If you’re anything like me, you’ve got these beautiful pictures in your head. You can see what you want to create in your mind’s eye. It’s perfect, it’s wonderful, and you know just how you want it to look.
You have this vision of what you want to create and you want nothing more than to share it with the world. “If only there was a way to download this from my mind and just print it out,” you reflect.
Of course, there isn’t a way. You’ll have to create it yourself. You’ll have to translate it. Learning to translate and to transpose is about as awkward as doing it with multiple languages at first.
You decide to put pen to paper. You do your best to begin composing the masterpiece—only, what comes out doesn’t match. It’s not that picture in your mind.
In fact, the very process of creating it doesn’t feel natural. Your letters don’t look cohesive. They don’t look like they belong together. This isn’t your first time, but it’s also not your hundredth time. It just doesn’t have that flow.
Do you just not have it? Do you just not possess the innate ability required?
You see other artists who just seem to effortlessly exude beauty. If they dropped a brush pen, it would probably make a perfect swash. They don’t seem tormented at all!
Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s just talent you’re lacking. Maybe they’re born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
You don’t know, but you know that you’re tormented.
If it feels like I’m reading your mind it’s because I’ve been there. It’s because I know what you’re going through. You’re not alone. Everyone goes through this.
I have to say that again: everyone goes through this.
This is both comforting and maybe not-so-comforting depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, the good news is you’re not crazy! Everyone goes through this and struggles with this, so knowing you’re not alone can bring a sense of comfort.
On the other hand, you now realize that the artists who seem to practically sneeze works of greatness didn’t get there by accident. In some cases, you can scroll back in the archives of their work and hundreds upon thousands of pieces. Even then, you have no idea how many reams of paper they’ve gone through practicing they never saw the light of day.
Everyone who is great at something worked really hard.
What about talent though? I’m glad you asked.
Talent vs. Hard Work
Let’s speculate that there is such a thing as talent or innate ability and that someone else can be predisposed to something that you are not.
Talent is like someone having their toe over the line at the beginning of a race. Yes, they have a small head start, but in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter?
That small head start isn’t enough to carry them through. They’re still going to have to run and put one foot in front of another. Hard work is still required no matter what.
If this other person has talent, but they don’t work hard, you can easily surpass them. If they’re resting on their toe-over-the-line advantage, they only win if you never try at all.
Of course, my race analogy falls apart because it’s not really a competition. It’s more like a race for charity. You’re not competing against the other runners—you’re competing with yourself! The better you do, the more money is raised for charity.
Similarly, you’re not competing with other artists! Your goal is to be your best self. Are you committing to practicing hand lettering daily? Are you showing up consistently? Are you willing to put your head down and do the work and not compare yourself to others or make excuses?
Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.
If you do possess some level of innate ability and you work hard at it, you are going to be an unstoppable force! Nothing will deter you. Once you learn that it’s only about competing to be your best self and not about what advantage others have, then there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.
You must learn to develop your own self-discipline. The people who are disciplined have learned one thing that others haven’t: don’t wait until you “feel like it.”
A common misconception is that disciplined people must somehow feel like doing things more than others do, but this simply isn’t the case.
Disciplined people don’t wait until they feel like it. They schedule it.
The Sea of Imperfect Work
I’ll cut right to the chase: the only way to improve is to put out a sea of less-than-perfect-work.
Oof. I don’t know about you, but as a perfectionist, that hits me right in the gut. Do you know how large a sea is? I don’t even want to put out a single piece of less-than-perfect work let alone a sea of it!
Yet, this is what must be done. The only difference between you and someone who is succeeding at hand lettering is they were willing to continue putting out less-than-perfect work day after day.
They were willing to put out less-than-perfect work.
That’s it. This is the struggle. Can you put out less-than-perfect work? Will you? Remember earlier when we talked about that vision of perfection in your mind? You have these beautiful visions, but what comes out doesn’t look like you want it to.
You have to keep going. That is the only way. That’s the only thing the people you look up to have figured out that you haven’t. They didn’t start where you see them now. They started a long time ago and there is a wake in their past of imperfect work.
Now the nice thing about a wake is eventually it dissipates. Watch a boat pass by (or look out the back while you’re on one): the wake goes out and it spreads; wider and wider, thinner and thinner, until eventually it’s no longer distinguishable.
After you’ve created so much, your old work gets overwhelmed by the new work! it’s not about deleting or scrapping your old work that embarrasses you, it’s about continually overwhelming it with new work that you’re proud of.
The Wonky Circles
You are in a Bubble of Awesomeness. You follow people who are the cream of the crop and as a result, you are constantly surrounded by the best of the best.
When I talk about a sea of less-the-perfect work, what I picture is the grid of circles above. You’ve immersed yourself in a world of people who draw perfect circles every time.
Everyone started with that piece of garbage at the top left. That piece of garbage has dreams of being a circle. If you stare very intently, you can feel its aspirations.
But there is no path to the perfect circle except through the sea of imperfect ones.
Whether you have talent or not, everyone has to work hard to be great at something.
- You must press on.
- You must keep going.
- You must put out less-than-perfect work.
It’s the only way to close the gap between what you create and the image of perfection in your mind.