I yank open the fridge. It’s 8pm, and I haven’t eaten yet. I’m STARVING, except my fridge doesn’t seem to care. It’s slim pickins tonight.
In the crisper draw, there’s half a raw eggplant — it’s starting to brown, and the skin is starting to wrinkle. Above that, some stale bread. (Well, the ENDS of the bread. And really, it’s more likely I bludgeon someone to death with this than eat it.)
There’s a lemon, cut in half, in a ziplock bag, which is now a vacation home for some mold. A hardened piece of parmesan cheese, grated down to the rind, is crammed in the back corner of the fridge.
And in the middle of all that “food” is a little round tupperware container with some leftover spaghetti, just a few flecks of red sauce caked onto the pale pasta, hinting at dryness. Also sadness.
But sad is not what I feel.
I grab the bread. It’s too stale to eat now, but if I toast it up, and maybe add some olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano, it’s salvageable. Then I take out the eggplant. I cut away the brown part and the edges of that wilted skin, and I slice the flesh in strips. Into the frying pan they go.
My next victims are the pasta and the parm. I shave off the little cheese left on the rind onto the pasta, and I zap it all in the microwave.
When it’s done, I have this nice, gooey, moist pasta-and-cheese mixture. Then I drape the eggplant over it, and BAM! Dinner is served.
From refrigerator sadness to a delicious meal. Bet nobody’s done THAT before! (Actually, as I learned later, this dish is called Pasta Alla Norma. But let’s just make that our little secret.)
What I realize is worth sharing about this story is not WHAT I did but WHY I did it. I was able to look PAST what seemed like a terrible situation, and instead I focused on what COULD emerge. That’s why I felt excited despite a terribly stocked fridge.
If you create for a living like I do, you totally get this feeling. You don’t just see what’s right there in front of you — that bland customer testimonial, that copycat brand message, that same-old same-old type of content that everyone else has been creating for years. Nope! You see past it. You get excited about what some bare-bones ingredients could be instead. You imagine the potential.
If you tinker on the side, launching little creative side projects as so many of us love to do, you know this feeling too. You get lost in your own little creative kitchen, thinking all the while, “Oh, if I just take this thing and cut it here, and that other thing and shave it down a bit right there, and add in that, and mix it with that, and step back and look at it … and then sprinkle in some of THIS … and BOOM! Look what I made! Something from nothing.”
Let’s be honest: More often than we’d like to admit, we’re in the business of saving things that start out looking pretty broken.
It’s like we’re trying to protect our audiences (and our resumes and portfolios) from what our companies or clients initially wanted to put out into the world. Sometimes, we save a bad idea from a business or a boss that wants to cram too much corporate messaging into something. (“Make sure that video mentions how how we offer best-in-breed in the jargon industry for the most jargons and jargon jargon jargon jargon!”)
Other times, it’s like people know they’re handing us a crap assignment, but they expect us to save it anyway. My personal favorite is when someone says, “Just have fun with it!” and then shows you a playground full of rusty swings, shattered glass, and weed-covered fields. (Wait, is “favorite” the right word?)
If any of this sounds like you, and if any of this starts to affect you and grate at you, I have two things I want you to hear:
You are not alone. And there is something you can do about it.
First, know this: You’re not alone in wanting to throw up your hands in frustration.
You’re not alone in dropping your jaw when you experience all the bad ideas thrown to content creators, or the short-sighted orders barked at us like we’re short-order cooks, or the tone-deaf content being launched into the world, dud missiles that others somehow expect to fly.
We all go through this. This comes with the territory of creating for a living. Some people just don’t think like you do about your craft, while others simply don’t care.
But you can indeed do something about it: Figure out your driving mission. If you know what you believe and where you’re going, it helps you drive through things that feel broken.
Ask yourself: What do you believe in? About creativity? About your audience? About doing meaningful work?
Sure, you may not know how to get to that more creative place in your career just yet, but before you can take any concrete steps at all, you need to know what each tactic serves. The How serves the Why. After all, it’s a lot easier to know which roads to take and turns to make if you know where you’re going.
But I just said “figure out your why.” That’s so rote. That’s so cliche. But do you DO it? Do we all practice it? Do we all reflect on what drives us internally? Figuring out that driving purpose is a weapon — it’s like a battle ship that can slice through the murky sea, tossing aside all the pollution caused by some jobs or companies.
After 7-8 years, and only after looking backwards, I can now say confidently my driving mission, my battle ship to drive against the murkiness and the garbage out there, is this: I want to make things to help makers. That’s what I love doing. That’s who I love serving. You. Us. Craft-driven creators.
Here’s the best part: You already do this without even thinking.
On an individual project basis, you already SEE where you want to go. You know the destination, even if the pieces are broken. You envision the better article, video, podcast, campaign, whatever it is — maybe dinner made of leftovers.
You’re CONSTANTLY starting with stuff that’s just not quite there, whether it’s simply raw and incomplete (ideas, materials, etc.) or truly broken (the bad idea, the short-sighted thinking, the brand-first rather than audience-first approach).
I’d wager your creative impulses serve you well in these situations, right? You never question WHY you’re out to make the most of that stuff. Yet at first, you probably skip many steps in your head — i.e., the how — to first picture the destination. “We could do THIS! Wouldn’t it be cool if THAT! Let’s try to make it go THERE!”
You do this projects. You can do this for your career too. It’s all about being mission-centric, tactic-agnostic. If I know I want to make stuff for makers, that’s bigger than any one project or job. I can more easily vet opportunities. I can more easily jump on or, conversely, ignore that new trend or platform, depending on whether it helps me fulfill that goal.
In the end, projects come and go. Bosses, clients, jobs, technologies, tactics — they’re all fleeting. But being a creator means leaving a paper trail. Whether you’re motivated by your own legacy or not, you’re creating one. You’re shipping work into the world. It’s there.
So, my challenge to you: figure out that mission.
In the next week, look back at projects you’ve done and where you geeked out the most about them. You know the moments — even if the project itself sucked, there was at least one tiny thing that got you so excited you almost laughed out loud at your desk.
I want you to recall that feeling. I want you to seek out that feeling.
I want you to be mission-centric, tactic-agnostic.
That’s the only way you’ll find beauty in the broken.
Listen to the related episode, Beauty in the Broken: Stories about craft-driven people who pursued their creative vision despite a scenario seeming beyond repair.
The post Feeling Like All You Do Is Save Bad Ideas? You’re Not Alone & Here’s What to Do Next appeared first on Unthinkable.