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The Void – Love Your Work, Episode 268

November 11 2021 – 07:30am

The Void

There’s a story I think of every time I’m in the throes of a difficult project. It’s from the movie, Catch Me if You Can, about the infamous con artist, Frank Abignale, Jr. Frank’s Father, Frank Senior, tells him a story:

Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he turned that cream into butter, and crawled out.

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You hear the story several times throughout the movie. It’s really the theme of the movie. When Frank Junior’s parents separate, he feels like the mouse drowning in cream. He runs away and poses as an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, forging paychecks and flying all over, like a little mouse, frantically and desperately moving his little legs, trying to find his place in the world.

You face The Void at the beginning of a project

Whenever I start a creative project, I feel like a mouse in a bucket of cream. Every time I move one of my little legs to try to get traction, it just keeps floating in space. But, I’ve found, if you keep moving fast enough and long enough, that cream turns into butter.

I talked on episode 265 about how there are a lot of different sub-skills to the skill of shipping. One of those sub-skills is overcoming your fear of shipping. In other words, facing the Void.

The Void is the empty space you need to fill for your project to become complete. The Void is a figurative place. It mostly lives in your mind. But it has literal representations, too, such as the blank page or the blank canvas.

The Void is present at the beginning of a project, and that prevents many creators from even getting started. But the Void has other, less obvious, effects. The Void doesn’t just prevent you from starting a project. It also prevents you from finishing projects.

The Void holds you back from shipping

There are plenty of things to fear as you’re about to finish a project and ship. You fear criticism of your work. You fear later seeing something you want to fix, after it’s too late. As I talked about in episode 267, you face the Finisher’s Paradox: You learn throughout the project, and by the time you’re done, you can already do better.

But as you prepare to ship, and you see your perfectionism taking over, or you get shiny object syndrome, if you look deep within yourself, you’ll probably find a fear of the Void. Even though you face the Void at the beginning of a project, your fear of the Void can hold you back in the end of a project.

Being in the “butter” is comfortable

The fear of the Void gets in the way of shipping for two reasons. One: being in the “butter” of a project is comfortable. When something nebulous starts to solidify, we also sometimes say it “gels.” In either case, where there was once empty space where you couldn’t get traction, you’re now enveloped in something solid. When you’re in the final stages of a project that has gelled it’s like being in a warm blanket on your couch, with a bowl of popcorn, watching Netflix.

When you finish this project, you have to face the Void on the next

Reason number two the Void gets in the way of shipping: When you finish the project, and start the next, you have to face the Void all over again. Deep down, you know after you let go of that first project, and start the second, you’ll feel, once again, as if you’re drowning.

Is it perfectionism? Maybe it’s the Void.

So what are you to do? Simply being aware of your fear of the Void is a good start. When you catch yourself, in the final stretch, second-guessing or catastrophizing, simply remind yourself that you’re trying to a-void the Void, and that will help you snap out of it. What looks like perfectionism may not be perfectionism. It may be fear of the Void.

Another great way to overcome your fear of the Void is to make sure you never have to face it again. As I talked about in episode 261, we’re taught shiny object syndrome is a bad thing. Working on a project, then quickly getting excited about and switching to another project, is not how traditional work gets done. But it has value in creative work.

Starting projects on the side helps you a-void the Void

If you get comfortable having a bunch of projects incubating on the side – and you don’t beat yourself up about the fact you may finish few, if any, of them – those projects on the side serve as buffers against the Void. Once you prepare your current project for take-off, you already have another project waiting in the wings. Your excitement for your other projects can even get you more excited about finishing your current project.

But every once in a while, you’re still going to find yourself floating in space – or drowning in cream, if you will. When that happens, do whatever you can to keep forward momentum. Brainstorm and prototype, and be okay knowing most of what you come up with will suck. In other words, remember the little mouse, and get those legs moving.

Image: After the Floods, Paul Klee

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Theme music: Dorena “At Sea”, from the album About Everything And More. By Arrangement with Deep Elm Records. Listen on Spotify »

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