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Feeling Like You’re Too Slow

One of the most dissatisfying things about being a creative person surrounded by successful creative people is feeling like you aren’t achieving progress because what you’re gaining isn’t at the same height as what your friends and colleagues have. And it’s something I see and hear all the time from others.

The straight dope is that I look at what I have achieved and compare it to, say, Jason Morningstar, Fred Hicks, Cam Banks, Kenneth Hite, Robin Laws, Matt Forbeck, Luke Crane, Jeff Tidball, the Dungeon World peeps (to name only a few of the people who I look up to due to their achievements), I fall pretty fucking short, that my creative life is stuck in 3rd while everyone else is cruising in 5th. That feeling makes me want to plot all sorts of crazy shit to “catch up” — or, if we’re going to unpack that sensation with some honest here, it makes me want to somehow feel like I have a portion of the relevance in the world than they do.

I see that struggle from relevance from others not unlike me, at least in feeling this way. Some are all trying so hard to make their first game into something bigger than it is, and others busting themselves on trying to create a whole line when their audience is small. I know what wanting that feels like, so I’m sympathetic to those drives. And if you’re one of those people, I have hope that you’ll get what you’re struggling for.

But I also wince when I see those moments, because I know the anguish that goes with it. The feeling like you’re fucking it up because you’re not hitting a speed you perceive is the “right” one. In those moments, I remind others (in no small part to remind myself):

  • Skills take time to hone
  • Audiences take time to build
  • Moving forward slowly is still moving forward, not standing still
  • It’s okay not to break out with your first published work; that’s what trying again is for
  • Keep your eye on tomorrow

The last one reflects my time spent planning my suicide, and in that time feeling like I needed to rush to make Some Crowning Achievements. I now take a pill every day that helps me have a tomorrow, so I take advantage of that emotionally. I no longer look at trying to reach whatever perceived level of “internet notoriety” on a short timetable, because that is the path to disappointment and burnout.

I promise you that you’re moving forward, even if you can’t feel it.

– Ryan

(If you think I’m talking about you, then I might be. But the person who gave me the impetus to write this is the same as this post’s author.)

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16 Responses to Feeling Like You’re Too Slow

  1. chad says:

    you are a continued inspiration for me
    thank you for expressing [this] that is weighing so heavily on my heart
    this last year I had two true friends move away to success & fame and I was crushed
    I’m continually blessed by the people in my life, and it’s a pleasure to know you
    let’s meet on the high road soon and celebrate life
    /cheers

  2. Ivan says:

    You know, it’s funny. I can tell myself this in other worlds – such as physical fitness. “However slow I’m running, I’m lapping everyone on the sofa.”

    It’s harder to do that for the creative endeavors, which makes it easier to, well … sit on the sofa, creatively.

    Thanks for the reminder / realization. Very well said.

  3. Fred Hicks says:

    The difference between my age and yours is the difference in time between the release of Spirit of the Century and the release of Fate Core.

    So, are you slower? Nah. Started a little bit later than I did? Sure.

    I’m not at all saying it’s all about age differences or anything like that, but part of the poison of the kind of comparison of worth you’re talking about here is that the only way to do an honest-to-gods apples to apples compare and contrast is to compare individuals at the same point in their experience/careers. And that’s incredibly difficult to do.

    But brains being brains, they want to compare, I dunno, fresh-sprouted spinach to a red oak tree, and say “that spinach is totally underperforming as a plant!”

    Contrary to what the anatomy lessons tell us, brains are dicks, man.

    Anyway. The whole comparison to other people thing is bunk. I get it as a motivator, but the only real comparison that can be made is the one that you’ve got the best data on: yourself, with yourself. And when you do that you can measure all that progress, all the stuff you’re talking about towards the end. To heck with being “good as” or “fast as” other folks; hone yourself, for yourself.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Exactly, man. Exactly.

      Along with the “start time,” our lives are also shaped radically differently. You were doing layout freelancing for a number of years, and then focused all on Evil Hat. You didn’t have a kid, and then you did. You used to have a day job gig not in gaming. Etc. At the same time, I used to be a government worker and did this on the side, and then took on a gig helping to run a gaming webstore, and etc etc.

      We tend not to think about how the shapes of lives, both in the current and in the past, contribute to conditions. Yeah, brains are dicks, and I think we need an army of realizations to remember — like a sense of speed. Like the shapes of lives. Like knowing there’s a future ahead.

      I share my own feelings because I want those who look up to whatever it is that I do that I feel just like they do, that I have those same struggles, and that I keep using anti-brain-dick tricks on myself because my life is better if I don’t wreck myself chasing after some false bullshit.

      – Ryan

    • Mike Olson says:

      Going back to college in my 30s really helped me get comfortable with the idea of being “behind” people who are younger than I am — often much younger, like 10 or 12 years. For example, I was a copy editor for my university’s newspaper, and my editor-in-chief had been a student at a high school in San Diego while I was teaching the marching band there.

      Anyway. For me I think it’s less about envying other professionals than it is seeing a brilliant idea on Google+ from someone who *isn’t* a professional and thinking, “Damn, one of these days they’re gonna find out I’m a fraud.”

    • Lugh says:

      I was pretty much going to write Fred’s post here. Now I won’t.

      But there is another thing to keep in mind. You are comparing yourself to a dozen fantastic success stories. But that is mostly because it’s a lot harder to name the guys who failed before they ever got to your level. Those of us who got a couple minor credits then said, “eh, fuck it, this is too hard” don’t get remembered.

      Compared to a hell of a lot of gamers out here, you’re already living the dream. And well deserve it.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Lugh,

      Thanks. :) I didn’t post this in order to focus on myself, though, but to share that this is how we all feel. Maybe if those who see me as “living the dream” see that I feel like this, it’ll be easier for them to pull out of the funk.

      – Ryan

  4. Carl Klutzke says:

    Thank you. I look forward to getting up to 3rd someday.

    I’ll also point out that even some of those people you see as cruising in 5th, amazing as their creative accomplishments are, make a living wage doing something else. This creative stuff isn’t easy. Sometimes I really wish I could be content doing something else, but I don’t see that happening.

  5. Rechan says:

    On the topic of comparisons, bear in mind that you are seeing all of your flaws, all of your “behind the scenes” stuff, and you’re comparing that to only what the public sees of those other people. You aren’t seeing behind the scenes to those other people.

    They may have struggles too. They may be workaholics that ignore their family. They may have had to kill their coworkers and build a ladder from the corpses. They may see themselves as a wretched pit of failure that has amounted to nothing. They may be total dickholes.

    You can’t compare your success to their success without comparing their failure to your failure.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Truth.

      That’s part of the reason I’m open about mine, so that others can see that they aren’t alone in these struggles. Not just with my mental health and physical health issues, but also with moments like these.

      – Ryan

  6. Cam Banks says:

    Keep it up, Ryan. Your speed is the speed it is, and nothing anybody else is going to say is really as relevant as the circumstances you’re dealing with.

    I do think it’s weird to be grouped along with various prolific award-winning folks, but then I’m still trying to figure out how I got here myself. I was locked pretty hard-core into a specific situation for a very long time, as you know, so let’s see how things roll for all of us as we grow and adapt to new situations and projects.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Yup. And that speed is variable, which is something that we all need to remember.

      Heh, yeah, I also feel that way when I get lumped in with people I admire, am called a “luminary,” etc. I used to get all imposter syndrome, which is a small part of what lead to Night Macklin — the guy who could celebrate that instead of wig out about it. I’m better about trying to not make a big deal out of such things, and just look at such moments as “Okay, people want me to keep doing a thing, cool. Guess I should do that.” while getting back to work.

      – Ryan

  7. Carl Klutzke says:

    I just read this Austin Kleon post, which seemed appropriate to this conversation:
    http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/67710297056

    Also: Kleon’s _Steal Like an Artist_ is good. Really good.
    http://austinkleon.com/steal/

  8. John Powell says:

    I’m “neuro-typical” myself, but I have two daughters who suffer to different degrees from anxiety and depression. Your posts are both educational to us and inspiring.

    You are made of win.

  9. Jason Pitre says:

    Thank you very much Ryan, as am currently mired in that emotional place. I have been trying to distract myself on other projects in the vain hope that the _next_ thing will make me feel more up to speed.

    Thinking of tomorrow helps. Thank you.