I used to be a huge fan of the TV show The Middle before it went off the air. Sue Heck was always my favorite character. She went out for every team and club at school and even though very little worked out for her, she remained optimistic. Sometimes even to the point of self-delusion. Her older brother called her a Dork Optimist, a title I can relate to and I think I’m going to appropriate for myself. In fact, I think I’m going to make Dork Optimism my life philosophy for 2019. I may not do New Year’s Resolutions, but I can do a life philosophy for a year.
On the show, Sue seemed to always have a “Year of…” She named everything to give it significance. I’m going to follow her lead and call 2019 The Year of the Dork Optimist. In celebration I’m going to do some posts about optimism, positivism, and good old fashioned trying hard to make things work.
(In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of negativity out there. I feel like I need to make an effort to counter just a little of it, both for my sanity and yours. I’ve been guilty of wallowing on the bottom lately and it’s time to stop.)
So for this first Dork Optimism post, I want to talk about creativity and the fear of looking stupid. In one episode of The Middle, Sue shoplifts a magnet that reads, “Think of the thing you cannot do and then do it.” She wanted that motivational sentiment so much that she stole it when her dad refused to buy it for her. (Which led to a lot of self-recrimination and vomiting, proving that nice people don’t have the constitution for thievery. Anyway…)
As a newly minted Dork Optimist who’s also a writer, I want to turn that saying into something more useful for me. For me, it would be, “Think of All the Ridiculous Creative Crap You Want To Do and Then Do It.”
The biggest thing I’m guilty of in my career is not even attempting many of the interesting (to me, anyway) and fun ideas I come up with. Whether it’s something silly like posting Lego creations on Twitter or continuing my Board Game Follies, odd ways of promoting my books, or trying new forms/genres/platforms for my writing, I dismiss most of it. And if I don’t dismiss it, I simply don’t follow through on it, for whatever reason. (Procrastination is a real thing, and sometimes it becomes a way of life. If I put something off long enough, I eventually either forget about it, decide it’s dumb, or decide that others are doing the same things.)
It’s not hard to understand why I put these things aside. (For those of you who don’t fear failure, or who never worry about looking stupid or inferior, you can quit reading now. The rest of this won’t apply to you. Go do your awesome stuff.) In a world full of content creators, it’s easy to say to yourself, “Why bother? Someone else has already done it, probably better.” Or, for the cynical among us who’ve been burned by life (or depression), “I’ll put in all that effort and it won’t pay off, anyway. Everything I do sucks and never works out, so why bother?”
And that may be true. But it may also be true that it turns out to just be fun for you. So what if others are doing the same thing? If you’re having fun, that can be worth it right there. Maybe it doesn’t need to “pay off” in any way other than giving you enjoyment. And who knows? Maybe your thing will strike a chord somewhere and take off in ways you could never imagine. Or, you’ll find that one thing leads to another and suddenly you’re on a path you could never have foreseen.
Sue Heck didn’t let fears of redundancy, stupidity, or failure stop her. She simply plowed on ahead and created her own things, or tried things she had no realistic chance of succeeding at. But she did it because the thought was always in her mind that, “This time could be different. This could be the time I succeed.” In the episode where she graduates from high school, her yearbook pages are filled with people telling her how she touched their lives just by trying so hard and being optimistic. And Sue had no idea that she’d reached so many people through her “failed” efforts. She made a difference, just by trying.
So it is for those of us who want to do creative stuff. This time could be different. You could reach people in ways you can’t even conceive of right now. But you won’t know unless you try. So go ahead and put your stuff out there, no matter how weird, stupid, or pointless you may think it is. If you’re having fun doing the thing, then just do the thing and see where it goes.
Try to be a Dork Optimist: Think of the creative thing you want to do and then do it. Don’t give a crap if others think you foolish. Your first efforts may be unskilled or amateurish, but you can get better. Often, if there’s even a grain of something interesting in your work, people will stick around to see how you progress and learn. Create your creations, submit them to contests or post them online, and then do it again. You might not succeed every time, but eventually good things will happen. What is there to lose? At the very least, you will have had some fun trying.