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Why Your Best Work is Hardest to Finish

nickyhajal profile image Nicky Hajal Originally published at nickyhajal.com ・3 min read

"The professional does not over-identify with his art, but simply shows up every day to put his time in, to do the work."

  • Steven Pressfield, the War of Art

When I was 21, I dropped out of college to pursue the life I’d been imagining for years. The life where I could focus on meaningful projects that I enjoyed working on. The life where I could choose how to invest my time instead of being subjected to how others thought I should spend it.

I knew I had to put in the effort and time if I wanted to succeed - and I was doing exactly that. But despite my efforts, I struggled finishing many of the projects I cared about most.

Then I found The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. It’s a book that had a profound impact on my work and the work of many others...

But there was one sentence that I just hated.

"The professional does not over-identify with his art, but simply shows up every day to put his time in, to do the work."

My mind totally rejected this concept. I just dropped out of college to pursue what I loved, how could I not identify with it?

Luckily, I continued to deliberate over that quote for some time - months, maybe years - until it finally sunk in.

We Don’t Finish When Too Much is On the Line

Often when we start feeling that a particular piece of work has special, unique value we begin to identify with it.

  • “All that practicing is really paying off!”
  • “I can’t wait to see what Jessica thinks of this!”
  • “This is going to be my legacy."

As you continue to blur the lines between your identity and your project, the stakes begin to rise. If your project fails, it becomes less something you can brush off.

It's starts to feel like not just the failure of the project but a failure of you. What people say about your project turns into something they’re saying about you.

Maybe you show it to a friend and interpret some feedback as an attack—or maybe you just start imagining that feedback. But the more over-identified you become, the more determined you are make your work even better before getting your work out to a larger audience so that you don’t have to take any more ego-beatings.

Unfortunately, that doesn't get you any closer to actually sharing your work with the people who would benefit from it.

When We Over-Identify with Our Work, Finishing is Incredibly Hard

The root of the problem is simply that there’s not a separation of your personal value as a human from the value of your project.

It’s very unlikely that your project needs more tinkering. What it needs to some exposure. Get your work out to 10 people. Accept their criticism with gratitude and realize deeply that they are sharing their experience with your work, not their opinion about you.

There's no need to defend your work from their feedback whether you agree or not. Just accept it, say thanks and work it into the next iteration if you think it's worth a shot.

Love Your Craft, Not Your Projects

The reason that it was so hard for me to accept Pressfield’s ideas about over-identifying with my work is because I loved the products I was developing (and still do). I wanted to identify with it, I wanted it to be a deeply rooted part of my life.

What I came to realize over-time is that I was channeling that love towards the wrong thing: a single project. That makes you want to protect the project at all costs, which translates to shielding it from the world.

If you shift that love for your work to love for your craft the exact opposite happens. You realize that you improve so much faster when you get your work out into the world. You start sharing work as fast as you can to whoever it may help. 

Commit to your craft, don’t over-identify with your projects and let your best work see the light of day.

Discussion (16)

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Ben Halpern

Wow, I love this post so much. Sharing it with the team.

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Nicky Hajal Author

Hey thanks so much, really glad you enjoyed it!

btw - I found dev.to through the IndieHacker podcast and I'm very grateful for your and the team's hard work! It's just so well built, a joy to use and such an excellent community. It's really invigorated me back into writing and sharing content 🙏

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Ben Halpern

I also doubly recommend War of Art. I read it years ago and could stand to do a re-read sounds like.

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Nicky Hajal Author

Yes! I actually started occasionally picking it up and randomly reading a few pages of War of Art or Turning Pro every morning. Really starts things off right!

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Gage Henderson

I struggle with this all of the time! Mostly with my music. I think it's super common among all breeds of creators.

The War of Art has influenced me as well, and that was also something that I needed some time to really understand on my own.

Nothing tops feedback from the real world - Putting your project out for everyone to see and watching how it fairs in the real world is so vital as a creator. Some people fear it, some people start to feel more resistance towards the end of a project which stalls it's release - but you just have to keep putting things out there, it's the fastest road to improvement!

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Nicky Hajal Author

Very well said! What kind of music to you make?

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Gage Henderson

I dabble in a lot of genres! This is my latest track, but I'm dropping a new one this weekend :) youtube.com/watch?v=cU_DmQmoaQg

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Reinaldo

As a young programmer (14 years old, but I started programming at 8), I came here in the hope of learning more with experienced ones and your post is exactly that, you are sharing knowledge. I know pretty much the feeling of "I must protect my work" because until a few months ago I felt it almost everytime I showed my apps. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience! I am definitely following you now.

P.S: Please feel free to correct me of whatever language-related error I could have done, I am not an English speaker, thanks!

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Anthony Campos

Thank you for sharing this, it helped me realize a few things too and why I tend to put projects off. Awesome!

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Kasey Speakman

😲 Amazing post. It brought me to an intense realization. Thank you.

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Nicky Hajal Author

So glad you liked it! I love when those realizations come 💡😃

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Karyme Virginia

I really appreciate reading this, Nicky! Thank you for writing and sharing. I have yet to read The War of Art, but I think I'm going to move it up a little higher on my list. :)

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Sten

If you shift that love for your work to love for your craft the exact opposite happens

I want to frame this somewhere.

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Nicky Hajal Author

Ha, I think I actually need it framed as well :)

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Kyle Galbraith

Fantastic post Nicky. I found it to be a lightbulb moment for myself and I hope to keep this in mind in the future.

Also as a fellow Indie Hackers, welcome to Dev.to, it's fantastic.

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Matt Curcio

You nailed it!

Buddhists strive for 'non-attachment'.

If you become too attached to a thought, a feeling or even an object AND that object becomes 'you', your own life is on the line.
;))