I have to remind myself that there’s nothing noble about the writer who throws his manuscript into the fireplace or the painter who slashes her work with a razor.
“I hate the product,” my client is saying and my mind drifts to Hollywood scenes of the angst-ridden artist. “I wake up, grab the app and feel sick. I want to tear everything apart and start all over.”
This pain, I say to myself, is real. This is pure existential suffering.
I remember when I was the editor of a magazine. I remember planning the redesign; the hours-long conversations about every meticulous detail. We debated font size, picas and kerning. We compared colour scheme after colour scheme. And when we were done, I felt a rush of pride as the first copies came back from the printer.
One month later I hated every damn aspect of that new design.
Why do we hate what we labour so long to create?
I think it’s partly because the song we hear in our head, the application we dream up late at night as we can’t sleep, the story we write in the car as we drive home is never the same as the song that is sung. It pains me when I see my clients, artists every one of them, frustrated that no one can hear the notes as well as them.
The founder who turns to CTO after CTO, engineer after engineer, to sit through yet another whiteboard session leading to wireframes.
“Make it like this.”
“Then have it do this.”
“And then this.”
Make it feel this way…or that.
And inevitably they blurt out: “No, no, no. NOT that,” grabbing the dry erase marker, “…like this!”
The designer shakes his head, the engineer slinks back to her desk, muttering, “What the fuck do they want?!?”
Sometimes our frustration grows out of boredom; familiarity breeding contempt. We live with our creations, day in and day out, and come to hate them. Perhaps, in seeing only the flaws in the creation, we’re really facing our deepest insecurities, our deepest doubts about our right to be creating at all.
Who the hell am I, says a voice deep inside, to think that I can cause this impossible thing to come into being? Why would anyone want to use this thing, this service? Maybe I’m just wrong.
Or perhaps every day that the service doesn’t live up to our expectations (or, maybe just as bad, those of our employees, our investors, and our “friends” in the middle-school-like atmosphere of the particular startup community which we inhabit), we’re reminded of our deepest fear: failure.
I feel that most acutely when I write. Some days, I hate every single syllable I type. I took a few writing courses in college. The extraordinary poet Marie Ponsot would talk about the crow sitting on your shoulder saying things like: “That sucks,” “How could you write that?” and “Are you kidding me?”
Diminutive, chain-smoking Marie would jut her tobacco-stained finger into the air, punctuating every word: Shoot. The. Crow.
I suspect the particularly exquisite pain of hating your own creation may be yet another manifestation of investing too much of your own sense of being into the company, the product, the service. When we hang our sense of self on the whisper of an idea, what else are we to feel but pain?
Thankfully we live in the age of pivots, failing fast, and “iterate, iterate, iterate.” Those survival strategies are all clever and important– necessary, even, given the pace of innovation, competition, and change. But the most helpful aspect of that implicit mindset is its promise of freedom from the awful mental torture of hating your own company, your own creation, your own self. Failing fast and endless iterations are wonderful little bullets with which to shoot the crow.
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