The Process Cannot Kill You. Fear Will.

The process cannot kill you. But fear will. It preys on your self-doubt and spreads throughout your brain until you’re paralyzed.

Someone writes a book, designs a t-shirt, builds a website, takes a photograph, and all you see is the final product. Something shiny and new. Something you could never do yourself because you don’t have the time, skills, money or superpowers like they do.

So you beat yourself up because you’re not good enough, creative enough, or funny enough.

But much like making a baby, the creative process is hard, painful, and needs 18 years of attention…or maybe more if it comes back four years later to mooch off your stuff and live in your basement.

You only see what people are posting on social media, and you assume there must be some sort of magic at work. So you don’t even try. You’re too afraid to try. It’s a lot of work, and if you fail, you assume the twisted wreckage of that failure will destroy your reputation and prove once and for all that you’re just no good.

Adults don’t like to do hard things because adults don’t like to fail. And adults definitely don’t like other people knowing they’ve failed. So adults do things they’re good at (or that are easy) until someone starts paying them to do that thing when really they’re just watching YouTube videos and texting. How could you possibly do anything but succeed in that case?

Remember when you used to draw, when you were five or six or ten? And now you can’t draw anymore. What happened?

The process of creating art is too hard. You know the results won’t meet your expectations. You don’t even try. Why bother? “I’m no Picasso,” you say.

Here’s a secret: Picasso didn’t become Picasso in a day, week, month or year.

There’s this famous anecdote about a woman who asked Picasso for a portrait in the park. He quickly made her a beautiful piece of art, and when she asked the cost, he told her it’d be 5000 francs. Outraged, the woman said, “But it only took you five minutes!” to which the artist replied, “No Madam, it took me my whole life.”

How many paintings did Picasso throw away in an effort to make the two-dozen he’s known for? How much sweat did Picasso pour onto his drafting table to get to the point where he could fire off portraits in the park? He’s one of history’s most revered artists, not because he could draw a beautiful portrait in minutes, but because he was willing to dedicate himself to the process, even if it was hard and even if he failed many times along the way.

But Picasso would be a terrible lawyer, accountant, chef, or whatever it is you do. He didn’t put in the time to develop those skills. He didn’t even start.

If you’re perfectly happy with your own craft and don’t feel like challenging yourself, then keep doing whatever it is you’re doing. If you want to develop a new skill or start a new project or try something new, give yourself permission to be terrible. Tell yourself that, no matter what, your first draft is perfect.

“The first draft is always perfect. Perfect. Its only job is to exist. Like minerals. Like dirt. Like air. It just needs to be. All a first draft need be is an idea borne into reality. A first draft is something made tangible from nothing – its only purpose is to pierce the space between your thoughts and the reality we all share.” – Casey Fowler

No one needs to see the first draft. It’s not the thing you’re going to post on social media. And if you’re just too ashamed of it, I give you permission to rip it into 1000 pieces and light each of them on fire. At least you tried.

I start every blog post that way – it’s a blank word doc waiting to be filled with disparate thoughts and ideas that I’ll tie together later. Most of the time, I just start writing with no end in sight. The sentences are long and complicated. The structure is a mess. But I’m confident I’ll find the thread along the way, and through two or three or four drafts (this post is on its fourth), I’ll create something that’s finally worth sharing.

So let’s assume you don’t rip up and burn your first draft. Let’s say you accidentally discover something special, or at least worth sharing with the world. Now, you’re already 80% done. Dust off the dirt, put a suit on it, and send it out the door.

For improvisers reading this blog, you’re already great at process. You have a head start because improv is nothing more than process as product.

We show the audience our first draft – the messy process that will produce some combination of magic mixed with slow starts, half-formed games, and missed edits. SNL uses improv for sketches but often doesn’t broadcast improv for a reason. The sketches are always funnier because they have time to be refined and perfected.

But that’s not the point, is it? That’s not why you do improv. You aren’t trying to be the funniest. You know that creating something can be magic in itself. You know that just getting on stage and taking a suggestion will get you started, and then you’re off from there. You don’t want to let fear win or stop you from having fun or trying something new or taking a risk. So why let it stop you from doing anything you set your mind to?

In improv, our goal is to enjoy the process. Savor it. Celebrate it. Elevate it so highly that it becomes an art form in and of itself. It’s how I live my life, and it hasn’t killed me yet.


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