Taking a silo pause as a creator

Pause. Break.

It doesn’t matter which word but they are scary words for some. And just the mention of it could potentially trigger an anxiety attack in creators who have relatively low amount of followers and viewership. After all, at the beginning, there’s no other metrics other than view and like counts that matter more to the creator. He or she probably isn’t confident enough in their ability to attract and engage people to take a look at their content. So every view or like serves to validate their thoughts and feelings that they did something right. It’s serves as a micro fuel for their next content release.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only wrong when you tie your overall well-being to being validated. The moment you think you aren’t validated, you slipped into depression. And that’s bad.

For me, I came from that and have been slowly learning to not seek validation in what I do. It’s a difficult journey. And that’s why I never like the word “pause” when it comes to content creation. I feel like I should keep churning out content.

But for the past two days, the creative well that drive my writing is really empty. Every time the level is pulled and the bucket rise up, all I see is empty. Best part is, I knew it was coming ever since I put up the article titled, Focus on playing the infinite game. The metaphorical weather hasn’t been giving me the rain necessary to fill the well.

And you know what? My blog viewership have pretty much dropped to just a couple of visitor and even then those visitors are only here for the review I wrote about the Ogon Designs’s Stockholm V2 Smart Wallet. It’s in fact my most popular piece of content by view count. As for likes, it’s pretty much zero.

And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Even then, it doesn’t mean one should be ok with not creating. It’s a pause from writing for me but not a pause on other creative work.

You see, if you view yourself as a creator, there’s really no restriction on what you can create. The only possible limitation comes from whether you’ve got the skills for it or not. Even then, it’s probably a weak excuse.

Let’s use the following example.

You could be a full-time writer but at the same time you enjoy making cupcakes. And you know what? Making cupcake is a form of creation. So you have the skill to write and make cupcake. Now, you decided to take a break from writing because you are suffering from some kind of writer’s block. However, you can continue to make cupcake. And I’m pretty sure you will learn something from the process.

In my case, I may be suffering from a writer’s block but the other creative work that I can do is building software. I have learn and developed the skills for it over the last ten years or so. That’s why I’ve decided to spend some time to setup various development studios on my computer and learn different kind of development platforms. The next step would be to figure out a pet project to do so that I can take on the challenge of developing an iOS app (never done it before) for the frontend and a .NET Core web application for the backend.

This way, my coding skills can continue to improve, which in turn allows me to make more money. And what does having more money means for me? It allows me to create art because I won’t find myself starving, stressed out by how am I going to pay the bills and still can take my family out for meals.

So that’s why it’s important for one to be multi-skilled. It’s even better if you have totally different kind of creative skills. That way you can take a pause, switch between different kind of creative work and don’t feel like you hadn’t achieve anything. Furthermore, you become a more diverse person and that is fuel for your overall creativity.

To achieve mastery is to do it for free

As they say, money makes the world go round. It is precisely because of this that most people chose to keep mentioning money as the most important thing in the world.

They are not wrong. Without money, there’s a lot of things that you can’t do. No food for you. No access to water. No house. No clothes. And you can’t even get anywhere on public transport if you are utterly broke.

But if you are an idealist like me and someone who put emphasis on the experience and lessons learned more than anything else, you can’t help but feel that the people around you are sick. Sick in the mind. It’s especially so if they mentioned that everything you do should give you money in return.

Let’s put this into practice.

If let’s say all your writings are behind a paywall. By that I also mean the very first article that you ever wrote to be published. Not only that, you have just also just graduated from school with a Degree in Creative Writing and have no working experience publishing a piece of writing for another person but yourself. And submission to the professor as part of your coursework is not counted.

What do you think will happen to you?

It would be very obvious that as a writer, you won’t be able to grow because no one will pay to read a newbie’s stuff. Not only that, the market is full of contents created by other writers and they are mostly free. So why should anyone pay to access yours?

For me, there’s an example I could use. For those who follow me long enough knows my day job is a software creator. My Honours Degree in Engineering (Computer Science) could get me through most doors of companies based in Singapore. But how did I graduate in the first place? Before entry, I spent time creating software, doing my own pet projects to experiment with something new. That was how it made me better than most of my peers when it comes to programming. If I hadn’t done that, I could honestly tell you I will struggle through the course. Even after graduating and working, I continue to spend time to read up on some of the latest development in technology and software.

And just over the weekend, I setup Docker on my Macbook and run a container inside of it. The container is host to the Microsoft SQL Server. And why did I do that? I wanted to understand what is Docker all about. Been hearing all about it but never used it anywhere during my work. And if I waited for my company to finally used Docker in one of their projects and have me onboard, do you think they would want me to play with Docker considering I have no experience?

Besides all that, do you know that I also mentor some of my colleagues in coding despite them being way more senior than me in terms of age and work experience. Auditing their code style is also something I do without really being “paid” for it.

Now, the big difference between them and me is the passion in software creation. To them, it’s just a job. To me, it’s part of who I am since I see myself as a creator. And to be any good, I have to continue to improve by learning anywhere and anytime I can. Same goes for my writing. Don’t even need money to push me forward.

With this, I hope you can see that to even be any good at what you do, you can’t expect to be rewarded now with money. You’ve got to have the interest and passion for the thing you are doing. Furthermore, life is all about playing the infinite game; to continuously grow and be better than who you are before. If you want to wait for money to spur you to do anything new, well, you will become stagnant very quickly.

And that is you playing the finite game.

The well has dried up but it’s okay

You have just finished work and arrived home. In a bid to make yourself healthier again, you decided to reset your workout routine. And you thought, Monday is a good day to mark the start of your new workout routine. A quick run around your neighbourhood seemed to be the right choice.

After you’re home, had your shower and dinner, you realised you are doing everything else but the one thing you should be doing. Maybe you have to paint a piece of art. Maybe you have to prepare a new set of musical beats for your upcoming song. Or maybe you have to write an essay.

Not wanting to feel like a failure, you tried to get yourself to do that one thing. Seconds went by. Then minutes. Then hours. As midnight draws closer, you recognised the futility of the effort. There was simply nothing you can draw on from inside of you to do it.

And you know what? It’s ok.

Maybe you are really mentally exhausted and couldn’t do it. Or maybe you are really out of ideas. Whatever the situation or issue maybe, it’s important not to blame yourself for this failure. Trust yourself to deliver. After all, you have been doing it for a long time, right? The skills are there. You need to be kind to yourself and catch yourself before you go deep into that “I hate myself” speech.

And what you probably need also is a change up in the environment to put yourself in the right frame of mind to continue. In my case, it was as simple as going out of my room to get a cup of cold water, switched on the air-conditioning in my room and sit back down.

That’s how I break free from my initial writer’s block and write this. It may not seem much but I hope this help anyone who’s suffering some kind of creative block.

Meet short term goal or minimise long term pain

Every day of our lives, be it professional or personal, we’ve got to deal with situations that require us to deal with it now with quick solutions or come up with a better solution and taking the time to implement it to minimise long term pain.

Ideally, there should be a balance between the two but reality tends to force us into coming up with an immediate solution to deal with the current pain. Usually, it’s because someone above you, your customer or that a life depends on it made the issue a high priority.

And it takes someone with experience in certain situation to be able to make a decision that seemingly strike a balance.

As a software creator (I don’t call myself an engineer or developer but that’s a story for another day), I lost count of the times when I have to sacrifice the solution that’s good in the long run to deal with something that the customer wants it now. And then there’s always this “we are behind schedule” speech by the management. So much so, it makes you want to roll your eyes. It can make one feel like the management is always reacting to something and not preempting and executing on a plan.

Of course, perspective matters here. More time spent in doing something means more money spent. The manpower could be better utilised to work on something else that deliver on more value (money) to the company. Not to mention, to the customer, it’s like they don’t get their money worth of goods or services on time.

However, cutting corners on a solution just so that you can deliver on time can lead to long term pain that ultimately translate to time and money wasted.

Let’s take something that I’ve experienced at work as an example.

The system my team and I are working on requires a constant patching of data in the database. It can be either to insert new records or to fix old records with updated information. As the system is still undergoing development and deployment, the data is constantly in flux. And the customer will send us spreadsheets of data for us to do matching and patching.

And instead of spending maybe a week to build the user interface and implement the business logic that not only validates the data but to allow us to upload those spreadsheets and update the database in a few clicks and change existing data all from one UI window, my colleagues have to take the time to review through those spreadsheets. Sometimes, two persons are involved. What any one of them will do is use their eyeballs to scan through the records in order to determine whether to match and update existing records or to insert. Then they will manually write the SQL scripts to insert or update the data into the database.

No doubt the scripts run fast and the database will be patched within seconds.

However, what the project lead and management didn’t take into account of the time and effort needed to validate the data manually every time, prepare the scripts and run them. And that’s not forgetting humans can make mistakes. If the data is patched wrongly, the whole system may not work as intended and then we will need to “rush” someone down to the customer office to fix that issue. Time spent at customer office is time not spent on delivering features.

And if you are someone who panics very easily, and you have to deal with such high pressured situation, more mistakes will happen.

The management of course have a defence. Their stance is that this kind of data patching doesn’t happen often. By my last count, it has happened five times since the project started and we aren’t even at the end yet. And I suspect this data patching will repeat several more times until the end of the project. How many more, I don’t know. In fact, I’ve just recently spent half an hour to de-associate the relationships between two datasets because it wasn’t patched properly. Mind you, those de-associated relationships need to be rebuild again once the data has been reviewed and cleaned up again.

I may not be in a management role but it’s obvious to me that taking the time to build that user interface and implement the necessary business logic to help us match the data, validate the data and update the database in as few click as possible is the better option here.

And given what I know about the future plans of the company with regard to this project, the current way of doing things is just not scalable. Oh, I raised the point a lot of times but I’m always overwritten. Well, mostly.

This is what I mean by meeting short goal or minimising long term pain. There are many other examples that I could think of but this is the clearest one to me.

In conclusion, always strive for the mid-point between meeting short term goal and minimising long term pain by evaluating as much data point as possible before making a decision. It’s especially the case if it’s something that affects your persona life and you don’t have a higher up to answer to. And depending on the culture of where you live and work, you can either fight to the death for what you believe to be the right course, find a compromise or swallow your pride and let the other party win. In an asian context like the one in Singapore, you are better off choosing the last approach if you are an employee at the bottom of the ladder or an underling. Or management will make your life miserable.