Every now and then I have something really weird that happens to me when I’m in the midst of my creative process. All of a sudden and without warning, I’m overcome with a split-second moment of insight and I think to myself, “this is the greatest piece of work I’ve ever done.” The feeling is electric—like a lightning bolt of confidence and jubilation supercharging my entire being. And like Jason and his Argonauts being seduced by the call of the sirens, I jump head first into this state of mind with absolute and utterly blinding self-confidence. I work fastidiously, motivated by my inflated self-confidence and every time this happens, my work progressively crumbles into a dull pile of mediocrity. I’m left frustrated, embarrassed, and asking myself, “how the hell did something so good, go so wrong?”
Or a more interesting question would be, what causes these moments of insight in the first place?
I’ve heard some sources say that this is how it feels to be inspired by the creative muse. I’ve also heard that reaching this level of self-realization is a byproduct of flow state. This seems more in tune to how I work. It’s never been difficult for me to reach a flow state when working with my hands and my eyes. When I’m in a flow state, I’m on cruise control. I’m barely a human being. I’m more machine than anything when it kicks in, so it’s unusual that during this time when I’m completely void of emotions that I’m instantly struck by such an overpowering feeling.
I often wonder what the purpose of these moments are. Are they a desert oasis used to spark my creative process during times of struggle? Is it my subconscious telling me that I’m exactly where I need to be and I’m walking in the footsteps of my own prophesy? Is my consciousness and my destiny intersecting at a point where I’ve always envisioned my ideal self?
I have no clue. All I know is that my moments of insight are a heightened state of consciousness reminiscent of deja vu.
I remember the first time it happened. I was a dopey eighteen year old college freshman drawing a portrait of a woman on thick kraft paper using black, white, and umber charcoal. At this point in my artistic education, I’ve never used these materials together before and was enamoured with how the kraft paper and chalk provided an opportunity to create shadows, mid-tones and highlights. As I was working, I made a series of light and dark marks that gave the portrait very realistic shape and depth. I immediately had a feeling wash over me that eclipsed any other thought I had in my head. I looked at the marks I just made and thought to myself, “this is going to be the best piece of artwork I’ve ever done.”
My self-confidence and motivation to work felt supercharged. There was nothing I could do wrong. I worked fastidiously and with purpose. The feeling was intense.
It was a hormone-drenched illusion. Every stroke of chalk after that moment moved the portrait further and further away from perfection until I stood back and realized I fucked it all up beyond repair. The feeling was crushing. It was the most visceral feeling of wasted potential I’ve ever experienced on a personal level. My self-confidence melted into a feeling of shame that coated my entire body.
I’ve had this happen to me a handful of times since that first time I butchered that woman’s chalk portrait. You would think that I would learn from my mistakes after the second or third instance. Nope. Not right away anyways. I eventually did though. It only took a decade.
Skip ahead ten years. No more portraits. No more kraft paper. No more chalk. This time I was working on a personal project that was on my mind for a while. It was a product design project with a lot of different moving parts, which included a logo and branding, package design, social media marketing and an e-commerce website. I chose to tackle the project for two reasons; first, I found a gap in a particular market that I thought I could fill; and secondly, I wanted to experiment with screen printing for the product packaging portion of the project. I had no schedules, budget or goals attached to the project. It was relatively stress-free and laissez-faire. All I really wanted to do was experiment with my creative process and explore the likelihood of actually launching a product.
Everything was coming together nicely for all aspects of the project. Then one day when I was screen printing my product packaging, that all-too-familiar moment of insight took over my thought process. I looked at my paint speckled hands and assembly line of packages that surrounded me and I thought to myself, “this is going to be the greatest project I’ve ever done.”
Then something very contrary to my past experiences happened. Instead of jumping in and riding out a wave of blinding self-confidence, I stepped back, then stepped back again. And again. And again. And again until I was twenty feet away from my screen printing press. I had a new thought strike me, “don’t do anything—walk away.” And just like that, I packed away the assembly line and haven’t worked on the project since. It’s been months. I’ve been ruminating in this mental space trying to figure out what my next move should be. I feel absolutely zero pressure to jump back into the project. I’ve shelved it in a very good place and feel proud of my own self-constraint to do so.
Now I’m in a new mental place where I’m not sure when will be the right time to jump back into the project. How long can I sit on this before I lose interest? I’m not sure. I am at the mercy my own judgement. It’s a strange feeling. Though, the uncertainty feels a whole lot better than another period of confidence-crushing shame. I’m going to ride this wave of bliss as long as I possible can.