Is it a creative quest or a fool’s errand?

February 13, 2014

The Fool Diving In - by S. Mattern

So. You dove into your current creative project and everything started off swimmingly.

But mastering a creative skill takes time and effort. Blank pages can be scary things. Filling them up can be frustrating one moment and tedious the next.

Now you’re dreading it.

It can be tempting to proudly slog through a project just to complete it. But will the results be worth your time and energy? Or would your efforts be better spent on something else?

I’ve been pondering this sort of thing a lot lately.

For those of us who are creative dabblers… let’s be kind and call us creative explorers… pausing one activity and moving along to the next can become a well-worn pattern.

In his book The Dip, Seth Godin talks about the dip involved with any activity. After the newness wears off, this is where the hard work, frustrations and fears set in. This is when you start to question if you’ll ever master what you’re doing, or if you’re even doing the right thing at all. This is when you quit and move on to something else.

Godin argues that in order to be the best at something, you must learn to quit often and strategically, otherwise you’ll waste your time on projects that will either fail or won’t get you anywhere. He advises that we anticipate the dip of our pursuits and gauge our level of commitment before we even begin.

This makes a lot of sense for activities that have well-defined goals, but it becomes less specific for creative endeavors when the primary goal is the journey itself. Perhaps a case can be made here for setting tangible goals to help shape our creative endeavors, but I digress.

I like what Ernest Prabhakar has to say about dip theory.

He points out cases when it’s too simplistic: there are “joyrides” done for fun, not a specific outcome; there are “lotteries” that rely solely on external forces where there is a very low likelihood of success; and there are “quests,” where the goal is personal growth and wisdom.

He writes: “Even though we may not reach what we thought we were aiming for, a worthy Quest enobles us and ends up benefiting humanity.”

So what’s my point here?

I wish I could give you a formula to help you figure out if your current pursuit is worthwhile or not, if you should stick with it or tackle something else. I wish I could easily find the answer for myself.

But if the reasons behind our endeavors are as elusive as joy or personal growth, only we can decide for ourselves if pushing through the dip, the frustration, the boredom or the fear will help or hinder us.

And we might not figure this out until we try, try and try again.

Like Prabhaka, I have a suspicion that it is our quests without tangible goals that help us become better humans. This means we have a very unclear path to follow.

However, if we can relish in the creative unknown, if we can let go of our striving and become open to whatever happens along the way, we will be more likely to connect with whatever does. And it might just be that connecting with the unknowable was the point all along.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Alexandra

    I am leery of giving up too soon; it seems to me we have to be willing to push through a lot of frustration and discouragement to get anywhere.

    My preferred yardstick is to ask: “does this make a contribution?” Otherwise I find it’s too easy to get lost in myself — my own ego, which is always a disaster.

    1. sarah

      I love that!

  2. Alexandra

    BTW — this is a beautiful blog. I so much love your artwork, and your thoughts are always interesting and provocative. Thanks for enriching my life Sarah!

    1. sarah

      Thank you!