inspired or impassioned about a project or idea (they’ll say they do); all they care about are results. As far as they’re concerned inspiration is for office posters. They want the finished product completed by the agreed date, done and dusted. There’s no getting away from it.

The harder you work, the luckier you get

I can bear witness to the truth of this statement (is it a statement or a motto? Not sure!) There’s no doubt about it: the harder you work, the luckier you get. Now, if there was ever an inspirational office poster, there you have it (I’ll have two please). By hanging on to my goals and by continuing to write and design, I’ve found I’m getting luckier by the day. Good things seem to be happening and they’re happening because I keep pushing. All of a sudden, people are finding their way to help me out. I’m even receiving emails of support from complete strangers… If that isn’t reason to get inspired all over again then I don’t know what is.

It’s pushing through when you least feel like it that helps to bring another round of inspiration (and luck!) without you even asking for it. It’s working hard on the client project just so you can get the time to work on the ideas that you want to work on that helps you cross the bridge from despair to hope. Wake up an hour earlier if you have to and make sure you work on things that are important to you. Inspiration is fickle. Working on a personal project can help you see through those dull projects where every hour seems to take an eternity to pass. Just remember that the more you move and shake, the more the movers and shakers will see you, the more you’ll feel like pushing on and, crucially, the luckier you’ll get.

Turn up, plug in and tune out

The best way to get started is to start and the best way to finish is to finish, regardless of your lack of passion or enthusiasm. Please don’t confuse the turn up and tune out method for continuing with a project you really ought to have binned a long time ago. Clearly not all projects were meant to be. Realising that an idea, or project is material for the design graveyard is for another post. I’m talking about working on things that should and need to be finished.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a recent James Clear post. James was talking to a famous athletics coach who’s trained Olympians, and he asked him: “what’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else? What do the really successful people do that most people don’t?”

“At some point,” the coach replied, “it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.”

Beautiful!

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