What Would You Create If No One Could See It? | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

What Would You Create If No One Could See It?

To help us find a compelling direction in life, self-development writers often tell us to ask ourselves “what we’d do if we couldn’t fail.”  For example, we might ask, what kind of book would we write if we knew that whatever we produced was destined to be a #1 bestseller?
I’ve taken to asking myself basically the opposite question:  what would I create if I knew no one would ever care about it? In other words, what would I do if I knew I would fail?  Believe it or not, this question has been much more helpful to me in finding the direction and motivation I want.
Why?  Because I think the reality is that much of our creative output will be ignored — or, at least, it won’t get the huge audience we’re hoping for — and that’s a reality we need to accept and even embrace.
Odds Are That They Won’t See It
For instance, I don’t know the exact statistics, but I’d wager that close to 100% of writers hope their next book will be a bestseller, or their next blog post will go massively viral, and so on.  But how many of them will get what they want?  I think it’s safe to say the number is much closer to 0% than 100%.
So, since most of our work is overwhelmingly likely to “fail,” in the sense that it won’t get the attention we want, “what would you do if you couldn’t fail” is an unrealistic question.  We can, and will often, fail.
But I think the deeper problem with this question is that it plays into the common belief that the pleasure of creating comes from others seeing and appreciating our work, rather than from the act of creation itself.
The conventional wisdom has it that, if lots of people think our project is cool, it must be a “success.”  But if it doesn’t get enough readers, pageviews, retweets, or whatever else, it’s a “failure,” and we’ve “got nothing to show for our work.”
Being Okay With Being Unseen
If being seen by others is what matters most to us, I think, we’re destined for disappointment.  Here’s why:  every creative project requires long periods of unseen, unappreciated work. Even a writer who produces a bestselling book must spend hundreds of hours alone, with no audience, putting it together.
If being by ourselves, unnoticed, is too painful for us, we’re going to have trouble making progress in our task.  This is a big reason, I think, why many people keep “planning on” doing a big creative project, but never get around to it.  They can’t bear the thought of all those solitary hours.
But what if being seen wasn’t our priority? What if we genuinely enjoyed the project we were doing so much that it didn’t matter whether anyone cared about the finished product?  If we were having so much fun that it didn’t even occur to us to agonize over being unseen?
If we want to know what this kind of project would look like for us, a great question to ask is:  what would I do if I knew no one would ever discover my work?  If I “knew I’d fail,” by the usual standards of fame and fortune?  If I knew, whatever the end result was, that I was going to have a blast?
If we can sincerely answer this question, I think, we’ll have discovered a true “labor of love.”

14 thoughts on
What Would You Create If No One Could See It?

  1. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. it’s like the teenagers wanting to be the top model without any ‘work’ .. we need to build up, start at the bottom with some good solid information or product, develop that locally and on the net, learning everything that we can about the net – blogging, social media etc .. all things that can bring people to us (yes – we need to go out there too) .. and so build confidence in ourselves and our work.

    We need the basement built first … and make sure it’s solid .. and the rest will come .. forward thinking .. as far as the project will go – but along the way there will be other spin offs, thoughts, ideas, opportunities etc etc .. Fulfilling our world .. change is essential to growth ..

    Thanks – Hilary

  2. Sara

    Chris — I think this a wonderful way to work on a creative project. Just do it…as the slogan goes…without thinking of who might “review” it. Do it for yourself. Do it so you can say, “I did it” even if no one sees it. Enjoy the “doing.”

    It’s also a good thing to thing about how many times a writer or an artist produced something that never was seen. It was that effort to learn the craft, to try it over and over again, even when the trashcan was full:~) Persistence really is the perspiration of success:~)

  3. Evan

    Hi Chris, I do think that is the better question to ask.

    My writing projects have often more or less been addressed to a particular group – or a problem that a particular group has (as I see it).

    One of my frustrations with blogging is that getting a sense a sense of who I’m writing for is quite difficult.

  4. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — I like what you say about building the foundation before starting on the penthouse suite — and I think a key part of that is actually finding something that you actually enjoy doing, regardless of whether anyone cares about it, to sustain yourself in those moments when that attention isn’t there.

  5. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jarrod — yes, I like that way of putting it — recognizing and accepting that the world’s attention won’t always be there, I think, is key to being able to create in a sustained way.

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — yes, actually enjoying the process of writing is something I think it’s hard for many people to imagine, which I think explains why there’s so much unfinished writing out there. :) What I’ve started to see when it comes to my own writing is that, in a way, there’s nothing like the freshness of being in the moment and composing, and afterward a little bit of that is actually lost when I’m looking back at what I did.

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — I’m curious — what has you think you need a sense of who you’re writing for? I can imagine it would be frustrating to believe I had to know that, given how little I know — the internet being what it is — about the people who are reading my work.

  8. Jannie Funster

    Hi Chris! Those lonely hours we have to be with ourselves are necessary. A bit quiet there yes in the nitty-gritty of songwork, but I AM putting the hours in. It’s not always fun, tho, these unappreciated hours.

    As to no-fail, this reminds me of a friend’s blog post where she discussed possibly blogging without comments. Just to put her creation and thoughts out there. What do you think of that?


  9. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris, This post is so profound. It really resonates with my deepest and most true core. It is changing my life (I’ve been here a few times and read it). It is something I think about every single day. It’s so timely for me as it was something I said to my husband the week before you posted this. I think I worded it a bit differently but it’s the same thing in some ways. I asked myself, “If all my desires, needs and wants were completely taken care of and I had everything and anything I wanted. THEN what would I do with my life that moved me to great passion, or even made me feel wonderfully happy (whether anyone saw it or not)? What are the things that I would love doing SO much that I forgot myself while doing them and, as you say, didn’t care what anyone thought of them, bust because I was so happy doing them and just because “I” loved what I did?

    Although I always have tended to live like this anyway, it really made me reassess my life. I hope to do a post about it in a couple of weeks. But I wanted to thank you for posting this because I feel it is so key to our true happiness with ourselves and in life. It is a very powerful post, one I am grateful for. Thank you my friend. You are really very brilliant and amazing. Hugs, Robin

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jannie — I like your honesty in admitting that the lonely hours of songwriting aren’t always fun. I think those un-fun hours are a staple of any creative (or even non-creative) thing we do in our lives, and there’s no need for us to pretend it’s always like unto tripping through the tulips. I think the no-comment idea is an interesting experiment, and I’m not even going to make any jokes about the need to maintain energetic reciprocity. :)

  11. Chris - Post author

    Hi Robin — thanks, that definitely feels warm and snuggly to hear that I resonated with you there — that’s what I aim to do! I like that way of putting it — if every need were met, what would we do? And I think that way of thinking represents reality pretty well — if we’re sitting here corresponding on the internet, after all, it’s likely our basic needs are met, and we can give ourselves permission to be creatively free. I totally get that you live this way — in a radical sense of it, like you describe in your book — and that’s definitely inspiring to me and others.

  12. Jannie Funster

    You make me smile!!! The couple times I closed comments, I felt it was very wrong for me and my pals — like I’d slammed the door in their faces.

    Why did I close comments? To hopefully “Keep up” with blobbing. I mean blogging!! Now I get around to blogs when I can, forgiving myself for not reading every word of every post of every friend — except for YOU, of course! :)

    But, if you posted every day I would probably not read every word of yours either.

    Still, I love and wish all my buds well — only 24 hours in this blogger’s day. In ANY blogger’s day. Or come to think of it, in the day of non-blogging human entity too. :)


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