3 Obstacles New Makers Face and How I (Try) to Overcome Them
The act of making is profoundly personal and highly individualized. Part of the reason we are attracted to make things is that it is unique to you and a creative act. Unfortunately, the same reasons that draw us to craft make it uniquely challenging.
In a hobby that is so personal, sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. I know I can find it challenging to create as someone just getting into the hobby. It is not for lack of inspiration either. I have many ideas floating around in my head but cannot seem to get going.
To better understand my blocks, I analyzed the most common reasons I feel paralyzed. I’ve also added some solutions I found helpful for these common problems.
It may seem odd to put ego at the start of this list. After all, if you are not yet making, isn’t there a good chance that you are confident?
Ego is often a tricky thing. It can come across as overconfidence in their abilities or as the reverse. Our ego can also manifest itself as underconfidence as it tries to protect our mental image of ourselves.
Ego often pops up in one of three ways:
- Imposter Syndrome
- Feelings of Inferiority
Each version of ego has its nuance, but each has a similar solution.
To borrow a phrase from David Googins, we should take a look into our “cookie jar.” The cookie jar is a metaphor for a collection of our most significant/meaningful accomplishments. It can help with imposter syndrome or feelings of inferiority by reminding us of other things we have done well.
The cookie jar can also counter-intuitively help with perfectionism. In reflection, we find that even our best accomplishments were rarely perfect. Despite the imperfection, we accomplished something worth being proud of.
Another potential solution comes from the stoics. The simple — now cliche — phrase memento mori (remember you will die) directly answers all the feelings of perfectionism and imposter syndrome.
In the face of death, most of our insecurities fall away. We realize that if not us, then who, and if not now, then when.
I’ve found that remembering I will die addresses the fears of perfectionism, while entries from my cookie jar remind me that I am capable of accomplishing things that I am proud of. Combining these two ideas helps me quiet my ego and get to work.
Whenever you are starting a new project, you have sky-high expectations. Especially as a novice maker, you have seen projects from your favorites and want to emulate them. What makes these makers entertaining to watch is how effortless their crafts seem.
The practiced effortlessness of their projects can also be intimidating for newbies.
Especially in the modern era of YouTube, creators often present only their highlight reel. The highlight reel can give the impression that “making” is only for an elite few. If we’re not careful, we can think that any difficulty we encounter is a symbol we “aren’t cut out” to create.
Thankfully, this thought is a lie.
Even the people we love to watch struggle with their projects. I especially love the videos where we get to see the whole process — including the obstacles encountered along the way. These projects remind us that even the most seasoned makers face challenges.
Sometimes, this reminder alone is not enough. Sure, Adam Savage may struggle, but he always gets through. I may not yet believe I can finish what I start.
To get over this, I channel the energy of a younger Simone Giertz. At first, her goal was to create, no matter how absurd or impractical. Some of her most memorable creations came from this philosophy.
The second solution is to let go of our attachment to the outcome. Sure, we ultimately want the cool thing to show off and feed our ego. We must remember that we don’t control other people’s perceptions of our work. Even if we make what we think is the coolest thing ever, other people’s reactions may be lukewarm at best.
The last solution is to not worry about completing the project. Instead, we should reframe our goal to be “work on the project”. The outcome is not entirely up to us. Our inexperience and factors we cannot foresee work against us. Our dedication to showing up and working on the project is in our control. It also takes the pressure off the final product.
We manage our expectations when we frame our goal to only be working on the project. We no longer expect to create the next masterpiece. Instead, we work on a project that we are happy with or learn from. We slowly overcome our possibly unrealistic expectations with a simple reframe into something more manageable and motivating.
Some of the projects you want to do are not yet within your reach. They are ambitious and beyond your skillset. Ambitious projects are not necessarily a bad thing. We often grow and stretch our abilities to complete these projects.
Most projects will be stretch goals when you are a maker just starting. If you are not slightly uncomfortable, you are not growing. I know many of the “simple” projects I have made had hidden complexity to them that forced me to learn more.
The only solution I found to the issue of experience is to make stuff and make mistakes along the way. It sounds easier said than done, but it is the only solution. We cannot watch our way to experience.
While looking at the technique of those who know more than us is essential, we only crystalize that knowledge when we act on it.
I also put experience last because it should be the least of your concerns. All makers started as inexperienced. The sheer fact that they’ve done it should give you confidence. It may not be an easy road, but you can benefit from hindsight and know that it is possible.
Experience is also the easiest obstacle to overcome. As you create more projects, your experience will grow, and your inexperience will gradually become less of an issue. Experience will always come up as you expand your repertoire, but your domain of competence will increase.
Your ego, expectations, and experience are all blocks you will encounter on your maker journey. These obstacles are not easy to overcome and will never go away, but if you stay with the craft, you will gradually get better at anticipating and overcoming these challenges.
Ultimately, we are drawn to making because we want to create something that speaks to us and that we cannot easily find. If you are still struggling with feelings of inferiority or not belonging, I highly recommend Adam Savage’s 2012 Maker Faire talk on why we make.
Sometimes, a simple reminder of why we do what we do can help us get through the obstacles and spend more time doing what we love.
In closing, I don’t want to seem like I’m perfect. I get paralyzed just as much as the next person. I wrote this as a letter to myself for when I am feeling overwhelmed by a project.
I hope the thoughts and wisdom I’ve collected can help you get to make more. I firmly believe the world is better when we all make what we are compelled to make — no matter how imperfectly or how long it takes.