The slow burn


Burning lights in SF

I feel like it takes me longer to do things than most people. And it doesn't help that when I hop onto social media I'm inundated with images of people pushing out perfect work with seemingly minimal effort.  

Is everyone on uppers?

One reason why people push things out so quickly is that they're trying to beat the various algorithms. Algorithms reward people who post consistently and as much as possible. Of course, the real world doesn't work that way. The algorithm has nothing to do with improving our lives or maintaining our mental sanity. It's all about increasing numbers for the company so they can charge more for advertising. 

It's human nature to want to be seen and well-liked and social media companies leverage that need to get us to jump through more and more hoops. Jumping through other people's hoops may get us that quick fix of being "liked" but it doesn't do anything to help us stick to the important work that pushes us forward and makes us feel like human beings. 

Stepping back

The best thing I did this year was take a step back from social media and slow the f*ck down. Once I wasn't exposing myself to the onslaught of content, it was way easier to gain perspective on what's really important to me.

I made a list of the most important things to be working on and started to focus more on my art, my blog, and my newsletter. These are tools that I have control over. I prefer to pay for my products instead of the product being me.

Slow work adds up

Even though I may be working slowly, that slow work adds up over time. In the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey quotes Gertrude Stein:

If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year. To be sure all day and every day you are waiting around to write that half hour a day.

I do think "half hour a day" is a bit deceptive. Mainly because it can take a while to ease into creative work. I personally need to ramp myself up with several cups of tea and to read a little before I can do anything productive. As David Lynch writes in Catching the Big Fish "If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you need four hours of uninterrupted time." 

Slow learning for complex skills

Not only does it take a long time to create good work, but the learning process to get good in the first place can also take a while. As David Epstein writes in the book Range

Learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge. The most effective learning looks inefficient.

So when we're learning complex skills, it can seem like we're moving at a slower pace than the rest of the world. But short-term struggles will eventually lead to long-term gains. Those struggles are causing our brains to make connections that'll come in handy later.

Pacing for introverts

Another reason the world seems to be running so fast is that's it's run by extroverts. If you happen to be an introvert like me, you may feel more comfortable working at a slower pace. As Susan Cain writes in her excellent book Quiet:

So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race.

So, don't get frustrated and quit. Keep at it and things will eventually work out. Just maybe not as fast as you would like them to.