On self-worth and identity while creating

Today I want to talk to you about identity — well, that’s a pretty broad topic, so maybe just your identity when when you create.

For years, I basically thought that the only way to success was to both be fully invested in your craft, and also have the talent to make yourself stand out. This became an all-consuming thing, and I forgot to take into account something pretty basic: being human.

Being human introduces a number of problems into that “commit fully” plan. Unless you’re one of the few people that can devote themselves to something without thinking of the repercussions, consequences, and risks, it means that those thoughts will creep in eventually. It creates expectation. It creates pressure. You either succeed, or something about you is wrong.

This compounds itself as you think about pushing farther and farther in upon initial resistance. In terms of today’s passion-based content boom, there’s no shortage of both success stories and other people to talk about those interests that push you to make things. It can become all-encompassing: your social life, fun and work are all entwined.

This sounds good in theory: you’re working and getting paid to produce something that you like, you get to have fun at the same time, and you either get to become friends with people who share the same passions as you, or get attention and admiration for your status for your work. This is the dream. This is what you’re pushing for.

There’s numerous problems with this.

The first and most obvious is that because those three areas of your life are entwined, they succeed and fail together. Struggles cross over quickly. Burnout in your job affects your play, which is supposed to rejuvenate you. Your value as a person — both in relation to your pride as a creator and how you feel about yourself — get tied to how well numbers tick up in comparison to your expectations, how fast you can get to that next milestone, and whether you get the reaction you feel you deserve.

The second problem is that it starts seeping into your art, and the process you use to create. Your thinking becomes muddled; you introduce fear of losing what you’ve made for yourself, and start playing it safe. You start thinking too much about the response, the repercussions, and the possibility of hurt. What will reddit think? Will this be the update that sends the Twitter mob — often all too happy to see you fail — after me? Will doing things how I really want erase all the progress I’ve made? Is it worth the trouble?

Again, these are problems of value, and identity. In chasing something that we think will lead to freedom of expression, happiness and success, we’re can become shackled to something that keeps us from living up to our potential as creators. It robs us of the joy that is supposed to drive that art — the rush we feel when things click just right, and we end up genuinely proud of the end result.

That joy is supposed to be what keeps us moving, growing, and improving — not the thoughts of how you can get bigger, cooler, and richer. Those things can still happen, but usually it’s an organic process: to hinge your happiness on them happening and making the work “all worth it” is incredibly foolish. Trust me. I lived it.

I’m currently working through the breaking up and separation of those parts of my life, and in all honesty, it isn’t easy. I feel myself kicking and thrashing against that change, wondering if I’ll ever become something without being fully invested, body and soul, into the scenes I want to be a part of. I worry about whether I’ll be left behind and forgotten; I worry whether I’ll have the initiative or the skill in order to eventually come back. I’m not sure if I have the patience or the time to improve. It’s like walking out into the wilderness: every hour that goes by makes it harder to get back to somewhere familiar and safe.

But a small part of me — one that grows a tiny bit every day — is feeling better about it. That small part of me is trying to push the much larger doubts out of my headspace, but the latter drags its. Every day we’re getting a little closer to getting it out the door. A bit at a time.

Create things that are good for your heart, and things you believe in. Allow yourself to question whether what you’re doing is your authentic, genuine self. Question what’s holding you back, and whether if that fear is rational.

Other people can sense that authenticity, and it’s usually that work that they will respond to the best.

Matt Demers writes about video games, culture and the Internet. You can find him on Twitter and watch him stream on Twitch.

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