Recently I watched a video with Debbie Millman about how anything worthwhile takes time.

Debbie Millman is an internationally known designer with a podcast called Design Matters. I came across her work when I was researching branding for my forthcoming book and I’ve enjoyed learning about her perspectives on what it means to live the life of a creative.

In the video linked above, Millman argues that we have to be patient with our large projects in terms of seeing them payoff.

This is something that I believe deeply, but that I also struggle with in practice.

At heart, I’m an incredibly impatient person.

This manifests itself in all kinds of ways: I make impulse purchases. I walk like I’m in a race to get to my next destination. I give up after five minutes of trying to play a complicated video game…

And I choose to juggle dozens of projects at once so that I can always feel like something is launching or shipping.

You see, I love large projects. But large projects take time. None of them can be completed overnight. Each of my projects — whether it be a book, podcast, course, or other creative effort — needs an investment of time, energy and resources. Some of them take months, if not years, to complete.

But when I have lots of them in progress at one time, there’s always one or two that are nearing completion any given month.

Lately, when I feel especially impatient about a project that’s taking longer than I would like, I’ve been challenging myself to focus on process rather than product. On putting in the effort in the moment so that each layer of a project as it builds over time is the best that it can be.

I’ve been reflecting on how the Bhagavad Gita advises, “You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work.”

I think I need to have this tattooed somewhere.

It turns out that it’s a lot easier to work on creative projects when you aren’t worried about the outcome.

When the outcome is the only metric of success, I can lose my nerve, especially if a project takes a long time. I worry that the project is going to be a failure. I think that no one will want to read my work, or buy my product, or care about my ideas.

In other words, I lose confidence in myself.

And there’s nothing that can derail a project more quickly than lack of confidence.

This is is why I love Debbie Millman’s advice. She argues that along with the patience we need to have for our large projects, we also need to value courage over confidence.

When was the last time you felt confident about a creative project, initiative, or idea that you were working on?

When I think about the degrees I’ve worked toward, my dissertation, my first book, my second book, my third book, my podcast, my webinar series

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt rock-solid confident.

I just mustered up the courage and did stuff anyway. I got tired of waiting for someone else to do it (there’s that impatience again), so I created it myself.

If we wait around for confidence, our projects will gather dust, be forgotten, and go undeveloped.

But if we decide to do the work anyway, and proceed with courage no matter how unsure we feel, a lot more things will get written, created, made, and shared.

And here’s the funny thing: the more courage you display, the more confident you look.

To think on:

  • When was the last time you felt confident about a creative project, initiative, or idea that you were working on?
  • How are you practicing courage in your work?

(My latest courageous project is the how to: academia webinar series. This year, I’m hosting conversations about nine different topics on writing and publishing. Learn more and register for upcoming webinars at howtoacademia.com. And don’t forget to use code tac20 for a special discount.)