On Productivity and Angst


Every day I drink in ideas. Every day I’m surrounded by the smartest, funniest, most creative people in the world, yet separated from them by thousands of miles. Every day I think about this genius, the unabashed awesomeness that pours from the internet like rain from the sky. Every day I stick my tongue out to get a taste of the clouds.

And I feel utterly inadequate. I feel that, surrounded by this wealth of genius, I am nothing.

Nothing I’ve ever read or seen has talked about this phenomenon. I don’t know if people even feel it besides me. Maybe it’s a variation of the information overload we so often hear about in this age of mass communication. Maybe it’s my inner narcissist lamenting my current position. Maybe my standards are too high. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it makes me very anxious.

I think this is some type of creative angst, where I feel that when I don’t create, I’m not being productive. Even worse, I think I’m addicted to brain crack. I have all these ideas and very few of them actually come to fruition, yet I dwell on them, thinking they will be so great when I finally bring them to life. At least Ze Frank gave me the vocabulary to talk about it, and the invaluable advice that “most ideas kinda suck when you do ‘em.”

What I have learned to realize, many many times over, is that genius is often the result of hard work. As Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% persperation.” The problem is that I had discarded this idea as just one of those things that they tell you in school. I didn’t realize that hard work was so necessary, but now do. I don’t have the motivation or desire, however, to do the work that is necessary. At the end of many days, I feel as if I wasted all of my time. I could have done more homework, could have written a new post, could have done a million things, but instead I surfed the internet.

I think my anxiety also has its roots in my upbringing. In school, I was always getting high scores on various tests and projects. I thought, in my ignorance, that I had to get good grades. Failure was not an option. Failure meant ridicule. Lacking a larger context, I couldn’t understand exactly what it meant to fail, but I knew it was B.A.D.

This feeling inevitably got carried along with all my other childhood baggage as I grew, and here I am, failing compared to the collective genius of millions of internauts (and TEDsters). What no one told me is that it’s perfectly OK to fail, and often necessary to do so. Failure isn’t bad, but a necessary step towards success.

I also see only the final product of genius. Little of the hard work that goes in to making something actually shines through, and I get a false impression. I still feel like I need to be making awesome stuff all the time or at least working hard on something. But I’m not, and it makes me anxious.

Of course it’s an irrational anxiety–aren’t they all?–but I can’t shake it. It’s a very subtle fear, but I find myself thinking about it all too often. Sure, it inspires me to strive to be as smart, funny, creative, etc as all these people I admire, which is part of the reason I’m so driven at times. People who are better than me pressure me to become better. Thus are the [grossly oversimplified] laws of evolution.

But natural selection also kills off the unfit.

I’m left wondering: am I in the process of extinction or evolution?

Update: Ze Frank's take.