I've always thought of what I do as a product. A tangible object of some sort, whether visual, audible, or otherwise, to be judged by it's "appearance." Whether it's a photograph, a song, an infographic, a website, a drawing, or even the way I look every day. It's all been a "product" in my mind.
The problem with this thinking is that it trivializes what I do as something to be housed in a warehouse somewhere. I've also identified myself by the perceived reception of my projects (which, up this point, has been relatively small.) "I'm only as good as that song" or "I'm only as good as that looked", or more destructively, "I'm only as good as I look." I'll feel good about myself when I do something that I'm proud of, but then get immediately beat down because it doesn't get the attention or the reviews I had hoped for, or because I look at it later, or listen to it later, and realize that it really isn't as good as I thought it once was.
I've been on the grind to create a product, and frankly, it burned me out.
Only recently did I realize that what I do doesn't have to be categorized as a product. This has been a self-limiting view, and has created loads of anxiety. The projects that I undertake, the things that I make are really just extensions and reflections of who I am.
This again brings me back to the thought of "What I do is much less important than who I am." I'm learning to let my projects, my photos, my songs, my whatever, stand as they are.
I recently read a great post titled "I've written 100 Posts on Medium, Here's What I've Learned" by Paul Cantor. In it, he summarizes his writing career, and how he has moved from writing posts for Medium, to being able to write for other publications (I'll add, and how he's become well respected.) Some of his writings were well received on Medium, others not. He gives an example of one post that didn't do well on Medium, was sent to Business Insider, and went crazy there. My take away was that the more you write, the better you get.
In fact, after I read the story, I tweeted him, and we got into a little conversation, Paul said,
Makes perfect sense when it's broken down that way.
I'm reminded of a passage in "Walden" where Thoreau states...
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings."
Do I hope that my projects get attention, and help me to pay my family's bills? Of course. Do I hope to one day make a living doing only what I love? Of course. And hope is one of the most potent human forces in the universe.
But, I can stop judging myself by what I've done and accomplished, and get back to enjoying the process.