Why Design Without Expectations?

Enjoy what you do… and you’ll never do a thing in your life.

Wait, that doesn’t sound right?

Work every day, and you’ll never have to love in your life…no that’s not it.

Okay, in all seriousness, like a lot of wall art says, I’ve been thinking about the old adage, “Do a thing you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” For me, this has become, “Do a thing you like doing, and you wont have to worry whether it gets published or not.”

But wait, don’t goals motivate us to create? What’s the point of writing or designing something that no one will ever see?

Well, let me tell you a story about High School Wyatt (me). For four years, I participated in speech team (also called “forensics team” in some areas of America). Speech time is a high school “sport” that consists of a strange form of competitive speaking, ranging from extemporaneous non-fiction speaking to dramatic duet acting. Also, all the participants wear suits…because…acting?

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Here’s a recent state finals Speech program.

After my freshman year on the speech team, I knew I wanted to compete in an event called “original comedy,” which is a lot like standup comedy.

I spent the whole summer between freshman and sophomore year writing and practicing a new script. It was about a boy who moves in with his ex-KGB grandpa, terrible Russian accent and all. I thought I was sure to make the team based on my effort. After all, hadn’t I spent so much time preparing? I remember diligently writing during a summer vacation in Michigan that year, when I could have been relaxing instead. I was so invested that my whole summer hinged on the imagined accolades of my script.

So what happened?

I tried out for speech team that fall and made the team… but I wasn’t chosen to compete in the original comedy event. I felt that all the work I had done was now unusable. All the time I had spent was lost. I also felt like I had wasted most of a vacation. Even more depressing, I asked around and found out that some of my friends that had been chosen for original comedy hadn’t really prepared at all!

Thankfully (after a little sulking), I was given the gift of hindsight. I’d like to say this perspective came a week or month after, but if I’m being honest, my growth in dealing with expectations has been a gradual process through several creative projects — over several years.

I also learned that sheer effort does not entitle you to success; neither does time served.

First, I don’t think what I had written was that good. One thing I completely left out of the creative process was showing my work to other talented people…who might have fixed a lot of the bad. One of the friends I did perform for gently mentioned that it was mostly eight minutes of me shouting in a Russian accent while pretending I was riding a moped. This failure to correctly prepare is in line with studies that show how practicing an instrument using correct technique is much more important than practicing incorrectly for a longer duration. I also learned that sheer effort does not entitle you to success; neither does time served. Practice sure helps, but just because you’ve been working on something for the last ten years does not mean it’s a masterpiece (ask Duke Nukem Forever).

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Unsurprisingly, this was the most appropriate image of Duke Nukem Forever I could find.

As an artist, it can be easy to obsess over validation, and what is more validating than having something published? But there is a major flaw with chasing the light at the end of the publication tunnel — you never really reach it.

Well sure, you might get something published, but then what? Even if you are successful, now you need to top it. When I was a new writer, a successful friend of mine shared that it’s much more important where you’re published than if you’re published. I didn’t believe him. A few weeks later, I had a poem published in a plastic-bound journal that solely featured work on the topic of sorrow and death.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be happy when people like what you create, but if that’s your sole reason for creating, you’re bound to be disappointed sooner than later (I should stipulate now that this is may be a very different story for creators writing or designing for their livelihood). I discovered that my secret to fearlessly pursuing creative endeavors is that I must enjoy the work I am doing in the present moment. Right here. Right Now. In this moment.

I don’t mean to sound like creation won’t be tough and a slog at times; of course it will. For me, it all comes down to the question, “Do I enjoy what I’m doing right now?” because nothing else is guaranteed, and because success cannot match contentment.

 

Have you ever been shocked when something you’ve been working on didn’t find success? Share your story in the comments. Also, please subscribe if you’d like to get quarterly newsletters filled with great content, game design resources, and updates on my current designs!

 

2 Comments

  1. Man some of my prototype games have been awful lol – I’ve tried everything to make my “trapped in a bunker” game fun to play but it just isn’t lol. Other ones people just haven’t understood – like my one about taking Vietnam through from colonialism to its own country lol. The responses were usually something along the line of “what’s Vietnam?” šŸ˜…

    Like

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