Thoughts on Effort, Creativity, and Goals

My 10th grade American History teacher was named Mr. Coffee. Yes, that was his real name. He was a very interesting teacher and person, always motivating his students with consistent use of a few catchphrases. When assigning chapters to read for homework, he always told us to “read this as if it were important” and to “soak the information up like a proverbial sponge.”

I, at the time, was a decent student. Mostly A’s and B’s. However, I was not known for going the extra mile. I rarely did extra credit work because I didn’t feel I needed to. I felt that I was a good student. I did what was asked of me. But Mr. Coffee seemed to have a different opinion of such an effort. In my 10th grade yearbook, he signed it and wrote, “You are a very good student and young man, but you always seemed to do just enough to get by.”

This has been stuck in my head my entire adult life. It is very true. I only give an effort that is required to complete a task. Never more, never less. Frankly, it’s been a defining principle of my professional life. Reliable, consistent, but not expected to go above and beyond. My only caveat to this is if I’m earning some sort of tangible reward for extra effort, mainly in the form of money. But even then, I only do as much extra work as I find sufficient.

It is this caveat that has stifled any sort of creative efforts throughout my adult life. I saw no reason to make something unless I was receiving some sort of compensation for it. I was worrying about so much in my life that making any effort to create needed to be worthwhile. And by worthwhile I mean it had to relieve some of the worry about the other things in my life, mainly my financial issues.

This sort of thinking is exactly the opposite of what is required to be creative. Creative people create not because they expect monetary compensation, but because they have the need and the drive to do it. Even if they don’t receive a single cent for their effort, they are satisfied with their result. For the longest time, I found this incredibly counter-intuitive.

This was before I discovered D&D. I’ve never been so motivated to write or make things in my life. I finally feel a sense of that drive most creative people possess, the one that drives them to create regardless of whether or not they receive accolades for it. I’ve written more for my home campaign and my homebrew world than I have ever written about anything in the past. And I enjoy it immensely. It is that joy that was missing from creating before. It was missing because that wasn’t the goal I was aiming to achieve. All I had to to do was find something that brought me joy to create.

Another realm of creativity I’ve wanted to explore more was audio production. I’ve dabbled in making podcasts before, but after not having them “turn into something,” I abandoned them. With D&D and the prevalence of actual play podcasts, I found a reason to jump back into audio production. I now had a project that involved the thing that brought me joy to create within. I knew it might be a hard sell for my group to agree to do a podcast, but so far they’ve been receptive. This makes me happier than they realize. It gives me a reason to make a podcast again.

The need to have my creative efforts blossom into financial success has been waning. I now understand that no matter how many episodes we make or how many of these blog posts I write, my effort will never amount to anything lucrative. The chances of making a living writing a blog and making a podcast are incredibly small. But now, I have a different reason for creating things. I want to leave behind something for someone else to find and read or listen to. My legacy, albeit very small, will be this blog, the podcast, and anything else I choose to make before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

The chances that someone reads my words or listens to my podcast and decides to pursue similar projects are small, but good. If what I create encourages someone else to create something, then my work is worth far more than money. I will continue to create as long as the well of ideas stays full and I will be satisfied with the results, even if I never see a dime for it. This change of perspective took a long time to adopt, but I think in the long run I will be happier with my work and be happy that I put forth the effort to make it.

Thanks, Mr. Coffee. Your words finally sank in and I greatly appreciate it.