The Burden of Expectation

Sep 24, 2020

The biggest obstacle in creative work is the burden of expectation.

We build an idea in our minds of what it should look like, and compare against it at every step. Our imagination is simply too vivid, too crisp for our own good. With every stroke we make, we see all too clear the gap between what lies before us and what floats in our minds.

In the ruthless game of self-criticism, our judgements are binary: everything we make is either perfect or garbage.

Our expectations are often informed by others, but we alone implement them. We are the security guards in our own mental jails.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Expectations Comic by Salman Ansari

At the root of expectation lies a desire for perfection.

We are human — imperfect by nature. Yet we still expect perfection from our creations.

At first, these critical instincts serve us well. They help us leverage our taste in order to do our best work. But they never know when to stop. No matter how much time and energy we put into something, we always find room for more. The journey of self-critique is an endless loop.

We turn these critiques into excuses not to release our work. We keep telling ourselves it’s not ready.

It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any. —Hugh Laurie

The truth is that our work is always ready. We are the ones who aren’t. We have to decide that now is the right time to let go.

I had many aspirations and ideas of what this post should be. If I pursued every one of them, I’d never have published it. You wouldn’t be here with me reading these words.

I’ll glady take the pleasure of your company in this imperfect work over the solitude of perfection in my imagination.